As the last of the merchandise was put on the shelves with the clock ticking down to the grand opening Friday of North Lake Square’s Academy Sports + Outdoors, the first customers to the store arrived Thursday.
Exiting a familiar yellow school bus, 30 lucky children of the Boys & Girls Club of Hall County entered the store as part of a give-back program, with each child receiving a $100 gift card and an associate to help them spend it.
“It’s really a touching event for our associates to be a part of, and as Academy that’s a great give-back that we like to bring to the community,” said Russ Hilsher, store director.
With the gift cards to spend, each associate tried to help direct and assist each child as they made their way around the store.
“I got a person to shop with, and then I shopped,” said Patience Palomino, 7.
“It was just a cool mix of what they purchased when you looked in their baskets,” Hilsher said, pointing out that while some went for the bicycles, and some directly to the toy aisle, one of the most popular departments was shoes.
Luis Velez, 9, went directly to the soccer balls and shoes, but like the others from his club, thought the experience was awesome.
“I was talking to a guy. Me and him were having fun then he took me to get a soccer ball and some shoes,” Velez said. “(I was) happy, because I never knew we were going to a place like that.”
It was up to unit director Arizaid Guzman to choose the seven lucky children from the Joseph F. Walters Club at 2094 Memorial Park Drive in Gainesville, and it came down to pulling names out of a hat.
“(When they were told) they asked ‘Why us?’ (I said) because you always come into the club and you have a positive attitude, you do your homework, you never have any complaints from the tutor or from school for you guys. You’re the lucky ones,” Guzman said.
“To see all 30 kids, the faces when they went to the store, they have the store for them, have a person there with them as they walk around helping, it was a dream for them,” Guzman said.
Seeing each child get the attention and special treatment from the Academy team members was something Guzman had never seen before.
“That time was for them and (Academy) made that happen,” she said.