Roderick Benns recently interviewed Scott Robertson, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Kawartha Lakes. As he gets set to retire later this month after nearly 30 years at the helm, we asked him a few questions about the changes he has seen and the kids’ lives he has watched unfold over many years.
Benns: What are some key ways the Club has changed over 30 years in terms of what your organization is all about? How has the core mission evolved?
Robertson: Our mission really hasn’t changed. Today we operate under the Mission and core Values of Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada. Even though we weren’t a Boys and Girls Club in the beginning, the Club was founded on beliefs that were very compatible.
The story of how our Club began is below:
In the mid-1960s, the Club’s founder, Ron Kennedy began serving a critical need in Lindsay – child and youth recreation. Ron’s group of boys and girls never received much notice until the Queen St. United Church congregation came to church and discovered 80 windows had been broken. At a hastily called meeting, Ron quietly remarked it was probably “his kids” who were responsible. Instead of turning their backs on Ron and the kids, programs were quickly developed for the Queen St. Annex, St. Mary’s Church, Cambridge St. Church and eventually the 3rd floor of the Russell St. Arena.
At the arena, Ron was pulled bodily up the stairs, which had an incline steeper than Mount Everest (Note: Ron had a physical disability and required a wheelchair). In 1969, Ron inspired a group of concerned citizens to create Kawartha Youth Incorporated (KYI). A building was purchased at the corner of Cambridge and Wellington Streets and a legacy of serving all young people, particularly those with special burdens to carry, was born. Since that time, thousands of volunteers and staff people have banded together to continue the mission of making a difference in the lives of children.
As you can see, the Club has always been a safe, supportive place where young people can take advantage of opportunities, overcome barriers, build relationships and gains confidence and skills for life.
Even though the scope of services have evolved from 4 kids in the beginning to over 8,000 today, it makes me proud that we have stayed true to Ron’s vision of treating every child as an individual worthy of respect helping them overcome challenges and achieve their dreams. This is one of the great challenges of service expansion. It’s hard to stay true to your roots. I’m proud that we have been able to do that here. I think Ron would be proud.
I can’t stress enough that we have a great team here. It takes hundreds of people to create a quality experience for our families. We have 120 staff and close to that number of volunteers who all have a role. A kid’s day can go sideways if any of those people miss an assignment. Our people are really great at what they do. Right from the bus driver who picks the children up, to the reception staff who greet them, to the leaders who run the programs, to the maintenance and support staff who keep the building clean and administer the business side, to the staff who raise the money to keep cost affordable, to the volunteer Directors who govern, we have a seamless team delivering services. We also have great relationships with partner organization to whom we can refer our children and families to. That helps ensure kids get their needs met. The whole thing really is multi-faceted. If I have done anything right as the ED here, it has been to hire good people, set some general parameters and then stay out of their way.
Benns: Over the years you would have spent a lot of time in the company of the kids and youth who use the Club’s services. What gives you hope when you see the kids play and learn today?
Robertson: I think the greater awareness of what happening around them is heartening. The better we understand each other, the better equipped we are to solve problems. Young people today have more information and understand global issues better. I hope they will be able to take tactics they learn from other places and mobilize them locally to improve their lives.
I also think there is more emphasis on child and youth mental health and getting services to kids when they need them. I like that! Sometimes we wait until young people are in crisis before we reach out to help. They need steadying influences from parents, coaches, teachers and their community on a daily basis. Organizations like ours are critical in this.
Benns: Are there a couple of examples that stand out in your mind over the years where you know the Club was instrumental in helping to positively shape a young person’s life?
Robertson: I can think of so many. One girl who came to our Club was having a really difficult time at school. She credits the Club Staff for inspiring her to study and overcome her challenges at school. They would teach and encourage her daily until she started to excel academically. The day she completed her Masters Degree was a proud day for all of us at the Club.
Another young member was quite a handful when he was young. The staff provided consistent, predictable limits to his behaviour and did a great job focusing on the positives he brought to the Club. A few years ago, he returned to the Club and did his internship for teacher’s college with us. Today he credits the Club as the reason he is a teacher today.
There are only two stories but you can see the same thing being played out every day in our programs.
Benns: What do you have planned for your retirement — what does it look like to you?
Robertson: Well, I bought a boat last spring, so I hope to become a better fisherman. My golf game took quite a downturn since I got the job I’m in now so maybe I could tune that up a little. I might still work a bit if somebody needs someone a day or two a week but I don’t really have any plans on that front. I’ll probably travel with my wife and friends a bit. Nothing really dramatic, just fun.