J. Mack Reid has spent a lifetime working to make the world a better place for young people. He served as CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County for more than two decades before retiring in 2011.
Reid had helped open the club on Fruitville Road in 1970, and then left the area for another job. When he returned to it in 1989, the club was rundown, dirty and in debt. “It was pretty rough,” he says. ”We didn’t have a custodian; there were books on the floor of the gym. One of the main fund raisers was a garage sale.”
Reid cleaned house and convinced key community leaders to join the board. Over two decades, he expanded the original club into four clubs and six after-school programs.
He now consults for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, helping other organizations across the country with leadership and organization. For the last four years, he also has mentored a young man, who is now a senior and an honor student at Sarasota High School.
With a little bit of help, kids can turn things around. “I grew up at a club in Gadsden, Ala. My dad worked six days a week on the second shift. The club filled a void and kept me on the right path. When I was a sophomore in college in 1966, I started working part time at a club. It was close to the housing projects and the kids lived in rough situations, but they would come in with smiles on their faces. I decided after two weeks working at the club to make it my career.”
Do the right thing and people will be there to help you succeed. “That is the message we give to our kids. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t want the best for our kids; the kids know if they work hard, there are people who will help them.”
The best piece of advice I received when I was a young man is to stay true to who I am. “It is hard for my oldest son; his name is the same as mine, and he is chief operating officer for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida. I tell him, ‘Don’t try to imitate anyone; be yourself.’”
Everyone knows you’re the boss; you don’t have to constantly remind people. “Treat people with love and compassion and keep ego in check. That affects what kind of organization you have, what kind of career you have and how you are perceived in the community.”
Make sure you are a full team player. “When I came to Sarasota in 1989, the staff’s attitude was, ‘We don’t have any money, the facility is poor; how are we going to get out of this impossible situation?’ For the first six months, my family was in Georgia and I worked all the time. If my staff worked late, I worked late. I didn’t ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do. One time we were hosting a fund raiser at another nonprofit’s locale and when it was over I took the tables down and removed trash along with everyone else. One of the other nonprofit’s employees asked one of our staff, ‘Why is your CEO doing this? That’s not the way we do it.’”
Walking has always been very therapeutic for me. “I’ve done it all my life, and now that I have more time, I walk about 37 miles a week. When I was working, I would walk and think about what’s going on with the club, different ways to approach things. Sometimes there will be a tough issue and I just go outside and realize how blessed I am.”
I’ve gotten more out of mentoring than I put into it. “First time I met with my mentee, he knew me as the man at the club; he wasn’t sure of me at that point. But he gave me a chance. We met one hour a week at the club. We worked on homework. I never helped my own kids, and I was petrified of English. As a sophomore and junior, he had all these essays and I had to do a lot of research. My wife, Lynne, laughed at me when I asked her what a thesis is. At my retirement party, it made me feel good that my mentee wanted to continue the relationship. He calls me Grandpops.”
-By Kim Hackett