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Longtime Boys and Girls Club director retires

Gord Johnston (left) is retiring as executive director of the Cranbrook Boys and Girls Club. He is pictured, above, with James McKee, owner of Favorit Cycle, in Sept. 2013 when Favorit donated second-hand bikes to the club. - Townsman file
Gord Johnston (left) is retiring as executive director of the Cranbrook Boys and Girls Club. He is pictured, above, with James McKee, owner of Favorit Cycle, in Sept. 2013 when Favorit donated second-hand bikes to the club.
— image credit: Townsman file

After 25 years as an integral part of the Cranbrook Boys and Girls Club, Gord Johnston is stepping away from it to focus on his position in Habitat for Humanity.

Johnston started on the board in 1988. He spent five years as a member of the board, then became executive director in 1993 and stayed in that position up until Dec. 2013.

"It seems like a long time, but also seems like just yesterday," he said. "I love the job, I could have stayed there forever. It's a great job. But I kind of moved on to Habitat for Humanity, I wanted to get that going. It's time for some young people to come in and take over and take it in whatever direction they see fit."

Johnston said one of the big changes he's noticed in the Cranbrook Boys and Girls Club since he's been involved is the growth. Back then, there was only one facility in Cranbrook.

"We were a pretty small organization," he said. "And now we've grown and grown into three facilities with 15 full-time staff members and something like 90 kids in programs every day. It's really grown and we've been able to provide more services to the community."

He said the growth came about because of the support of the community.

"We couldn't do it otherwise. We're non-profit. We scrape nickels and dimes together to provide programs for kids and with Cranbrook's support – the city and United Way, local businesses and parents bringing their kids," he said. "We just had incredible support, which has brought us along. It's been encouraging too, we're always fighting to raise the funds."

Johnston's role had him raising funds and developing new program areas.

He said raising money has gotten easier as the years have gone on. He said the club's programs have improved and the reputation in the community as a whole has also improved, which helps when getting that community support.

"I think we provide very good quality programs and people can rely on us, so they look at us to provide those programs and they support those for those reasons," he said.

Johnston said they have been working on the leadership transition for the past two years.

Lori McNeill has already stepped into the role. McNeill has been in the organization for seven years. Johnston and Debbie Morris, the program director, have been working with McNeill for the past two years to get prepared for the position.

"In these small non-profits, you basically need a jack of all trades, someone who can work with the kids, and do some administration on the side," he said. "We're very lucky to have had someone in the ranks that could move into that position, because it's really hard to find executive directors that will work for very little.

"That's how I ended up getting the job. We couldn't pay enough to hire an executive director and I happened to be in the community with a youth employment program, so it made sense for me to combine the two, take on the executive directorship and bring the youth employment program over with me."

Johnston said the club is a true non-profit, as it doesn't buy properties or other assets, just provides programs.

His fondest moments as part of the club have just been seeing kids' families grow within the organization.

"It's just so powerful to see that," he said. "We have kids that arrive in our programs now that are infants and they are still with is when they're 12 years old. We get to know the parents, we get to know the kids, we get to see them grow up and it's just so rewarding. I'll never forget that."

He said it's been a great experience.

"I don't even look at it as a job," he said.

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