Boys and Girls Club program director finds joy in working with youth

By Jordan Richart

Although she admits it sounds a little cliché, Emily James is a firm believer that the youth in our community are its future.

She believes investments in youth now will pay off later when they become leaders in this community or in whatever community they wind up in when they become adults.

That’s why she takes so much pride in her position as program director for the Boys and Girls Club of Seymour.

“Working with the youth in our community is a huge responsibility, and I feel grateful that parents give us the opportunity to work with their children,” she said. “I take this responsibility very seriously, and I always strive to do the best I can. I am constantly looking for new ways to engage youth in the community, even if they do not attend the Boys and Girls Club.”

For her work with the youth in our community, James recently was selected as someone in the community who goes above and beyond. It’s simply something she said she has been called to do.

“Working with children brings me so much joy,” she said. “Every single day is different, and I never know what the day holds.”

A native of Cocke County, Tennessee, James’ passion for youth — and the Boys and Girls Club — came while she in college when she worked part time. It was then she fell in love with the mission and formula for impact the organization utilizes.

She moved to Indiana and a few months later found a job she dreamed about having at the Boys and Girls Club of Seymour. She has been in that position for a year now.

What makes her job rewarding? Well, the list can go on because of what she sees each day.

Knowing the club’s programs help youth become successful in academics, workforce, college readiness, leadership and volunteering and that she’s helping facilitate that work is rewarding.

But there are other moments where something a little bit bigger happens that makes her work even more rewarding. One example of that is when a student works to correct behavior at school.

“Sometimes, our members come to tell me they got a bad color at school, but they work really hard to follow behavioral expectations and finally get that good color,” she said, adding they’re excited about the progress. “It is also very rewarding to see how much the community comes together to ensure our youth have their needs met. I feel like it takes a village for people to raise kids, and I am really happy to be a part of that village.”

While there are rewards, there are challenges as well, she said.

Sometimes, it can be limiting because of the few hours an after-school organization can offer, James said. Then there are the times when a student doesn’t have the best day and the plan changes.

“Sometimes, when that happens, they are just emotionally and physically done with every person and everything,” she said. “We live in a world where people are constantly on their electronics, so it is hard to know how to communicate in person. So sometimes, our youth do not know how to communicate that they are having a bad day.”

Still, James said she and the staff at the Boys and Girls Club try to help youth recognize what they are feeling and how to communicate it to them.

It’s in those times that James is reminded she can serve as someone who the kids look up to and someone who they can count on to be there to rally around them in the good times and when the times are difficult. That need is something she can relate to and always keeps in mind.

“Growing up, other than my parents, I did not have a lot of people in my corner cheering me on. If anything, there were always people telling me that I would never amount to anything, especially because of where I grew up,” she said. “I see this in our kids a lot of times. We have a lot of kids who most people would put in a box and put negative labels on them; however, those are kids I see a lot of potential in, and I try to find creative ways to bring out that potential.”

James herself has learned from many of the moments she has experienced each day at the club. She said working with youth has taught her to be flexible, inquisitive and to have an overall different view of situations.

“No day is the same, and it is important to be flexible,” she said. “No kid is the same, and sometimes, one of them just needs something different that day.”

The best part is when she hears from a child who she has helped along the way.

“My favorite moments are when former youth I have worked with find a way to reach out to me to tell me how much I meant to them,” she said.