Executive Director of the Leduc Boys & Girls Club, John Norton, has announced his plans to retire from the position on March 14th. Staff and kids alike are saddened by the fact that "little John", as he is affectionately known, will be leaving after 10 years of service. Picture and Story by Lorna Lowe Page 9.
There was a communal gasp of disbelief and then a loud, sad groan heard across Leduc last week, but no where was it heard louder than from those closely associated with the Leduc Boys And Girls Club, when it's Executive Director for the last 10 years, John Norton, announced that he would be retiring. For just like the Bible says "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to sow and a time to reap. A time to laugh and a time to weep. A time to mourn and a time to dance." And at this time, at the Leduc Boys and Girls Club, it is time for a little bit of all of the above.
Many of the young people in this community have grown up with the presence of "Little John", as he is affectionately known, foremost in their lives. An outpouring of disbelief and sorrow, as well as testimonials and well wishes were poured out on his Facebook page after he wrote an open letter on it explaining his decision to all the young people he has ever worked with, and the community at large.
The decision to retire from his position was both easy and hard for John. Beginning at the Wetaskiwin Boys and Girls Club just over 20 years ago and working his way up to Executive Director there, then the last 10 years in the same position in Leduc, he acknowledges with a laugh that really he had worked himself out of a job.
"I actually decided back in November that with the changing job description of my position that I could no longer remain as Executive Director of the Club." said John. "It has grown so much that the ED position really requires someone that can focus just on the administration end of things and not be continually changing hats and switching from ED, to bus driver, to program leader, to just taking the time to play with the kids, which is something that I have done on a daily basis since I started here. At this point there is no way I can pull back and divest myself of all those roles and just sit in an office for most of the day taking care of the administrative end of things. I recognize that I can't do that and the Board completely respects my decision, which they have been aware of since November."
The Board values John so highly that they attempted to come up with alternative scenarios that might work in order to keep him with the club but being so heavily invested in every aspect of it, John felt that a clean break would be healthier for all involved in the long run.
"When I came to Leduc the club had two staff members and maybe 10-15 youth per day that came by. We now have thirteen staff members and an average of 75 kids a day that regularly come to the club and it is still growing! One day I would love to see a Boys and Girls Club in each of the four corners of the City!"
Many believe that the club's huge success and growth can be traced right back to John himself and the obvious, genuine affection he has for the kids. "Every kid that comes through the door I picture as my child." he said. "And I ask myself what kind of experience do I want my child to have? So if they need somebody to talk to, or if they aren't feeling good, or they're excited or whatever, I want that experience to be the same for my child as with every child that walks through that door."
When John is confronted with the statement that the vast majority of that growth is due to his leadership, hard work and personality, he is quick to deny it and place the credit firmly on the shoulders of his staff. "We have an incredible group of young people that work at the club. Most of them originally came here as youth who attended the club and over the years really caught the dream with respect to what the Boys and Girls Club is all about, volunteering, working hard and eventually coming on as staff. We truly have an incredible group here that I just cannot say enough about. They continue to impress me every day."
Really, everything about his job has made an indelible impression on John. "From the moment a child walks thorough those doors you start mentoring them. It's just something that happens naturally. And to watch that child grow and change through the years into a happy, responsible and productive adult that in turn, mentors other young people, well that's what makes me excited to come to work every morning. It doesn't matter what has happened over the course of your day, how many cups of coffee you spilled on yourself, or paper cuts you've gotten, once three o'clock hits and the kids come pouring through those doors all those things fade away and your day just gets better."
When asked what he is planning on moving on to after his position ends on March 14th, in typical Little John style, he gets a mischievous smile on his face and jokes, "Right now I really don't know, but probably nothing to do with the public!"
For now he is being kept busy sorting through an office crammed with ten years of accomplishments and keepsakes. His eyes get a little shiny as he shares that he has most recently been going through piles of photographs he has collected over the years which have brought back a lot of good memories.
"It's going to be hardest to leave the kids." admits John. "They are the reason I showed up every day. Just being able to hang out with them and share in their lives brought me an incredible amount of joy. For sure I will miss them."
That feeling is definitely mutual for everyone who has ever had the opportunity to get to know John in his capacity as Executive Director. This is why his staff and friends have organized a going away party for John at the end of his last day of work. From 6-8 pm on Thursday March 14th the Boys and Girls Club at the LRC will be opened up to everyone who would like to wish John well on this new chapter of his life. Plan on the space being absolutely packed with people young and old who's lives have been touched and improved just by knowing John Norton.