The world can seem like an awfully big place to a timid young boy when he’s viewing it all from the confines of a high-rise apartment window.
Nine-year-old Adam Joiner would often look down from his 12th-storey unit and watch other kids enter and exit a small, nearby building during after-school hours.
He came to learn that the youth were members of what would become part of the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa, a non-profit organization that’s been providing safe spaces and supportive places for children and teens to gather in the region for close to 100 years.
One of its seven clubhouses is located next to the Prince of Wales Complex where Joiner lived in a two-bedroom rental unit with his parents and sister. It was his mom who encouraged Joiner to check out the youth facility.
The trouble was, Joiner was an overly anxious and painfully shy kid. He was also new to town. He did reluctantly visit the clubhouse but darted away before others kids showed up and before staff had a chance to engage with him.
Joiner continued to drop by the building after school, but remained quiet and aloof. That is, until staff got him to play a game of ball hockey. He loved hockey.
“That was it; I was hooked,” recalls Joiner, now 37, in an interview. “So, I started staying until 3:30, then five o’clock, then eight o’clock and, eventually, they had to kick me out every day.”
Today, Joiner is the new chief executive officer of the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa. He took over in early May from executive director Colleen Mooney, who’d been grooming Joiner for the role. The organization's switch from an executive director to a CEO is part of a new change happening at clubhouses across Canada.
Joiner manages an annual operating budget of more than $6 million. He oversees 140 part-time staff and another 40 full-time employees. But the best part of the new job, he says, is being able to give the children the same kind of opportunities offered to him when he was young.
"At the end of the day, the most important thing we're teaching kids is that they can be anything they want to be, that we're going to help them get there, and we're going to teach them skills that they can use for the rest of their lives."
“I can tell you all about our four pillars of programming but, at the end of the day, the most important thing we’re teaching kids is that they can be anything they want to be, that we’re going to help them get there, and we’re going to teach them skills that they can use for the rest of their lives.”
The clubhouse on Prince of Wales Drive was not always the newly renovated and expanded facility that it is today. It used to be the Ottawa Police Youth Centre, prior to it merging with the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa. It was managed by Claude Turgeon, a former police officer who went on to become executive director of the organization.
The clubhouse now bears the Tomlinson Family Foundation name and, for Joiner, his excitement over visiting the property never wears thin.
“Every time I come here, I can feel my heart beat faster,” says the married father of three. “It’s like coming home. I literally grew up here. I lived and breathed this place.”
The new role marks a career dream come true for Joiner, who first started working at the clubhouse at the age of 12. He was a coat-check boy.
He considered it a big deal when, at age 18, he was asked to accompany then-executive director Scott Bradford to pick up a donated photocopier. Joiner wore a business suit for the occasion, even though it was a hot summer day. It didn’t help, either, that there was no air conditioning in their rented van.
A sweaty Joiner was in the process of moving the large piece of office equipment when Bradford told him something he’d never forget: “You know, one day you’re going to be the executive director."
Over his 25 years of working for the club, Joiner has held various positions, from youth worker to camp counsellor to youth outreach worker, before becoming manager of the Don McGahan Clubhouse in Vanier. He next rose to senior manager, followed by director of programs.
Earlier on, Joiner was also awarded scholarship money from the organization to study social work at Algonquin College, after he graduated from St. Pius X High School.
Board chair Stephen Beckta, owner and operator of Beckta dining & wine and its sister restaurants, Play food & wine, and Gezellig, said he and his fellow BGCO board members were proud to offer Joiner the promotion he deserved.
“He epitomizes everything good the club stands for: deep caring for those around him, wonderful leadership abilities, and a huge sense of civic duty to help those who need it most,” said Beckta.
“Adam is a rock star who can lead a bunch of six-year-olds in a sing-along or craft project, or inspire a team of professionals to give their absolute best to an organization they believe in, along with an ability to connect deeply with donors or partners, to get them to buy into the vision and impact the club has on the kids and communities we serve.”
Joiner would like to see the organization serve more children in more at-risk communities, as well as do an even better job at serving those neighbourhoods where it already has a presence.
He’d like to bring greater public awareness to the impact that the BGCO is having. Each year, it opens its doors to some 4,500 kids, for an annual total of 115,000 visits. Its free programs focus on the areas of education, physical activity and healthy lifestyle, leadership and social skills, and the creative arts.
As well, the BGCO normally sends hundreds of kids each summer to Camp Smitty, an overnight camp located near Eganville.
Unfortunately, the current COVID-19 pandemic has created extraordinary challenges in how the organization can provide its services. It's been running virtual programs for its members, during the afternoon and early evening hours, and keeping in regular contact with the youth. The organization is now in the planning stages of how it will safely offer its activities, once its clubhouses are allowed to reopen.
“We’re going to be calling on Ottawa to help support us in this next leap – and that’s getting back to reopening,” said Joiner. “We need our donors now more than ever, and we need new donors now more than ever.
“The need is going to be greater than ever.”