At 60 years old, Ron Johnson, a former NFL wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles, is showing no signs of slowing down in his longtime career with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Monterey County. In August, the BGCMC board unanimously voted for Johnson – an alumnus of both Monterey High School and Monterey Peninsula College – to take over the president and CEO position after a nationwide search.
For Johnson, being president and CEO is fitting. He’s been serving in various leadership positions at the BGCMC since 1992 after leaving a less than fulfilling financial job post-NFL. But he has always been comfortable around kids and liked being a leader. He was one of six children, has long admired good mentors (and still does) and the neighborhood kids were always hanging out at his house.
The Weekly talked to him after several months in his new job.
Weekly: What makes the Boys and Girls Club an important asset to youth?
Johnson: The staff here are like brothers and big sisters. They’re mentors. They know all the kids by name and they’ve taken the time to know each kid’s situation. So in a way, we go by a set of rules and beliefs: We make sure we hold our kids accountable. We have them in our program for five-plus years. By the time they leave or age out of the club, we make sure they’re ready for a job opportunity that would help them earn a liveable wage and move beyond college.
But it’s really more like a family atmosphere here.
You serve a full meal after school. Why?
(Laughs.) Mostly because they don’t want to do their homework when they’re hungry. The supper program has been going about three years and it’s sponsored by the USDA.
Before supper we used to give them a “substantial snack” – more than just a piece of fruit. But it was obvious that our kids needed more. We feed around 150 kids [in Seaside] and 200 kids [in Salinas].
Do you keep up with any alumni from BGCMC?
Yes, and many of them have become really successful. If you look out over there at the alumni wall, most of those kids, I keep in touch with them. One is a doctor, Anthony Willis. Carolina Garcia is an attorney and works in Palo Alto. And sometimes their kids attend the club, too.
Do you remember a teacher or a mentor who influenced you?
I have a few. Rachel Whitefield, my high school typing teacher – back in the day when you had typing classes – at Monterey High. The thing I respected about her was she never let you off the hook. She was relentless and tough. But she knew she was there to teach me a skill. She’s still around today. Everytime I think of her, I think of how she held me to a higher standard.
There was also an English teacher I had when I was a junior – I don’t even remember his name. I wasn’t the greatest English student, but I remember on this essay or report, I really tried. Then one day he was standing in front of our class and started ripping the entire class, saying, “Oh, these reports were terrible,” and “You didn’t put any effort into it!” But when he finished, he said there was only one report that was done to his standards. And he began reading my report. I felt like I caught the winning touchdown pass.
How do you learn good sportsmanship?
You can teach it in practice, a lot of it you can teach in the game. One coach always told my team to praise your coaches, praise your team and praise your opponents. Another way is to model it yourself. When I saw adults treat each other with respect, like shaking hands and things like that, I took notice of that. Good coaches tell their teams to go shake your opponents’ hands.
Do you have any advice for kids?
Find a good role model. You don’t even have to know them personally. Just do your research and email or call them. Ask them what it’s like to be in their shoes. Most people are happy to give a few minutes of their time to answer a few questions.
What can adults learn from kids?
They can learn from kids every day. They can learn how to pursue dreams. Kids tend to not limit themselves when they want something. I’ve also learned how to use new technologies from kids – so adults can also learn how to adapt from them. Kids are just more resilient and flexible than adults. A lot of people can learn from that.