Towry named to lead Boys & Girls Club

Benny Westcott

Former Sweet Home City Manager Ray Towry was recently named the newest executive director for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Greater Santiam, which includes Lebanon and Sweet Home.

His tenure began Jan. 4.

Towry replaces Kris Latimer, who resigned last January after 10 years with the Boys & Girls Clubs to become director of the new Knife River Training Center in Albany.

“I’m a big fan of the mission of the Boys and Girls Club,” Towry said. “I believe wholeheartedly in what they do. There is a team of people working here that are totally committed to serving kids, mentoring them and providing for them in ways maybe others just can’t.”

Boys & Girls Clubs Board President Jared Cornell said Latimer left big shoes to fill.

“Kris was fantastic,” he said. “Lebanon and Sweet Home really owe her a ton of gratitude for what she did, especially through the pandemic.”

Madison Yock filled in as executive director from January to June 2022, and then Tyler Reece, the organization’s current rector of operations, took the role from June until Towry’s arrival this month.

“We’re excited for what he brings and believe he can lead us going forward,” Cornell said.

Most recently, Towry was city manager of Sweet Home, from 2016 until his resignation in February 2022. Before that he was parks, recreation, public relations and tourism (community services) director for the city of Ephrata, Wash., from 2004 to 2016. He was also president of the Grant County Economic Development Council and served on the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors in that city.

He holds a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Washington and a Bachelor of Arts degree in business from Washington State University.

“Ray comes to us with over 16 years experience in parks and recreation, including 13 years as a parks and recreation department director,” Cornell said. “He is the former president of the Washington Recreation and Parks Association, and spent time on the National Recreation and Parks Association Public Policy Committee. He oversaw after-school programs, sports programs, and special events. He has experience working with chambers of commerce and other community groups.”

Towry also brings a diverse set of experiences to an organization that provides a wide variety of functions.

“It is so much more than what people think,” he said. “It’s not just an after-school babysitting service. All of the programs that we offer are enrichment and academic in nature in some way.”

He said that the clubs partner with the Lebanon and Sweet Home school districts to help children develop and contribute to their academic success, as well as their emotional needs.

“It’s a tough time to be a kid right now,” Towry said, noting the COVID-19 pandemic that affected young lives over the last two years.

“Particularly now with the influences that are so readily available and accessible for kids, having a stable, safe environment with other kids and older kids as good mentors is more important now than ever before. And given the economy right now, both parents in many households are forced to work to make ends meet.

“So having some place where parents can know that their kids are safe, being nurtured, and taking part in the different enrichment programs that we offer is really valuable to the communities.”

In addition, the Boys & Girls Clubs provide employment opportunities for teenagers and young adults. According to Towry, the majority of its staff is part-time, and many are high school or college students. “We work to give the best training and experience for them as they move forward,” he said.

The Boys & Girls Clubs also employs full-time staffers.

“I wish everyone could see how dedicated these people are behind the scenes,” Towry said. “They inspire me and I can’t wait to support them moving forward. I really felt like this was someplace I could come in and contribute to a great team that’s already here.

“There will be some little things here and there internally and process-wise that I think I’m going to be able to help with, but for the most part I can’t say enough about the people that are here,” he continued. “They do what they do for probably a lot less money than what they could be making at other places, but they jumped in with both feet and are just really dedicated.”

Towry appreciated the endowment Latimer and the board established a while back.

“We’ll continue to work hard on that,” he said. “Ideally that endowment is something that we build up and put away, and we can utilize that interest to help keep all of the costs down for all of our members. We want to provide the best service we can and the most support to kids for as little as possible. We don’t want money to be a barrier for a kid to be a part of what we provide.”

Towry said the club’s two biggest challenges are finances and the labor pool.

“It’s hard to find people right now, just like it is for every other business,” he said. “Trying to find people to fill in some roles is a challenge.”

He also described potential legislation as “really prohibitive” to not only Boys & Girls Clubs but also YMCAs and other after-school care providers.

“We’re hearing it might be coming down the pipeline, and we need to make sure we’re at the table for that,” Towry said. “We’ve heard some things about requirements related to early-childhood development. While we certainly appreciate the idea of protecting kids and having a safe environment, some of it’s just going to be really cost-prohibitive for us, and drive up the cost of child care.”

Increased child care costs could have a profound effect on clients.

“Many of the kids that we’re serving come from homes that have financial struggles,” Towry said.

Additionally, he emphasized the importance of collecting data to know exactly how the Boys & Girls Clubs is performing.

“We need to put forth the best programs we can,” he said. “They need to be organized and well-run. And we need to do a better job of telling our story and sharing our successes. We’re trying to develop assessments so we can really show that kids thrive when they are in the programs that we offer. We know they do. Anecdotally there’s all kinds of things out there to show that, but we want to be able to really quantify that a little bit better.

Ultimately, it’s all about the kids. “We help kids develop to be their best self and reach their potential.”