HeroVet: Bob DeAngelo
When he was a lad of five, Robert DeAngelo would walk across the railroad tracks from the crowded three-family apartment house his family shared with his grandparents and an uncle to spend some time at his home away from home: the Greenwich Boys Club.
The club, which became the Boys & Girls Club in 1986, was a vital cog in the development of young Bob’s character. His experiences there - learning to swim and fish, to canoe and hit targets with a bow and arrow - were a "big, big influence on me. They gave me self-confidence. I learned to get along with others, to have respect for others," he says.
It is almost four decades later, and for the past three-plus years Bob DeAngelo has been the executive director of the Greenwich Boys & Girls Club. He has revivified the place to better give to a new generation what he feels he was so lucky to have been exposed to when he was growing up: a nurturing environment that steers young people in the right direction, which not only gives them a place to play after school but also meets their educational, emotional, and cultural needs. A place that builds their self-esteem.
Bob is excited about the changes he has instituted and the improvements he’s spearheaded in the time he has been at the helm. He has been able to add a number of features to the club - a multipurpose room for yoga, karate, dance, and karaoke; a rock-climbing wall; a computer "library" to help "minimize the digital divide" - to give kids more options, more things that help instill a yes-you-can attitude. The club has quickly become Bob DeAngelo’s second family, and the center of his life.
Although his job has become his calling, running a club for kids was not his life’s ambition. After he received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Bucknell University, he enlisted in the Navy in 1978. After his release from active duty, he got a job with Texas Instruments. While based in the Washington, DC area, he managed to earn a master’s degree in international business from George Mason University; he then spent years traversing Europe and the Middle East selling his company’s aerospace products.
And then, feeling it was time for a change - "I never saw myself doing only one thing in my life," he says, "and I really just wanted to do something totally different" - Bob came home.
The first time he felt this way, he joined the Navy. His four-year stint, Bob says, "was a fun, adventurous, exciting time. I got to see a lot of the world. I got to meet many good people. And I got to see camaraderie and teamwork in action, and dedication and loyalty taken to a whole new level."
As a Naval flight officer stationed aboard the USS Independence, the closest he came to combat was going on station during the Iranian crisis. He remembers feeling a rush of anticipation when Ronald Reagan succeeded Jimmy Carter, but the hostages held by the fundamentalist Moslems led by the Ayatollah Khomeini were returned with nary a shot being fired.
His Navy service reinforced and expanded his father’s credo: "All you really need in life are good friends, your family, and your health."
"For me," Bob says, "the true measure of success is how many friends you have. It is also the lives you influence and the good you do." While money is an enabler, Bob reflects, "it is not the motivator. Because in the military, success has nothing to do with the money you make. Character and loyalty are what’s really important."
His time in the service also taught him to "think under pressure and to make the best of a degraded situation. You learn to improvise. Because not everything is 100 percent all of the time, and the true test is how you act when you’re faced with adversity."
...And Learned Well
It is these lessons he helps instill in the 350 young people who come through the doors of the venerable Boys & Girls Club every day. These kids, Bob says, "live is a world that’s much more complicated that it was when I was growing up. A lot of the pressures they face are more acute. They are over stimulated by television and the Internet. Many of them are shuffled from one play place to another" while their parents scramble to make a buck.Forty percent of his charges come from single-parent homes; the "core kid," he says, "is eight years old and has parents who are divorced." While some live in disadvantaged circumstances, all can benefit, he believes, from the personal attention accorded them by the club staff, and from the variety of activities to which they are exposed - all for an annual $5 membership fee.
"We teach them how to respect themselves, and how to accept accountability for their actions. Because without self-respect," Bob believes, the path of their life will be rocky. And to help a kid get off to a good start on his or her path of life enables Bob DeAngelo to live up to the values instilled in him by his parents and reinforced by his naval experience. By helping others, you reap immeasurable rewards.
Image Credit: https://www.greenwichsentinel.com/2015/07/28/new-ceo-deangelo-earns-ymca-of-greenwich-helm/