By Ian Kenyon
In November 1970, an 8-year-old Robert Escher dropped by the Oneonta Boys Club and became a member. Fifty-two years later he has stepped back through the door of the now Oneonta Boys and Girls Club—as the new Executive Director. Earlier this month, the Oneonta Boys and Girls Club announced Escher would lead the organization, now in its 75th year of operation. Growing up in Oneonta, the club remains at the center of Escher’s childhood memories:
“My brother Steve and I, along with the Central Ave. boys, were at the club every night after supper and on Saturdays.
You name it, we did it—from every sport imaginable along with the wood shop, fitness activities, game room and who could ever forget the snack bar?”
The Oneonta Boys Club, founded in 1947 by professional boxer and Oneonta policeman Carl J. Delberta Sr., was a response to the area’s need for facilities where boys could get in good physical condition and avoid trouble on the streets. Providing opportunity for boys regardless of creed, color or cultural differences, the club found overwhelming support throughout Oneonta and in 1968 dedicated its original facility at 70 River Street in Oneonta. Membership grew from eight members to more than 500 and the club’s mission expanded to include serving as a center where boys could come to challenge their minds, express their individuality and creativity, and begin developing a strong sense of community and belonging. In the late 1990s, the club’s Board recognized their original facilities were no longer meeting the needs of ongoing demand and in 1998, following a two-year construction project, greatly enhanced club facilities—complete with brand-new facilities for girls. At this time, the club also recognized the service it could provide to girls, operating from that time forward as the Oneonta Boys and Girls Club.
Escher echoed the impact of this mission through his own experience.
“As a kid, sports was my life. I loved playing all sports and honestly it was where I gained a lot of self-esteem and confidence, which is exactly what our goal is here at the club.”
He added and underscored the value that athletic role models bring to a younger audience, himself included.
“Having sports heroes is the great part of being a kid and acting it out on the field or court. Growing up, we constantly emulated the way Roy White stood in the batter’s box or shooting jumpers just like Bob McAdoo. Thanks to our very own Mark May, I have been exposed to a wonderful group of very successful people that serve as an example and compass for me, in my life.”
Growing up in Oneonta and now taking the opportunity to return, Escher could not be more excited to reconnect with his hometown community.
“I always loved coming back home to Oneonta. I love the memories growing up in this community and could not be more grateful to have grown up here. I love the geography of our area, it’s truly beautiful. We’re a close-knit community, it’s so nice to wave or honk to several people no matter where you go. We have a lot going on for us within such a small community.”
Escher has previous professional experience in the region, including with the Oneonta Family YMCA and Catskill Area Hospice and Palliative Care, now Helios Care.
Looking beyond the first week at the club, Escher plans to learn as much as possible about the organization—with plenty of opportunity, as the club operates from September through July, six days a week during boys’ and girls’ leisure hours. The club continues to offer a variety of programs including basketball, arch-ery, wrestling, fitness, arts and crafts, cooking, and yoga. During the month of July, there are a variety of day camps from which to choose. Routinely scheduled are additional educational outdoor trips that include fishing, canoeing, camping and hiking.
Escher emphasized, “The priority now is to immerse myself in the club, which has been a great experience in my first five days. Moving forward, I truly believe that all the right answers will come that will help the kids we are privileged to serve.”
Escher and his team are similarly looking outward as much as they are looking inward—citing an eagerness to learn from other ideas from organizations around the country, including what has worked and what has not. The goal remains the same, as Escher points out.
“I’m exploring which piece here or there that we can incorporate at our Club to make it even better for the kids,” he said.
With a lot of work ahead and articulating his own strategy for the club’s future, Escher welcomed the community’s input on the beloved organization, adding, “We’re here to listen to how we can add value to the community.”
When asked about the club’s legacy and what he wants his contribution to the organization to ultimately be, Escher responded, “The only mark I want to leave is on the kids, one of self-confidence that they deserve and can be anything they want to be…”