Social Entrepreneur | Boys and Girls Club of Central Florida

strong>By: Ryan Randall

An investment is a chance one takes with the hope that the decision will pay off in the future. The right investments cannot only pay big dividends, but they can also have lasting effects beyond what the investor imagined.

When Gary Cain was 11 years old, he frequented his local Boys and Girls Club — then the Boys Club — in Panama City, Fla. Coming from a rough family background that included his parents’ divorce and having a family member in the prison system, Cain was fortunate that the directors at the club invested in him. This allowed him to escape some of the turmoil at his home and also learn life skills that would later allow him to become involved in the program and move up in the company.

Cain, now the organization’s president and chief executive officer, continues to invest in the organization and its children, and has done so for 23 years.

Founded in 1944, the Boys and Girls Club of Central Florida serves as a safe place for kids in disadvantaged neighborhoods. With 30 locations throughout Brevard, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, the program serves nearly 14,000 children annually. The number and status of the program has grown significantly since Cain took over in 1994. Back then, the club served about 3,000 kids and, according to Cain, “the facilities were not in the best shape and the program operated in the red.”

Today, the Central Florida chapter is able to grow largely through the help of donors and corporate partnerships. The club generates approximately $700,000 annually in college scholarships and financial assistance through donors. Its partnerships with companies have also given the kids, many who come from difficult financial situations, the chance to experience events for free. In May, Disney hosted 1,500 children from the program who participated in Animal Kingdom’s “Pandora: World of Avatar” before it opened to the public.

The Three Pillars

“We’re focused on three pillars of our formula for impact: academic success, good character and citizenship, and healthy lifestyles,” said Cain. “Everything we do is driven by how we impact those three areas.”

The Boys and Girls Club implements these three pillars in many ways. The center is built on providing a safe place to go while also assisting kids with daily academics, teaching them skills such as public speaking and leadership. Volunteers also are brought in to expose kids to career fields ranging from HVAC and culinary to STEM and robotics.

“The thing that’s so beautiful, that makes the Boys and Girls Club so effective, is that we have a period of years to work with children and shape their lives,” said Cain. “You can join when you’re 6 and stay involved until you’re 18.”

While the Boys and Girls Club of Central Florida has grown, the program will expand more with the addition of a new 31,000-sq.-ft. club at the Center for Academic Excellence in Parramore. The organization is also expanding the Joe R. Lee Boys and Girls Club in Eatonville from 9,000 square feet to 23,000. However, Cain’s overall hope in the future for the program is that an investment continues to be made into the kids in the program.

“I really would like every child to have a safe place to be every day,” he said. “A place where they’re loved, where they’re encouraged, where people believe in them, where mentors meet them and guide them forward.”


“The club generates approximately $700,000 annually in college scholarships and financial assistance through donors.”

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