Journey to Manhood
Dick Guthrie, Board Member, Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club
by Monica Haynes
When Dick Guthrie was about 10-years-old, his family moved from Richmond to Norfolk. His first day at his new school was a Friday, and as he sat on the curb at the playground, a group of kids approached. They were led by a kid named, Chipmunk Ware.
“He said everybody here goes to the Boys Club. You meet us here at 10’oclock and we’re going to the club,” Guthrie said, recounting the story. “I was smart enough to say, ‘yes’ “.
Little did he know that invitation would have a major impact on his life. After spending that Saturday at the club and having a great time, he returned Monday, paid the $1 membership fee and joined his local Boys Club. He’s been connected to the club in some way, shape or form ever since.
Over the course of 11 years as the former Program Director of the Robinson Street Boys and Girls Club in Richmond, seven as Director of the Boys and Girls Club of La Habra in Orange County, CA, and 12 years as the Director of Human Services for the City of Claremont, CA, Guthrie, has made a huge difference in the lives of countless young men and women. One of them is Hugh B. Jones, Executive Director of the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club of Richmond.
“Once in a while, there comes along a rare man who makes a lasting impact on the hearts and minds of countless people for years to come. So often his positive influence happens in the background without any fanfare or recognition,” Jones said. His reward is the fruit that continues to grow on the “trees” that he has cultivated. “I’m proud to say that I stand tall as one of the many “trees” who bears fruit today because of an amazing mentor [Dick Guthrie].”
The two met, as both were embarking on a new phase of their lives.
Guthrie has just returned to Richmond to head up the club after graduating from Old Dominion University with a BA in Sociology. Hugh and his brother, Jerome, walked into the club to join after having suffered the devastating loss of their father. When they filled out their membership information, Guthrie noticed that they had lived in Norfolk, where he had once lived. “So there was a kinship,” Guthrie said. “Hugh’s mom is the closest thing you’ll find to a saint anywhere, your own mom included. We didn’t just gain Hugh and Jerome, we gained a sister and a mom,” said the 65-year-old retiree, who now serves on the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club Board.
Guthrie’s parents had divorced when he was young, and his mother, a nurse, sometimes worked two jobs to keep the family going. He recalls one day his mother coming home from her nursing job and then going grocery shopping. Once, she was gone, his father packed him up and off they fled. His mother and sister showed up to reclaim him. The family spent the next several years moving around to avoid a repeat of that episode. “My mom was a saintly woman. You look back when you’re a teenager or even a young adult, it doesn’t hit you until later the sacrifices your parents make for you.”
For him, as for many youngsters before and after, the Boys Club was an extended family. “There were a lot of great role models. There was always something to do, six days a week. They had to bounce us out when they closed the doors at 9 o’clock at night,” Guthrie recalled. The staff instilled the youngsters with self-esteem and self-worth. “The kind of things you feel you can do to achieve success academically and as a person. The staff went out of their way to make every kid feel like they belonged,” he said.
At the age of 13, Guthrie began to work at the Boys Club contributing a portion of his tiny earning to the household pot. “I’ve never stopped working,” Guthrie said. Staff members took him under their wings. “I was very lucky, they exposed me to a lot of training and going to conferences and leadership training. I saw there was a great opportunity.”
After creating that same safe, extended family environment as head of the club in Richmond, Guthrie decided to take on the challenge of moving across the country to head up the Boys and Girls Club of La Habra. He packed up his red Ford Escort and headed west with Jones as his traveling buddy. Along the way they talked about what Jones was going to do with his life. “I suggested he go back to the Boys and Girls Club and so some mentoring and see how he liked it,” Guthrie said. Jones eventually became program director and then executive director. “We stayed in touch in all those years and when I would come home, I would visit,” Guthrie said.
While in California, Guthrie helped build a world-class teen center in Claremont and then later at the behest and with the involvement of the youth, the city built the first public skate park in California, requiring the developer to hire local teens at $10 an hour. “[Claremont] was a great community to work for because they really strongly believe in making sure you can do everything possible to have good service for youth and families and for seniors,” Guthrie said.
Like Jones, Guthrie is a man of faith. “I was very fortunate I was raised in the church,” Guthrie said. “I don’t remember a time not going to church. Even when times were tough and we were bouncing around, I remember going to church,” said Guthrie, who is a member of the Brandermill Church in Midlothian, VA. “The church has always been important. You want kids to grow up with that sense of moral being, that sense that there’s a great purpose. Faith gives you the ability to get through the tough times in life. Having a relationship with God and Christ gives you the ability to not feel that you’re lost and alone in the world.”