Gainesville Fire Chief Jerome Yarbrough has long credited and thanked the Boys & Girls Clubs for his success. But the Boys & Girls Clubs of Georgia recently turned the tables, giving him credit and thanking him, by inducting him into its Hall of Fame.
“It’s an honor to receive this type of award, especially from an organization that I feel like had guidance in the outcome of my life and the avenues I took to get where I’m at today,” Yarbrough said. “It was nothing that I thought would happen to me, but I guess my peers and others, they had a different opinion of it.”
He was surprised with the award at a ceremony Thursday, Oct. 3. The award “celebrates the extraordinary youth, men and women who have made significant contributions to the Boys & Girls Club Movement in Georgia” and “has helped raise the standards and level of professionalism while inspiring and mentoring future generations,” according to a press release.
Greg Katulka, a fellow Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier board member, said that describes Yarbrough perfectly.
“He really does love kids and he wants them to have as much opportunity as they can,” Katulka said.
Yarbrough has been around the Boys & Girls Clubs since he was 7 years old. He was a “Club Kid” for 12 years in the late 1960s and ’70s, eventually coming back to join as a board member. He’s been on the board with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier for 20 years.
During that time, he’s served as the board chair, vice chair and “pretty much all the seats on that board.” He’s coached and mentored with the clubs, too. He currently serves as the facilities chair.
“He’s done it all,” Katulka said.
As part of the board, though, he’s been involved in things like signing a partnership with Gainesville Parks and Recreation to share athletic facilities and keeping the organization afloat during the Great Recession.
“We made some decisions that I feel like today is why we’re strong,” Yarbrough said.
And it’s all because of the experiences he had and the lessons he learned while he was a Club Kid that he was able to be a part of it all.
“People don’t realize I’m as old as I am,” Yarbrough said, laughing. “When I joined the Boys and Girls Clubs, this society and this area was still a segregated community. I had been by the Boys & Girls Clubs and seen it and didn’t think I fit in or was allowed. But when I joined, the doors were wide open for any kid. They welcomed us with open arms.”
That welcoming feeling helped lead him down the right path in life.
“I went in as a delinquent kid with one vision,” Yarbrough said. “And that vision probably would have led me in a bad situation, because I look back at the other kids who didn’t go to Boys & Girls Clubs that I thought was cool and doing the right thing … It didn’t turn out that well for them, so I can personally say their mission and what they teach up there — it works.”
He said he’s happy to serve on the board and put so much effort into the organization. He wants other kids to have the same experience and find a place they belong just like he did.
“Somebody like that, who is selfless and always there, and in his position in the community, he has saved lives,” Katulka said. “He has literally saved lives. There are former Club Kids who are now alumni who credit him with saving their lives.”
And that’s why he continues to do it. Even if there were no hall of fame, he would still be there because he said he knows it makes a difference.
“There’s a lot of the clubs and groups you can join, and I’ve been approached by a few of them, but I always tell them I’m Boys and Girls Clubs,” Yarbrough said. “I just feel like my time and my giving is dedicated to that organization that I know works, because I’m a product of it.”