While playing basketball for St. Francis College in Brooklyn, N.Y., Steven Mickens found his passion in life: working with young people.
"We did a lot of work with youth, going to Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs and local community centers," he said.
Some 20 years later, he is still living the dream, but these days, he's pursuing it off Downey Boulevard in Gainesville.
Mickens, 44, is the new chief professional officer at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County, a job he has held since Aug. 15.
He replaces Joe Ethier, who led the clubs for the past three years and now is the nonprofit organization's Atlanta-based regional service director.
Mickens, a native of Paterson, N.J., worked at a youth residential treatment center in New York after graduation from St. Francis, where he played on a basketball scholarship. While in college, he majored in special studies with a concentration in social work.
Eight years ago, his fiancee at the time (now wife) got a job transfer to Georgia.
"I was flying down every other weekend and (later realized) I couldn't take it anymore,' " Mickens said, with a grin. "I got tired of the hustle and bustle (in New York) ... so I followed my heart and left a career, which was really risky."
He moved South, getting his first job at the Boys & Girls Clubs in Jackson County. He went on to become vice president of operations at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County and spent more than a year at that job.
Funding went away for the job, because of the economy, but he was able to find a job at the Devereux Foundation in Kennesaw. He served as program manager at the mental health center for adolescents.
Mickens then heard about the lead job opening at Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County and pursued the position.
"I went through a long interview process, but I'm glad that our board decided to select me to lead our organization into the future," he said. "I'm very honored and proud to do this."
Michele Piucci, the board's chairwoman, said Mickens was chosen for the job "because of his organizational background and experience with board and staff development.
"His vision for the organization aligned perfectly with that of our board and key partners of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County. He has earned the respect of the staff and the kids and teens who benefit from our programs, and the fact that he was already a valued member of our team was a bonus."
Mickens said he is glad to be back in Gainesville.
"I had such a strong (connection) to our community prior to leaving last time," he said. "I made some really good connections with people and leaders in our community."
Mickens said he is ready to serve.
"I believe there is no such thing as a bad child. Kids make bad choices, but I think that with the ... correct leadership of an adult, support and good coaching, we can help them overcome some of those poor choices.
"... We look at suspension as a last option. We look at what we can do more to help that young person."
Mickens is no stranger to "tough kids." He remembers them from his time in New York.
"We had kids who were in gangs at our facility. You change one or two of those kids — it ultimately changes the culture," he said. "That's a difficult task, but (one) I enjoy."