- Associated Press - Monday, August 22, 2016

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - After spending a career in juvenile law enforcement, Doug Herrmann wanted to help boys before they took a wrong turn in life.

Walking into what might be the loudest, yet happiest, place in the middle of a Rapid City summer day last week, Herrmann talked with boys at the Rapid City Club for Boys, gently corrected a boy not following the rules, and hugged one that came up to him, the Rapid City Journal (https://bit.ly/2byMijK ) reported.

“I always found myself saying ‘If we could just reach them when they were younger,” the new executive director recalled.

Herrmann took over the job from Dave Oyler, who will celebrate 50 years working at the Club in September. Oyler plans to work part-time, still helping with fundraising and spending time with the boys.

The Rapid City Club for Boys is a nonprofit recreation center for boys that costs members $12 a year and provides summer activities and after-school activities for boys from ages 6 to 17 years old.

Herrmann retired in March as director of the juvenile division of the South Dakota Department of Corrections. While there, he said he was steeped in the latest social science research on juvenile delinquency and how to help prevent it.

“We know what leads to delinquency, its family dysfunction, drugs and alcohol,” Herrmann said. “Participating in pro-social activities or the lack of it leads to delinquency. It’s not really rocket science.”

He said his goal, however unrealistic, was to work himself and others in the juvenile division out of a job.

When he started as director in 2011, there were 1,140 youth under their care and custody. On the day he left in March, they had less than 500, according to Herrmann.

“I really became a proponent of I don’t think juvenile corrections should be a growth industry,” the Custer native said.

“The longer I worked, the more I said ‘Boy, I wish we could have interacted with that boy earlier in their life,’” the 55-year-old said last week. “First I was saying ‘If we could just work with them when they’re 15,’ then that became 12, then it was 10.”

And now he gets to do just that.

“Here we get to work with them starting at 6 years old, and I think those formative years are tremendous,” he said. “That’s where so much development goes on … socially and skill-wise and academics and all those things.”

He said he knew these ages are where he wanted to be working with young people and starting them on a positive path in life, instead of the much more difficult job of trying to change behavior patterns.

“I still work with youth, but much earlier in their life, and I try have a big impact on the front end of things as opposed to what I used to do, which was kind of repair and mend,” Herrmann said. “Now we’re building young boys from the start and hoping to build them into fine young men.”

He said he tries to educate people that research shows that for every dollar spent on programs like the Club for Boys, their investment is much greater than trying to fix problems later in these young boys’ lives.

“That’s why I’m glad the community of Rapid City had the vision to have a place like this and to make a difference early,” he said. “In corrections, I had a budget of $35 million a year and we were spending $25 (million) of it to place kids in residential beds. That’s 3 and 400 dollars a day. Where what we do here, we touch 1,400 boys a year and our budget is not near that.

Herrmann said his biggest surprise in the job so far is the sheer number of available activities.

“There is something for everyone,” he said.

There are the sports, but they also had a talent contest last week, music, outdoor activities like fly fishing, a woodworking shop, craft shop, two gymnasiums, library, computer lab. And that’s just the beginning, as there are special events scheduled throughout the year like an ice fishing trip for example.

“You don’t get a full appreciation of what happens and what the choices they have here until you experience it. You have to experience it,” Herrmann said.

He said the long-term goal is to continue to do what they do really well, and look for opportunities to provide additional services.

“And we anticipate that we’re going to be looking at doing different things along the road as the community develops and grows. We want to be ready for that,” he said.

In just three months on the job, he’s already seeing the impact the Club For Boys has made on the people of Rapid City and the grown men who used to be members.

“I’ll be wearing my shirt, and former club members will stop me and ask if I work there, and I explain my role and then they’ll always ask if a certain individual is still working here because we have a lot of long-term staff, they’ll want to hear about them. But then they’ll often tell me that ‘I don’t know what I would’ve done if I didn’t have the opportunity to be essentially raised in the club,’ and that it made a big difference in their lives.”

“When I run into 35-year-old men and they say I went to the Boys Club, that’s really powerful long-term because we try to be role models, and it is quite remarkable, and it really is right at the core of just building young men. But while we’re doing that, we’re reducing delinquency. This group of 400 kids that are here today are much less likely to be delinquent in the future.”


Information from: Rapid City Journal, https://www.rapidcityjournal.com

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