by Tim Froberg

There is no GPS device for young folks trying to navigate the tricky road of life.

However, there are people like Greg Lemke-Rochon, who work diligently to help steer disadvantaged and troubled youth in the right direction.

Lemke-Rochon is closing out his 22nd year as chief executive officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley. He has worked with the organization since the early 1990s. When he joined, it was a small nonprofit known as Youth Services of the Fox Valley Region operated from a small, single office in Appleton. 

With Lemke-Rochon in a key leadership role, that organization has grown into a significantly larger operation that supports nearly 11,000 youth annually at branch locations in Appleton and Menasha, along with nine school sites. It is the state’s second-largest Boys & Girls Club and is dedicated to helping young people through positive youth development programs and services.

“Helping kids unlock their potential is the opportunity we get and that can be incredibly rewarding,” said Lemke-Rochon. “Every once in a while, I’ll hear from a kid I worked with 25 years ago. They’re not kids anymore, but they’ll reach out and say, ‘Hey, I was thinking about you and the (Boys & Girls Clubs) programs. I wanted to let you know that you made a big difference in my life and helped me attain something that I probably wouldn’t have been able to do.’

“So, we’re very fortunate to do the work we do and hear those kinds of stories.”

Boys & Girls Clubs provide no-cost services to thousands of children, youth, and families. Its programs provide general counseling and mentoring services and deal with issues such as truancy reduction, grief support, homelessness, nutritional needs, housing insecurities, and runaway situations. The organization also promotes academic programs such as STAR: an engagement intervention program for African American students in the Appleton school district. Boys & Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley employs a staff of 150 and gets contributions from volunteers. To volunteer, call 920-750-5801 or go to www.bgclubfoxvalley.org.

“We have a tremendously supportive community that has allowed us to grow and serve more and more young people,” Lemke-Rochon said. “Volunteers are always welcome. We have a diverse array of services and a long list of volunteer opportunities. We’re always looking for people interested in mentoring kids – people who want to develop those long-term relationships with young people because that’s ultimately what makes the biggest difference.”

Lemke-Rochon has 30-plus years of experience working to better the lives of young people. In October, he received the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s highest honor, the Heart and Soul Award, for his work in supporting and advocating for children and teens throughout the Fox Valley.

“Greg is a consummate champion of youth and devoted to doing whatever it takes to ensure they have a great future,” said Jim Clark, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in a press release.

Lemke-Rochon’s journey involved a major shift in his initial career plans. An Appleton native and a 1984 graduate of Appleton East High School, Lemke-Rochon was originally a seminary student for three years at St. John Vianney Seminary – part of the University of St. Thomas – in St. Paul, Minn. He eventually received his bachelor’s degree in theology, but decided that youth counseling and advocacy was the path he wanted to pursue. 

“The teen years can be tumultuous, and, like a lot of young people, I went through the typical teenage stuff where I wasn’t really feeling that great about myself,” Lemke-Rochon said. “Someone in our church reached out to me and was able to get me a unique opportunity to attend a leadership seminar. 

“I was really confused as to why I got that phone call. It was one of those situations where someone saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. That was really a seminal moment in my younger years. It gave me insight into the world of working with young people. It led to a decision that changed my path.”

Lemke-Rochon enjoys hunting, fishing, and most outdoor activities when he’s away from the office. He and his wife, Andrea, live in Stockbridge.