Boys & Girls Club of Central Florida CEO reflects on 55-year career, what it takes to be successful

Gary Cain was introduced to the club at age 11, says it made a profound impact on his life

ORLANDO, Fla. – Gary Cain has led the Boys & Girls Club of Central Florida for nearly three decades. Now after 28 years he’s about to retire.

And Cain has certainly gotten results, growing the chapter into one of the largest in the country.

Matt Austin sat down with him to reflect on his legacy and his thoughts on success.

Gary Cain pushed open the doors to the tech and media lab at the Boys & Girls Club Walt Disney World Clubhouse in Pine Hills and a smile came over his face.

Desktop computers lined the walls, musical instruments and audio equipment covered the desks. You could tell he’s proud of what the lab had to offer, but more importantly, what the room has inspired.

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“We just had our Celebrate The Children dinner and we had about 700 people,” said Cain, as he gave a tour of the facility and explained how kids at the club use the equipment. “O-Town Motown was the theme and they just knocked it out of the park.”

Cain knows firsthand what being part of a Boys & Girls Club can do for young minds.

His involvement with the organization began at the impressionable age of 11 in Panama City, Florida.

In his official bio, Cain credits his club membership as having a profound impact on his personal development, diverting him from the typical path of a child growing up in a broken family of impoverished means.

“In many ways, the wheels were coming off in my family,” Cain said. “My Boys & Girls Club treated me as an individual, taught me about values and showed me that I had the power to rise beyond the circumstances I was born into and to determine my own future.”

In his interview with Matt Austin, Cain recalled his first experience with the club.

“My mom said, ‘Son, I paid a dollar for you to join that (Boys & Girls) club and I don’t have a dollar to lose so you’re going to go,” Cain recalled. “So, you do what mom said and I went back. The club director was there on the steps of the building and he said to me the most powerful words I ever heard: ‘Gary Cain, we’re glad you’re here.’ He taught me how to shake hands, shook my hand and I wasn’t used to being greeted like that.”

Cain said he would spend most of his days and nights at the club, calling it his refuge. He eventually went on to work part time at the front desk.

“The club director was great. He taught us what it took to be successful, everything from shaking hands to reading books about positive thinking. So it plants ideas about what is possible in your life and that’s really what we do. We try to help our children see what’s possible in their lives,” Cain said.

Cain still follows that blueprint.

“It’s always about people,” Cain said. “Its the little things particularly with children that they’ll remember.”

After college he began his career as a program director at the Boys & Girls Club in Bristol, Virginia.

He then served as the assistant regional director of Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Pacific Region, where his primary responsibility was providing consultative services to existing clubs. In that post, Cain established 23 new Boys & Girls Clubs that now serve thousands of children in need.

In 1994, he became president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida, where his leadership has been characterized by significant organizational growth.

The Central Florida branch operates 40 clubs in Orange, Brevard, Osceola, Seminole, Lake, Sumter and Nassau counties and serves more than 11,000 children each year.

The chapter had eight clubs in 1994. Today, the chapter serves six counties.

Cain oversaw the construction of seven new facilities.

“This is a beautiful building. I always tell people if we had buildings like we do here in Central Florida, I may have become someone,” Cain said. “But the truth is, it’s always about people. It’s about the who in your life. I was fortunate to have the right “who”s at the club I went to and that influenced me professionally.”

Cain said he often uses a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. to encourage the kids in the club.

“Basically he said, ‘Take what you got and do the very best that you can. You can change the world in may ways but it’s also about the power of you as an individual if you just apply yourself,’” the CEO said.

Cain said he’ll leave his legacy for others to decide, but offered his view on what it takes to be successful.

“I’m not uniquely talented. I really am somebody who has just tried to be very focused and very committed to what I’ve chosen to be my life’s work,” Cain said. “I hope people understand that whatever they aspire to do, if they work hard, they can become the best they can be at that and everything will be open for them, whether it’s this or something else. Throw yourself in to what you want to do and work hard to be the best.”

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About the Author:

Paul is a Florida native who graduated from the University of Central Florida. As a multimedia journalist, Paul enjoys profiling the people and places that make Central Florida unique.