As children line up to check in at the Boys and Girls Club of Columbus, they wave, yell out a quick hello or stop to talk to Nathan Larrison, club director.
Larrison greets them all by first name as they move past the Foundation for Youth check-in desk, methodically swiping their membership cards.
He asks them questions about their day, or how school is going and if they had a good winter break. The children giggle or give him a hug as they run or skip past the desk and into the Boys and Girls Club to play with their friends.
Larrison, who has worked for the club for 20 years, has spent half his life at the FFY facility working at the Boys and Girls Club, working daily with kids who depend on him for leadership and guidance, and more often than not, a kind greeting and constant encouragement.
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He started at the club at FFY as a part-time teen staff member at age 16 while he was a Columbus East High School student.
“Even when I was 17 or 18, I had that opportunity to take leadership opportunities,” Larrison said.
As a teenager, he worked with the Boys and Girls Club program at Rockcreek Elementary School known as REPS, an acronym for Recreation and Enrichment Programs for Students.
His job was to work with 20 to 30 students at the elementary school, helping to plan activities and supervise another individual working with the program.
“On a very, very small scale to what I do now, it was (about) building relationships,” Larrison said.
Larrison, who is now 36, took the helm of the Boys and Girls Club in 2007. The club serves more than 200 area children from ages 5 to 18 who come to FFY after school on weekdays.
Currently, the program remains at capacity and has a waiting list of 70 families. The program requires a weekly fee and an annual membership to FFY.
On a regular weekday at the Foundation for Youth, Larrison can be observed greeting children by name as they arrive for art or sports programs, or those who are heading to a computer lab or the homework area.
“It’s a really all-inclusive environment and that’s really important to me,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of growth as far as partnerships go really, but I think we’ve gone from a place for lower-income kids to a place for everyone.”
Larrison attributed much of the Boys and Girls Club’s success to his staff and a strong partnership with the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., which provides transportation for students from schools to FFY during the week.
“The kids can come and not worry about the stresses from home,” Larrison said.
Besides directing the program, the Boys and Girls Club has changed Larrison’s personal life.
He and his wife adopted a baby who was put up for adoption by a former club participant, and the couple is in the process of adopting a second child from another woman who also previously participated in after-school programs, Larrison said.
“I don’t think we would have the experience of our kids if it weren’t for FFY,” Larrison said.
Larrison’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed by those around him.
“He is highly committed and dedicated to FFY and the Boys and Girls Club,” said Laura Moses, FFY director of health and fitness.
Describing Larrison as a person who has a great deal of empathy for others, Moses said Larrison’s caregiving role at FFY prepared him for his new role as a parent.
Chuck Kime, executive director of FFY, said Larrison carries part of the organization’s heritage and mission inspiring the community.
“He believes in every kid, in every family, in every staff (member),” Kime said. “He’s a heartfelt guy.”
Larrison said while he has looked at different job opportunities over the years, he remains committed to continuing his work at the club with children and families in the community.
“You can’t recreate 20 years of relationships,” he said. “I feel a strong sense of commitment to this role because it serves people in the long term.”
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Family: Married to wife Stacie; two children Elliott and Cruz
Education: Graduate of Columbus East High School; coursework at Ivy Tech Community College and IUPUC
Employment history: Started working at Boys & Girls Club in October 1998 as a part-time teen staff member. He was hired full-time by the organization in 2003 and has been director since 2007.