Leslie Peters is a man blessed with the ability to both envision a better life for at-risk children and the creativity and tenacity to turn that vision into reality.
Peters — chief professional officer of the Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson County for the past 10 years — recently was selected to be the Director of Organizational Development for the Southwest Region of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
The new position, which will require him to relocate to Tulsa, Okla. in August, encompasses a region that includes Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado.
“The entire Southwest Region consists of 10 states -including Arkansas- but trying to cover that many locations would be too much for any one person,” Peters said. “So they divided the region up into sections so that several people together cover the region.
Peters said the new position will put his networking and organizational skills to the test.
“I will be responsible for increasing organizational capacity in order to reach more kids,” Peters said Monday. “We know that what we do works. I will be working with the club and local agency executives and their boards of directors to develop partnerships and resources. There will be a lot more people vying for my time in the new position and you have to make sure that everybody gets their time.”
Peters said his work in preparing a STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] Camp for children in partnership with Southeast Arkansas College held earlier in July is an example of the type of partnership opportunities he would like to continue to develop.
“I was really fortunate to be selected from all of the executives in the region,” Peters said. “To be chosen is an honor.”
Peters said that when he was first asked to apply for the position he had some doubts.
“I was talking to a group of kids and one of them asked me, ‘Mr. Peters you always teach us about striving and reaching the next level; When are you going to do the same?’ ” Peters said. “That really impressed me. I decided that in order to be true to what I was telling them I needed to let them see my own progression. They will see results and see that hard work does pay off.”
Peters said that while it is hard to leave the children he has been working with, he is excited about the future possibilities for the Jefferson County club.
“As much as I love this community and these kids and what we’ve accomplished, this is just a natural process of success,” Peters said. “I am excited about what my successor will be able to accomplish and about where this organization and its board are headed. I hope to see many, many more clubs open in Arkansas until all children are served. As I told the board, it’s not about finding the next Leslie but about finding the next leader. That leader will be able to take this club to new arenas and to new levels.”
Peters said this period of transition has allowed him a rare moment for introspection.
“I know that Pine Bluff has prepared me for whatever challenges I will have to face in the future,” Peters said. “This community has shown me how to be persistent and relentless in pursuit of serving kids. Look at what we’ve accomplished in the 10 years that we’ve been here. Only now can I look back and appreciate the strides that we have made.”
Peters said that every 2013 graduating high school senior who participated in the Boys & Girls Club that he has spoken with is not only going on to college but going with some form of scholarship.
“Kids vote with their feet,” Peters said. “If they’re not happy with the program you’re running they won’t come. A leader has to be able to understand the kids and provide them with what they need.”
Peters said that even though the decision on which region he would be in charge of was out of his hands, another important choice was his to make.
“They did let us — actually my wife — pick between Colorado and Oklahoma to live in and she picked Tulsa because of its closeness to Arkansas,” Peters said. “We have family here and from Tulsa we can get back in about four hours.”
Scott Robinson has served as the board president and chief volunteer officer of the Jefferson County club for the past seven years.
“Leslie actually recruited me to the Boys & Girls Club board of directors,” Robinson said. “He has certainly done an excellent job during his time here. He has not only been a great leader of the organization but also a great friend to me. If it wasn’t for Leslie there probably wouldn’t be a Boys & Girls Club of Jefferson County now. He was certainly the right person at the right time for us.”
Robinson said that Peters’ commitment to the cause is beyond the pale.
“He took a severe pay cut to start out with us because of the difficult financial issues we were in,” Robinson said. “He has done work that is far beyond whatever we could afford to pay for. He has led this organization into something that this community can be very proud of.”
Robinson added that his role with the Boys & Girls Club has given him an identity separate from his career in the funeral business with Ralph Robinson & Son Funeral Home.
“It allows me to have the ability to be a part of something where people are actually glad to see me!” Robinson said with a laugh. “It’s the same with the wonderful partnership the club has with First United Methodist Church. Now when I call the church they don’t automatically think that somebody has died.”
Robinson said the key to finding an adequate replacement for Peters will be locating someone whose on-paper credentials are matched with a passion for the job.
“Not only does Leslie have the skill set but he also has that passion for working with the kids,” Robinson said. “That’s what I mean when I say you can fill the position but you can’t replace the person. We must find somebody with a good resume who also has the passion and the drive to get us into a position to move forward. Hopefully we can find someone to rally us and make this the amazing organization it has the potential to be.”
A farewell reception will be held in Peters’ honor from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 30, at Southeast Arkansas College’s Workforce Development Center, 2505 W. 18th Ave..
Everyone who worked with Peters during his time with the Boys & Girls Club is invited to attend, a spokesman said. Details: Contact Kali Walker with The Alliance at 535-0110.