Oneonta Boys and Girls Club
Marked new chapter, new leadership
By Ian Kenyon
In November 1970, an 8-year-old Robert Escher stopped by the Oneonta Boys Club and became a member. Fifty-two years later he has stepped down through the door of what is now the Oneonta Boys and Girls Club – as the new Executive Director. Earlier this month, the Oneonta Boys and Girls Club announced Escher will lead the organization, which is now in its 75th year of operation. Growing up in Oneonta, the club remains at the center of Escher’s childhood memories:
“My brother Steve and I were with the guys from Central Ave. every night after dinner and on Saturdays at the club.
You name it, we’ve got it – of every sport imaginable, along with the wood shop, fitness activities, the games room and who could ever forget the snack bar?”
The Oneonta Boys Club, founded in 1947 by professional boxer and Oneonta police officer Carl J. Delberta Sr., was a response to the area’s need for facilities to keep boys in good physical shape and avoid trouble on the streets could. The club provided opportunities for boys regardless of creed, color, or cultural differences and found overwhelming support throughout Oneonta. In 1968 he dedicated his original facility at 70 River Street in Oneonta. Membership grew from eight to more than 500 and the club’s mission expanded to be a center where boys can challenge their minds, express their individuality and creativity, and develop a strong sense of community and belonging. By the late 1990’s the club’s board of directors realized that its original facilities were no longer able to meet the demands of continued demand and in 1998, after a two year construction project, significantly expanded the club’s facilities – complete with brand new girls’ facilities. It was also around this time that the club realized the service it could offer girls and henceforth operated as the Oneonta Boys and Girls Club.
Escher echoed the implications of this mission through his own experience.
“As a child, sport was my life. I loved all sports and to be honest it gave me a lot of self esteem and confidence and that is what we aim for here at the club.”
He added, underscoring the value sporting role models hold for younger audiences, including himself.
“Having sports heroes is the great thing about being a kid and living it out on the field or pitch. Growing up, we constantly imitated Roy White standing in the batter’s box or Bob McAdoo shooting jumpers. Thanks to our own Mark May, I have met a wonderful group of very successful people who serve as an example and compass in my life.”
Raised in Oneonta and now jumping at the opportunity to return, Escher couldn’t be more excited to reconnect with his hometown.
“I’ve always loved coming back to Oneonta. I love the memories of growing up in this community and couldn’t be more thankful for growing up here. I love the geography of our area, it’s really beautiful. We’re a tight-knit community, it’s so nice to wave or honk at multiple people wherever you go. In such a small community, we have a lot to do.”
Escher has previous work experience in the area, including with Oneonta Family YMCA and Catskill Area Hospice and Palliative Care, now Helios Care.
Beyond the first week at the club, Escher plans to learn as much as possible about the organization – with ample opportunity as the club is open six days a week during boys’ and girls’ free time from September to July. The club continues to offer a variety of programs including basketball, archery, wrestling, fitness, arts and crafts, cooking and yoga. There are various day camps to choose from in July. Additional educational outdoor excursions are routinely planned, including fishing, canoeing, camping and hiking.
Escher emphasized: “Now the priority is to immerse yourself in the club, which was a great experience in my first five days. I truly believe that the future will bring all the right answers that will help the children we are privileged to serve.”
Looking outward as much as inward, Escher and his team cite an eagerness to learn from other ideas from organizations across the country, including what has worked and what hasn’t. The goal remains the same, as Escher points out.
“I’m just trying to figure out what part we can add here or there to our club to make it even better for the kids,” he said.
With much work ahead of him and formulating his own strategy for the club’s future, Escher welcomed the community’s contribution to the beloved organization, adding, “We’re here to hear how we can add value to the community.”
When asked about the club’s legacy and what he wants his contribution to the organization to be, Escher replied: “The only mark I want to leave is with the kids, a confidence that they deserve and can be anything they want to be.” …”