The new leader of the Boys & Girls Clubs of King County knows firsthand the organization's benefits.

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Calvin Lyons knows in his bones what it takes to help a young person succeed in life.

Monday he became the CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of King County, a job he prepared for by studying leadership in college, practicing it in the business and nonprofit worlds, and being on the receiving end of the kind of uplift the club offers.

Lyons, 53, grew up in Gary, Ind., in the Dorie Miller housing project, the fourth of five sons of a hardworking, divorced mother.

When I asked him about his success, Lyons started with his mother. All 5 foot, 2 inches of her was filled with determination that her sons would make it in the world, he said.

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All of them did well, but Lyons is the only one who finished college. The difference is in the help he got along the way, and it is why the mission of the Boys & Girls Clubs has deep meaning for him.

“I have a passion for seeing people reach their full potential,” he said.

There are 14 clubs in King County, and last year they served 16,000 children.

One of the tasks on his agenda is to let people know that the organization is not just about kids using a gym.

The clubs have three aims:

• Helping kids succeed academically through tutoring and after-school homework clubs.

• Fostering good character and leadership.

• And guiding children toward healthful lifestyles, including a little gym time.

Lyons was a member of the Boys Club (before the name change) in Gary.

The club was a safe place for him to be as a teenager.

Lyons learned about service there, and that there were adults outside his family who cared about him. That meant he had more people he didn’t want to disappoint. The club was one part of the matrix of support that began with his mother.

His academic success started with a preschool program. Lyons said attending that program made a large part of the difference between him and his brothers. Lyons arrived at kindergarten more ready to succeed.

In high school he switched to a vocational-technical school like his brothers had, but a counselor saw his grades, all A’s, and steered him back to comprehensive high school.

Then, through Upward Bound, he began taking courses at Purdue University, where he went on to earn a bachelor of science degree. He got his MBA at Pepperdine.

Lyons has worked to give back to young people at each of the life stages in which he was given help.

At first, though, he saw it as “eating my broccoli” — that thing you do because you’re supposed to.

Lyons started at McDonnell Douglas before it became part of Boeing, moving from operations, to marketing, to human resources.

The company asked him to participate in a program to keep kids in school in Los Angeles. (His wife taught in L.A. public schools.)

He agreed to eat his broccoli and discovered he liked the taste.

Lyons left Boeing and worked at INROADS in Los Angeles for six years. That program develops talented, underserved youth and places them in business and industry. “I was in love,” he said. He was picked to start a branch in Orange County, then came to Seattle to run the branch here.

Lyons went back to the business world to lead Washington Mutual’s diversity and inclusion efforts but returned to nonprofit work when the company downsized.

He served as executive director of Rainier Scholars from 2005 to 2009.

In 2009, Lyons became director of partnerships at the Talaris Institute, which helps parents maximize their children’s social and emotional development from birth to age 5.

He’ll be introduced to the public as the face of the Boys & Girls Clubs, at an annual breakfast April 4. That will include urging people to open their wallets, something he said he actually enjoys.

For him it’s about approaching people and “connecting their heart to the mission.”

Ultimately, that mission will “create leaders who are going to do that for the next generation.”

He is a prime example of that.

Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or

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