With 20+ years of experience in youth development, deep roots in the community, and an unwavering commitment for making a difference in the lives of young people, Carlton Eichelberger truly embodies what it means to be a part of the team here at Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco (BGCSF).
Carlton first started at BGCSF as a volunteer at the Tenderloin Clubhouse. He liked it so much—and, Clubhouse staff saw his potential to lead—that he applied for a job as Director of Teen Services, landed it, and never looked back.
From there, Carlton went on to hold several positions at BGCSF—from Clubhouse Director, to Area Director, and most recently, as the Senior Director of School-Based Clubs, where he’ll be overseeing five school-based Clubs—which includes our newest site, Beacon at Carver Elementary School.
Watch Carlton in this recent BGCSF video as he speaks about the importance of our work:
We sat down with Carlton to ask him a few questions about his career, what drives him to do youth development work, and what he’s most excited about in his new role.
Here is what he had to say...
I’ve always liked to help people. I went to church as a little kid and the culture there was always to help others.
...you know, I’m the friend that always shows up when a friend needs to move. [laughter]
Back in college, I started volunteering at the Tenderloin Clubhouse. It was pretty informal at the time — just coming in, helping out a bit, and hanging out with the kids.
Soon after, [the Club] decided to create a summer-only position to serve teens during that gap between the school year.
I enjoyed everything I had done at the Club at that point, so I applied and got the job. From there I helped establish a teen program and the first Keystone Club.
I’ve been at BGCSF for more than 20 years, so I’ve had many proud moments.
But one story, in particular, stands out -- involving a teen that I got to know pretty well while working at the Tenderloin Clubhouse: Len Smolburd.
I mentored Len and helped him with his school work. When he was ready to apply for colleges, we worked on his application together, studied for the SATs, and started looking at career opportunities.
As a teen, Len was also part of the Youth of the Year program and blew people away with his capacity to lead. He went on to win Citywide Youth of the Year.
After college, Len came back to the Club, and I hired him as the Teen Services Director at the Excelsior Club. While working together at the Excelsior Clubhouse we won the National Program Excellence Award in Education and Career Development for our Teen Employment and Mentorship Program. Boys & Girls Clubs of America flew us both out to Orlando, Florida to give us a national award. It was amazing. Fast forward from there, and he became the Director of Development at BGCSF, helping the organization raise funds for the same programs he was a part of as a teen. And today, Len is the Grants Manager at The Community Foundation San Luis Obispo County.
It’s been a pretty amazing journey, and exactly what we mean when we talk about building community and creating long-term impact.
"Through my relationship with Carlton, I experience unconditional support and acceptance. He was and continues to be there for me during times of success and challenges. Never judging, but always guiding. Carlton and the Club are an extension of my family and I know that in Carlton's 20-years at the Club, thousands of youth have experienced the same feeling of love, caring, and mentorship that I continue to experience." -- Len Smolburd
Three things, really...
For one, we work with some of the most creative and motivated people in the world. And you have to be, because it’s hard work. You don’t get instant satisfaction or even gratification. And, it’s especially hard because we’re trying to solve really big challenges in the community.
Secondly, this job has consistently gotten me out of my comfort zone and not too complacent in one role. I keep using my skills but also keep developing and growing. It’s dynamic. It’s definitely not predictable.
Lastly, the opportunity to give back. I feel like I do that every single day. And it feels great...the same reason for why people volunteer...I always feel like I’m contributing to something bigger than myself.
I’m most excited about learning everything that there is to learn about my new job, and...getting good at it.
I’m also excited about being able to support my staff so that they can be great at their jobs.
As for Beacon at Carver Elementary School...it’s truly a unique partnership.
The Beacon Model is great and aligns nicely with our philosophy here at BGCSF, which is to put families and communities at the center.
The Beacon site is also going to have some great programs for kids like gardening, cooking, arts and crafts…this really cool program called X-Kids that teaches kids how to play chess and code at the same time...and, many more. It’s going to be great.