Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael De Nyse.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
It’s a question we often ask children and invokes aspirations of top-level career fields to provide a comfortable living and lifestyle. But there is another, perhaps more important question, we could be asking our youth.
Who do you want to be when you grow up?
The caliber a person becomes is dependent on many factors and influences. The choices a person makes, the peers they keep and the role models they emulate all play a large part in shaping the person they see in the mirror every day.
For one Coast Guardsman, it was the people at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America who provided him with the life skills that crafted him into the man he is today.
Cmdr. Robert L. Smith was inducted into the BGCA National Hall of Fame as part of their national BGCA conference in Orlando, Fla. Smith is only the second Coast Guardsman to receive this honor. He joined more than 150 other former BGCA members who have been recognized as leaders in their fields, including Denzel Washington, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Michael Jordan and Coast Guard Capt. Daniel Travers.
“We are extremely proud of our alumni who have gone on to achieve great things,” said Jim Clark, president and CEO of BGCA. “Their stories are very different, but all start out the same – with life-changing programs, caring and attentive staff and the fun and safety of a local BGCA.”
Smith attributes much of his success in life today to his partnership with the BGCA organization in Brooklyn, N.Y., and is currently serving as the executive assistant to the deputy commandant for mission support.
“I think the really big piece that I gained from the BGCA is the love for learning and the appreciation of what learning does,” said Smith. “When I first joined the BGCA I was not a very good student. I was at the bottom of my class at school and not going anywhere. In three months after joining the BGCA I was moved to the top class, and I did so well in the top class I skipped the eighth grade, and went straight into ninth.”
His passion for learning started at Brooklyn’s Flatbush Boys Club where Smith gained the confidence to dream big. A school counselor introduced Smith to the club, knowing he would benefit from the safe supervision and positive male role models. He thrived under the guidance of a club tutor and loved to swim in the club’s pool. Those memories stayed with Smith through his life.
“The BGCA gave me the passion for learning, and it’s so important because education is such a big part of a Coast Guard career,” said Smith. “We are successful in this organization [Coast Guard] when you know how to learn on the fly, and the BCGA taught me that.”
Smith’s family was in attendance during the ceremony. His mother, Francine; brother, Byron; wife, Vicki; and his three children, Emmanuel, 14-years-old; Elyssia, 11-years-old; and Elanna, 7-years-old were all in his cheering section as he gave his speech.
“This award is such a great honor,” said Vicki. “I feel so overwhelmed and proud of Rob. I am filled with joy and very thankful for his hard work and excellent work ethic. After watching my husband’s induction, one thing came to mind – this organization cares.”
Smith leveraged his BGCA experience to develop a life-long passion for learning and a successful Coast Guard career. He went on to earn his Bachelor of Science degree in communications from West Virginia State College, his Master of Science in industrial/organizational psychology from Capella University and a Master of Science in instructional and performance technology from Boise State University. He has only the dissertation to complete for his doctorate in psychology from Capella University. Smith is currently a captain-select and is the first Minority Officer Recruiting Effort candidate to be selected for promotion to the rank of captain.
“Smith is an excellent role model and clearly demonstrates that with hard work, determination and the safe and nurturing environment from a caring family, including the extended family in his local BGCA in Brooklyn, N.Y., kids can aspire to achieve great things,” said Capt. Robert E. McKenna, commanding officer of the Coast Guard Community Services Command. “For Smith, his ‘being great’ happens to be for the Coast Guard, and we are a better organization because of it.”