After 30 years with Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County, the organization’s CEO and president recalls his journey from club member to leader.
Some people know from childhood what they want to be when they grow up.
For others, the path they end up taking is a surprise — even if it was right in front of them the whole time.
Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County President and CEO Bill Sadlo grew up at the Fruitville Boys Club (now the Lee Wetherington Boys & Girls Club). His family moved to Sarasota from Long Island, N.Y., when he was 6, and in 1977, at the age of 8, he first attended the club.
Both of his parents worked, so the club offered a safe place for him to go after school and in the summer — as well as make friends with kids from all backgrounds and forge deep connections with adult role models.
“The building back then wasn’t inviting like they are today,” Sadlo says. “The programs are fun, of course, but it’s really the staff that keeps you coming back.”
The club was also where he learned to wrestle, a skill that later earned him an athletic scholarship at Appalachian State University.
Sadlo had no intention of working for BGCSC. He planned to follow his grandfather and older sisters and go into teaching. He wanted to be a high school sports coach and teacher — he never thought about working for a nonprofit.
But in 1987, a phone call from a high school friend set him on a different path. He was asked to help coach wrestling at the club, and the answer was yes.
Sadlo started immediately as a counselor and assistant wrestling coach. He started coming back every summer break from college, and when he eventually transferred from Appalachian State to nearby University of South Florida, he volunteered at the club year-round.
In 1988, the club was about to close its doors. The executive director had just been fired for financial troubles. When new Executive Director Mack Reid came on in 1989, the organization’s luck started to turn around — and Sadlo gained a mentor who eventually hired him for his first full-time job.
Right after Sadlo graduated from USF in 1992 with a degree in secondary education, Reid asked him to be an assistant program director. He continually moved up in the ranks before becoming CEO and president in 2011, when Reid retired.
It was at the club that he met Robyn O’Toole, a once-fellow employee who is now his wife.
This year he’s celebrating 30 years of working for BGCSC, and when asked what it is about the organization that kept him, Sadlo doesn’t hesitate.
“The impact that the kids have had on me is more important than any impact I’ve had on any of the kids,” he says. “Some of these kids just inspire you. There are amazing stories of obstacles overcome that I couldn’t even dream of.”
He remembers three stories that are particulary inspiring.
Kevin Stalker grew up in foster care after his dad died in front of him when Stalker was 9 years old. He came to the club as a troublemaker, Sadlo says, but later became the 2012 Florida State Youth of the Year and is now entering his senior year at Duquesne University on the Robert and Patricia Gussin Endowed Scholarship.
Whitney Stewart of North Port was bullied so often in middle school that she contemplated suicide. She went on to become the 2015 National Youth of the Year. Now she’s about to begin her junior year at the University of Pennsylvania.
“She’s going to be extremely successful,” he says. “I wouldn’t be shocked if she’s our president someday. I really believe that.”
Al-Muta Hawks was raised by a single mom with health problems. After her two strokes, he began providing for the family. He went on to become the BGCSC 2017 Youth of the Year and is about to start his freshman year at Duquesne University on the Robert and Patricia Gussin Endowed Scholarship this fall.
“These kids inspire me because I can’t imagine overcoming the obstacles they have and being as successful as they’re going to be,” Sadlo says. “Whatever small role I played in it — and I know this organization played a large role in it — I’m proud to be a part of it.”
Sadlo says he almost didn’t want to be a part of this story because for him, the past 30 years hasn't been about him. What's made his three decades at BGCSC noteworthy are the kids and the staff that makes the organization's success stories possible.
“It’s just about inspiring kids, and the team we have here is the best I’ve ever seen," he says. "It’s really what makes everything happen.”