By Laurie Davies
Todd Trout’s University of Phoenix diploma hangs in a place of honor behind his desk, right next to his 1990s Tom Petty poster from the Fillmore. Not only does the diploma remind him that he can press through hard things — he earned his degree at age 50 — but he hopes it also inspires the kids he serves as CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Buena Park.
Despite living near two major amusement parks in Southern California, some of the kids Trout serves have anything but carefree lives. “We ask our kids, ‘Where are you going to be in five years?’ Sometimes it’s heartbreaking and tragic. Some of them say, ‘I don’t know, I might be dead.’ There’s no hope,” he says.
He’s trying to change that, describing the Boys & Girls Club as a wrecking ball in the community for good.
Trout started at the Boys & Girls Club 26 years ago as a team director and advanced to a program director. Eight years ago, he was named CEO. “Part of the contingency of my hiring was to finish my degree,” he says.
On one hand, he had already cut his teeth decades earlier, running a gym for inner-city LA youth and gangs. He knows youth development because it’s his heartbeat and how he has spent his entire career. On the other hand, he has always pointed kids — his own and his Club kids — toward education.
“Here I was encouraging all the kids in my life to go to college and I was college-less,” he says.
Five years ago, he decided to fix that. Through his workplace, he applied for a University of Phoenix scholarship. To his surprise, he was one of 10 who were awarded scholarships through that nationwide opportunity.
The scholarship brought welcome financial news but also intense fear of failure. “I was terrified. I thought, ‘I cannot mess this up. If I get F’s I’m going to lose this scholarship,’” he says. The fear, rooted in not doing well in junior college as an 18-year-old, was something Trout had to overcome. “I already felt like a failure to some extent, never having gone to school.”