LINCOLN, Neb. — Scott Young, executive director of the Food Bank of Lincoln, has a framed poster on his office wall that celebrates "CHANGE" in big, bold letters.
"Trying to gain some comfort with change is really important," Young said. He noted that some deal with it, while others resist. But change is going to happen. Life can change radically in just 24 hours. Everything is in constant change. Change can be positive.
Young has a firsthand acquaintance with rapid, radical change. In 2001, he reinvented himself, going from a popular radio personality to the administrator of an evolving, expanding nonprofit responsible for feeding the hungry. And he made the transformation in the public eye.
"I appreciate that I was able to make a change like that and have people know it," Young said. The big public change was positive -- not only for Young but for the people watching.
"People say, 'I wish I could do that,'" he said. "People come out and ask how to do this."
Young is happy to share his experience with others to help them turn their own wishes into actions.
He looks back at an early contact he had with a person longing for change and wishes he had been more helpful then. Through the years, Young has had many conversations about finding new paths. One man came out to visit with Young about changing careers and wound up going from Food Bank volunteer to being on the staff.
It was Young's own desire for change that led him away from the broadcast booth, back to school and into the world of food bankers.
"I probably didn't worry enough about it," admitted Young. "That's an asset . misplaced confidence.. In some areas I have lots of self-confidence.. I just always assumed I'd be successful."
Young was born and raised in Lincoln. Before launching his broadcasting career, he was "a lazy student," by his own definition, for a few semesters at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and then for about two years at Nebraska Wesleyan University.
He left school to work radio gigs in Lincoln and Omaha as well as at stations in Laramie, Wyo., and Casa Grande, Ariz. Eventually, he returned to Lincoln, signed on at KFOR and stayed there for the next three decades.
By the time Young reached his mid-40s, radio had become more habit than passion for him. His wife, JoAnne, had been encouraging him to finish his college degree. Working full time, it seemed impossible to go back. But in 1997, Young re-enrolled at Wesleyan as a nontraditional student majoring in communications.
In 2001, Young completed the degree he had started back in the 1970s. At that point, he had worked at KFOR for 28 years. He estimates he did 28,000 hours of radio during his broadcast career. "That's a lot," he said. He was ready to move on.
"I didn't become bitter or have to get shoved out the door," Young said. He loved radio the day he started and the day he left. "I know some (broadcasters) have struggled with life after radio . (but) I am content," he stated. "One of my things is I know when enough is enough."
Young was interested in working in the nonprofit world, and he learned that the Food Bank of Lincoln was initiating a search for a new executive director. With his newly won degree in hand, Young decided to pursue the job.
He applied in May 2001. The final decision was made in August. Young said it had come down to a choice between him and a food bank veteran from Missouri.
"I had the least qualifications of anybody who applied," Young said. "(But) I brought community credibility to it.. I think they might have overrated that a little bit.. I'm sure the food banker dazzled with all he knew about food-banking."
Young said he couldn't claim to know food banks, but he knew the area and the people. For example, he had to go to a dinner with Food Bank of Lincoln stakeholders. Of the six, he already knew five of them.
Young said the Missouri candidate was offered the job, but they couldn't work out the terms. Young was hired and essentially parachuted into the world of the nonprofit.
He started the job Sept. 10, 2001. As dramatic as his personal changes felt, Young had to contend with world-changing events almost immediately. He had to learn the job while coping with the aftereffects of the Sept. 11 attacks, including altered priorities and economic upheaval.
When he started, he worked many hours. "It was so hard," he said.
Young asked a good friend for advice and was told to "keep his mouth shut for six months"
"I did a lot of listening," he recalled.
"(Assistant Executive Director) Nancy Evans was a key to my transition here," Young said. Evans had worked for the Food Bank since 1991 and had done most of the jobs, according to Young. She understood the discipline necessary to keep the operation going.
"It took me two years to feel 'not new,'" Young said. "It was very challenging. It was really hard." Initially, he thought the longest he could stay would be five years.
"Scott brought a lot very positive energy (to the job)," Evans recalled. "The big difference he made in the workplace is encouraging people to do what they're good at." He made the environment "very open," she said. "He makes it very fun."
Young describes Food Bank staff as interesting and driven. They come into his office and tell him directly what they want to do. "We're challenging of each other," he said. "We show each other what's possible."
In some cases, staff members find themselves doing things they might not have felt capable of doing.
At the start, Young explained, it was about "learning to run this thing." Now it's about contending with growth and serving the Food Bank's mission to alleviate hunger in Southeast Nebraska.
"We try to be mission-oriented rather than organizationally driven," Young stated. "If we think about a hungry family . what's best for a hungry family . that guides us differently than (thinking of) what's best for the organization."
"He is a very good visionary person," Evans said. "He looks way into the future and has very big ideas."
Evans said Young also has been effective on the national level, working many hours with Feeding America, a network of 202 food banks. Last year, Young was on the national affiliate council with 12 other food-bankers as well as Feeding America staff. He said it was "thrilling professionally."
He added, "Being thrilled professionally at 60 is a rare thing."
Another thrill was the honorary doctorate given to him by Wesleyan last May. "I've received a lot of affirmation, both in radio and (community work)," Young said. "I've gotten more attention than I deserve."
His work with Feeding America exposes Young to new ideas and national trends. Ideas also come from Food Bank staff members and local leaders. Young brings his own creativity to bear as well in figuring out the next steps for the organization.
He has found it valuable to let ideas evolve, noting that the Food Bank's backpack program started with one school. If they had set an early goal for the program size, they might have stopped after reaching a thousand. Instead, the program now sends food home with 3,000 kids each week.
Being open to change and evolution has been an asset for his work at the Food Bank. Young said his job is 95 percent different from what it was in 2001. The Food Bank has quadrupled, and the staff has doubled, he said. Thirty-nine percent of the food is distributed through mobile pantries that deliver to neighborhoods in need.
The Food Bank still collects and distributes food, but it carries out its mission in innovative new ways, such as virtual food drives and various backpack programs that send food home to families as well as to seniors.
The staff now includes SNAP outreach workers who help people complete the state's 24-page application for food assistance. "That has nothing to do with warehousing and distributing food," Young said. "(But) it's right on-mission."Comment on this story
Young finds his job filled with nonstop challenges. "It's a different kind of hard work," he explained. "If it wasn't hard, I wouldn't enjoy it as much as I do.. It's the collective hard, not the individual."
At 61, he finds this an interesting time of life and knows it brings its own changes. He said he loved his 40s because of his education, he loved his 50s because of the Food Bank, and he wants to love his 60s as well.
"I hit pay dirt when I got this job," he said.
Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://journalstar.com