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YMCA CFO sees life change after stay at Boys Town

​​​This story is written by Zach Spadt of the Star Herald. It was posted on October 18, 2016 at starherald.com.

Gerald Berry, the chief financial officer at YMCA of Scottsbluff, enjoys his job and it's not hard to understand why. He said he views being able to give back to the community and make a difference in the lives of youths and their families as a privilege.

"When I see kids, I ask how to get them in the YMCA and keep them active and their minds invigorated," Berry said.

Circumstances could have been much different for Berry, however. And that's where Boys Town, a non-profit that works to get troubled youths' lives back in order,' steps in. In 1991, Berry joined the program at the age of 14 after getting in trouble.

"I was running with the wrong crowd. There was peer pressure and bullying," Berry said.

Berry was caught stealing the hood ornament from a sports car as a youth. While Berry was involved with the legal system, a counselor recommended Boys Town to him.

When he arrived at Boys Town in Omaha late at night, Berry had a mane of hair. That quickly changed.

"They said, 'First thing tomorrow, you're getting a haircut,'" Berry recalled. "It's been short ever since."

Berry's parents split up when he was young, which led to him having little structure as a youth.

"I was playing both sides and bouncing around," Berry said.

But structure was what he got when he began living in a group home at Boys Town. Days started at 6 a.m. with chores, then it was off to school at 8 a.m.

On living in a home with eight other residents, Berry said, "You're brothers."

While at Boys Town, Berry was a star athlete, serving as the lightest lineman on his football team at 6' 3", 190 pounds, and he would go on to win the Lineman of the Year Award.

Berry's work ethic also got an early start at Boys Town. Being a farm kid from Scottsbluff, he found work on a dairy farm working for $1.10 per hour vaccinating, milking and feeding cows.

But Berry's work didn't stop there. Every Sunday he and his fellow Boys Town residents would participate in Honey Sunday where they would go door-to-door and sell honey. They also volunteered their time to help with community service projects. That's where he learned to contribute and give back to the community.

Every day when he goes to work at the YMCA, Berry still carries with him the skills and values he picked up at Boys Town. He will always remember the sense of family.

"I'm definitely happy for the opportunity to be in a place where it didn't matter why (people were there.) You are part of a bigger family," Berry said.

As a high school senior at Boys Town, Berry lost his mother and father within two weeks of each other. Boys Town offered him the option to leave and graduate early after the tragedy.

But Berry turned the offer down. He had family at Boys Town.

"I told them, no. I want to stay with my brothers and sisters," Berry said.

After graduating from Boys Town, Berry attended classes at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, but, at the time, school wasn't for him. He worked a number of odd jobs in the panhandle before attending classes at Western Nebraska Community College. He would eventually go on to earn a bachelor's degree in accounting.

Berry felt obligated to give back to his community.

"Some people are able to give back with possessions, some with money," Berry said. "I wanted to give back with my actions."

Today, Berry sees himself in the youth who walk through the doors at the YMCA. He also remembers the dedication of his instructors and mentors at Boys Town.

YMCA Executive Director Dean Behling said Berry is passionate about giving back to his community through the YMCA. He agreed that Berry sees himself in the youth who visit the YMCA.

"He came across as very sincere. I gave him a shot," Behling said of hiring Berry. "He's a very caring guy. He's not afraid to talk about the Y."

Whenever a young person who can't afford a YMCA membership walks through the doors, Berry finds a ​way to get him or her a scholarship. It keeps them engaged. It gives them something to do. It keeps them from making poor decisions.

It keeps them out of trouble.

"At Boys Town, there were a lot of years that you just want to keep going in life," Berry said. "I don't want to stop that momentum."​​