From Hope to reality

Lafayette native takes charge of Boys Hope Girls Hope Baton Rouge and New Orleans

Advocate staff photo by PAM BORDELON -- Chuck Roth, executive director of Boys Hope Girls Hope Baton Rouge and New Orleans, helps 14-year-old scholar Neko Redd make out his Christmas wish list.
Advocate staff photo by PAM BORDELON -- Chuck Roth, executive director of Boys Hope Girls Hope Baton Rouge and New Orleans, helps 14-year-old scholar Neko Redd make out his Christmas wish list.

Chuck Roth grew up in Lafayette in a family of seven children; he was No. 6 in the pecking order.

Today, the bachelor, 47, helps parent 21 middle-school-age children as executive director of Boys Hope Girls Hope New Orleans and, as of this past August, Boys Hope Girls Hope Baton Rouge.

“I never thought this is what I’d be doing, but it’s actually pretty awesome,” Roth said.

“My dad was in the military and a coach, so there was a good bit of structure at home. We all understood that getting a good education, going to college was not optional. You get financial stability through education. … I run the (Boys Hope Girls Hope) homes like my parents raised us.”

Boys Hope Girls Hope is a residential program for at-risk youth who show educational promise. The potential scholars, who start the program as young as age 10 and remain until they graduate from high school, are referred by teachers, guidance counselors, pastors and guardians. Live-in counselors provide support, guidance and structure in a nurturing family environment.

Roth started out as a classroom teacher at Mother Seton Academy, a Baltimore inner-city Catholic school run by five religious orders, as a member of the Xaverian Brothers Volunteer Corps.

“I soon realized I was much better at recess and P.E. than teaching,” said Roth, laughing.

“The kids were so stressed out from the craziness at home,” he said. “It took them a couple of hours to calm down once they got to school. Then, a couple of hours before it was time for them to leave, they’d get stressed again. I quickly realized what they needed was a stable home life.”

So, Roth tossed in his chalk and headed back to Louisiana, where from 1996 to 1998, he ran a home health company in Houma. In August 1998, he joined the Jesuits, spending his novitiate year in Grand Coteau. From 1999 to 2000, he worked for the Jesuits Volunteer Corps in Detroit, overseeing their inner-city programs there as well as in Cleveland, Chicago and Milwaukee.

Realizing the priesthood wasn’t for him, Roth returned to work in Louisiana. But he still had a calling to work with at-risk children and so, toward the end of 2000, he applied for positions with Boys Hope Girls Hope in New Orleans and Denver. Neither location had an opening but the Boys Hope Girls Hope national office offered him the opportunity to open Boys Hope Girls Hope of Baltimore, partnering with the school where he’d previously taught. It was 2001, a mere two weeks before 9/11.

“It was tough emotionally and in trying to manage financially,” Roth said. “We found an old convent and started out there. Three years later, we built a new home.”

After nine years with Boys Hope Girls Hope Baltimore and with dad Louis Roth’s health deteriorating, the job of program director opened up at the New Orleans Boys Hope Girls Hope and Roth headed home to Louisiana.

“It was 2009, but New Orleans was still struggling from Katrina, and so was Boys Hope Girls Hope,” he said. “We had to reorganize the program and bring some stability.”

When the executive director’s position opened up, it was a natural step up the ladder for Roth. He again answered the call of the national office when he assumed the executive directorship of the Baton Rouge home.

“These are tough financial times here in Baton Rouge,” he said. “There are great kids here and they’re doing good in school … we’re rebuilding the board and re-engaging the Baton Rouge community. We have to rebuild programmatically and organizationally.”

The Baton Rouge program has six boys enrolled; they are now housed in what was the Girls Hope home. It was closed this summer and the three girls remaining in the program transitioned into a nonresident program. “They do everything here (at the house); they just spend the night at home,” Roth said.

The New Orleans program has 15 residents: eight boys and seven girls.

The scholars’ families remain involved in their lives. They are invited to join them for dinner, come watch them play sports and attend church with them.

“We really engage the family,” Roth said. “We co-parent these kids so their family can enjoy their success.

“Graduation from high school is the goal for the house parents, but for me that is the halfway point,” he continued. “The college search for me is the exciting part.”

Finding the right college is one of the many firsts Roth gets to experience with the scholars.

There are also prom, first loves, first heartbreaks and first family-style vacations.

“My family always traveled every summer in a station wagon with pop-up camper,” said Roth, laughing at the memory. “So, every summer, we pack up the kids, the pop-up camper and take a trip. It’s something I’ve brought to the program.”

Boys Hope Girls Hope continues to play a huge role in the scholars’ lives even after they graduate high school because, as Roth said, the program allows the adults to treat each child as their own.

“We continue to be that stable family role for them,” he explained. “Alumni still come to us, call on us like a child would a parent.”

Roth visits them at college, taking them out to dinner, buying them groceries, things any visiting parent would do.

“I remember telling Mom I wanted 10 kids; now I’ve had many, many more than that,” Roth said. “To me it’s a pretty ideal journey — it’s a combination of a calling and mission work. It’s not a job; it’s a lifestyle.”