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Founder decides it's time to let Boys to Men leave the nest

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Founder decides it's time to let Boys to Men leave the nest

PORTLAND — When it comes to society's affect on childhood development, most studies and forums concentrate on the unreal expectations placed on girls, who are seemingly pressured to fit physical and emotional molds.

But in 2000, Layne Gregory worked with Portland's Public Health Division's family violence prevention program and other community groups to create a day-long conference focusing on nonviolent development of boys through an examination of social expectations.

"Society basically discourages (boys), starting at a very young age, from being vulnerable and asking for help and engaging in fulfilling relationships in an emotional way," Gregory said. "Yet that's what they long for – close connections. But they're told connections are not manly."

To her surprise, dozens of boys from all over the state attended the first conference, which consisted of about 40 workshops, including poetry and rock climbing.

After three years, participants began demanding more than a one-day event, which many thought should have a more prominent place in social and educational programs.

So in 2004, Gregory founded Boys to Men, a nonprofit organization at 565 Congress St. that seeks to reduce interpersonal violence by offering programs to support the healthy development of adolescent boys, providing assistance and educational resources, and increasing community awareness about the specific needs of boys.

Now Gregory, a 52-year-old Falmouth resident and mother of two boys, is stepping aside to allow the organization to enter its next phase of development.

"I'm feeling like there needs to be new leadership and vision – particularly, someone with business acumen" she said. "We need to be able to generate money from our programming."

Jim Haddow, president of Boys to Men, said that Gregory's departure is part of a long-range plan drafted two years ago. While the organization's directors are excited about the future, he said, they are also disappointed to be losing the driving force behind the program.

"(Gregory's) value has been inestimable," Haddow said. "It's not possible to overstate how important she's been."

The importance and popularity of the programing – along with the difficulty in finding stable, long-term funding – compels the group to find an executive director who has an "entrepreneurial flair," Haddow said. 

Boys to Men essentially had no budget during its first year; Gregory said she worked for free. Over last few years, the organization has operated on a $250,000 annual budget.

One of the ways Boys to Men is looking to increase its budget is by licensing and selling its programs to other organizations and school systems across the country, Haddow said.

Three of the signature programs are RSVP, where Boys to Men staffers partner with school teachers to train at-risk students to be leaders; ABLE, a leadership program for high school students offered with the Rippleffect outdoor adventure-based leadership program; and Boot Camp for New Dads.

"(The boot camp) is not only about how to change diapers, but how to be a good dad," Haddow said. "We're really excited about that program."

Haddow said a search committee has already received more than a dozen applications for the executive director position. The group hopes to make its selection in April and have a new director in place by June. 

"It's going to be a really sad moment when (Gregory) turns over the reigns," he said. "At the same time, it could also be very exciting."

Gregory, whose sons are in college, said she hopes to stay involved in some capacity, especially fundraising. She also is willing to serve on the board of directors, if the new director wants to appoint her.

"No matter what, I will always be rooting for Boys to Men," Gregory said. "It's my baby."

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net