As a first-generation college graduate, Rashell Brobst (Recreation Administration, ’95) is passionate about and understands the needs of underserved youth in her community, and she has committed herself to serving the North State area. Brobst is the CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the North Valley (BGCNV), after beginning her career as a volunteer coordinator for the Boys and Girls Club 25 years ago when the organization managed only one site. Today, 10 sites serve 700 children a day and 2,000 each year.

In addition to her work at the BGCNV, Brobst is a board member for Healthy Rural California, which aims to meet the public health needs of California’s rural communities; is an advisory member for the Thrive CARE Team, which focuses on responding to youth suicides; and has been actively involved with the California Parks & Recreation Society (CPRS), the California School Age Consortium (CalSAC), and the Bidwell Park Caper Acres Nico Project. In 2018, she was named California Legislature Woman of the Year. This month, she will be honored as the 2022 Distinguished Alumna of the College of Communication and Education.

She lives with her husband, Dave, her two children, Holden and Sawyer, and her rescue dog, Garth, in Chico.

Did you always have a clear idea of what you wanted to do with your life?

I come from extreme poverty, domestic violence, drug abuse—the whole gamut. I left my high school career center with them telling me I would be a great candidate to be a housekeeper in a hotel and that I should pursue that. My aunt who raised me said, “That’s unacceptable.” She was so mad. She realized that she’d never had a conversation with me about my future. So, she and my uncle asked me what I wanted to be, and they encouraged me to dream big. I had a best friend going to Chico State, so I ended up following her. It just kind of went from there. I had been interested in politics, I had been seeing therapists my whole life, and I wanted to help children, so I got connected with Community Action Volunteers in Education (CAVE) and with the Napa State Hospital. I eventually found my passion with Ability First and went down to LA to do my internship, but discovered that a clinical setting wasn’t for me—I wanted to be in the community. Then the Boys and Girls Club opened up, so I applied and have been here ever since.

What do you consider the top highlight in the work that you do?

Meeting the needs of the kids, and stopping unhealthy, generational negative cycles. There are so many needs and so much trauma and never enough resources. I just don’t believe in giving up. That’s been my motto since I came into Boys and Girls Club. We figure out how to support the kids the best we can, moving them forward if they’re willing to do the work. The motivator is being able to see families progress toward stability and health. And the kids, they come back. We see children through their whole life experience, starting in kindergarten all the way to senior year. We are their family. Even if they end up in juvenile hall, we’re here there for them when they get out. It’s that continuity of care we provide that separates us from other organizations. I get to see the beautiful side of things in addition to the most challenging, and I think that’s what keeps me going.

What kinds of services does the Boys and Girls Club offer?

We have programs from the academic side of things to character and leadership programs to sports fitness and nutrition. Chico State has been a key partner since the beginning actually—volunteers from the University kept us open for the first six months of operations. We also have a case management team that works with Camp Fire recovery and rebuilding, and with families who are experiencing homelessness. That first Saturday after the Camp Fire, we just started calling everybody, asking, “Where are you? What do you need?” Eyeglasses, medicine, housing, whatever, we were navigating it all when the schools and services shutdown. If we can’t help, we pull in other agencies that can so that families will have the support they need to navigate their unique challenges. And I’m very, very fortunate. I surround myself with people who are leaders and who have hearts. I don’t necessarily hire for skill set—a lot of that’s trainable. I hire for heart.

How do you Do and Dare?

I’ve had to be willing to take risks, and have a clear vision of what I want to do and how I want to leave the things that I put my time into. I rally my team and we jump in and just do it. That bravery and focus, on the part of everyone involved in BGCNV, is what has made us so successful.

What advice do you have for today’s students or alumni just starting their careers?

You always need someone to check you, someone who has more life experience and who is going to both balance and support your crazy ideas. Make sure everyone in the room has different perspectives and doesn’t necessarily think like you. And find a mentor, wherever you are in life. I’ve always found people that I looked up to who believed in me more than I believed in myself. Surround yourself with amazing people who want to make a difference and who want to see you succeed.