As we did in years past, SFGN commemorates the year’s end with our annual local Achievements in Excellence Awards, celebrating individuals who have distinguished themselves by hard work and honest effort, lending credibility and commitment not only to their cause, but to our entire community.
For the year 2014, SFGN’s first Achievement Award is presented to the Executive Director of the Pride Center at Equality Park, Robert Boo.
As we learned when selecting candidates for this year’s ‘OUT 50’ list our community has a plethora of individuals who deserve recognition and acclamation for enhancing the quality of LGBT life in South Florida. Few are as omnipresent and outstanding as Robert Boo. Colleagues and friends affectionately know him as simply ‘Boo’, a man who grew up in a rural northern Indiana town known more for corn and soybean farmers than an LGBT community.
When he became the ED for the Pride Center two years ago, SFGN’s senior features correspondent, Tony Adams, profiled Boo. He was spot on when he wrote that Boo had a personality that was “buoyant and light-hearted…. with a casual and confident manner that is a refreshing surprise.” Boo exudes an infectious energy and enthusiasm, which has been the inspiration for the Pride Center’s emerging stature and success.
Boo brought a career of institutional management to the table when he first became the center’s director of development for five years. With professional experiences in Chicago, San Diego, Miami Beach, and New Orleans, he had a cross-section of geographical experiences to pull from. South Florida won him over. But now he has won us over, with a talent for transforming himself and those around him. While Boo shares the success with others, the five-acre campus that houses the Pride Center is there in no small part due to his vision and leadership.
As the Executive Director, Boo has become the point man for increased programming, incredible diversity, and expansion of its multiple outreach initiatives. He has gone from nutritional corporate management to nurturing LGBT community building. He is saving lives instead of corporations. Under his auspices and tenure, the Pride Center is becoming a national model for twenty-first century growth.
As Director of Development for five years from 2006-2010, Boo tripled the number of major donors in the Founders Circle, helped quadruple the annual operating budget and launched a multi-million dollar capital campaign- which led to the purchase of its campus with 30,000 square feet of office space and the renovation of its main building.
With more and more corporate sponsors from the straight community realizing the value of LGBT revenues, Boo today reaches outside our limited circles, hosting monthly mixers at improbable locales, such as Bayview Cadillac or Mayor’s Jewelers. Boo understands that gay men and women want style as well as substance. The Pride Center offers a mixture of class as well as conscience.
“I know the Robert Boo everyone sees--the infectious laugh, the beanstalk stature, the incisive mind, the quick wit, the consistent drive, the laser focus...and the gaudy cuff links. But behind the scenes, he’s the real deal. I see the generosity, patience, compassion, vision, ethics, and dedication that he practices daily when he doesn’t know that anyone is watching. I see the grueling hours he keeps because of his commitment to excellence. I experience his listening ear and hard-earned wisdom. I see him juggle so much, every day, and do it all with a smile. It’s rare to have a boss in the nonprofit world who is mind-bogglingly excellent with the business details and is so skilled and effective with people. He’s beloved by many for a reason--he shows so much love to others. He does it with sparkle, charm and flair. And he’s a beast on a bike. I mean it. Don’t try to keep up with him. He’ll leave you panting in a puddle of sweat.” — Kris Fegenbush
Ten years ago, the agency had five full time employees and a budget of $350,000. In 2014, the annual operating budget of the center passed $2.6 million. There are now 42 employees. Boo expects still more, noting Wilton Manors is one of the nation’s leading venues for same-sex couples.
Honored last year by Lambda Legal for his lifetime commitment to equality, the 54-year-old Boo has been volunteering since the early 1980’s when he lived in Chicago and devoted time to an AIDS hotline and crisis center. He carries that social sensitivity with him today, trimming down an amazing 75 pounds last year to ride the SMART Ride with the Pride Center team in 2013, making another curtain call just a month ago.
Boo can also be seen pitching the Pride Center as a board member of the Gay and Lesbian Business Exchange and the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Fort Lauderdale. He has spoken out at city commission meetings in numerous venues, and publishes a column in the Center’s quarterly ‘Voice’ Magazine. He is simply everywhere, speaking out and proud as a credible, conscientious voice for the LGBT community.
Boo said satirically in an article, “I am not only the CEO of the Pride Center, I am also a client.” We all are in some way. From memorial services to community forums, programming marriage equality or meth addiction, the Pride Center hosted over 2,500 group meetings last year. Overall, the Center’s programs and services drew some 25,000 South Florida residents and visitors to the center, with outreach initiatives directly affecting an additional 30,000.
The Center’s offerings include couples counseling, family planning and parenting workshops, fitness classes, health fairs, a monthly community flea market, social groups, and support groups for substance abuse recovery, bereavement, and even overeating. There is also a free computer center that serves several thousand people annually. Under Boo’s tenure, programs for women, seniors, and partners have expanded exponentially.
With 5,000 persons tested last year for HIV, AIDS prevention is a cornerstone of the Pride Center’s new legacy. The center conducts a variety of educational initiatives for high-risk negative individuals, including additional support, linkage and care for people living with HIV/AIDS. Prevention staff currently works in ‘The LIFE Program,’ CHOICES, CouplesSpeak, ARTAS, and VOICES. There is condom distribution, anti-stigma campaigns, a drop-in center, peer education training, and buddies/peer mentor program for newly diagnosed individuals, alongside holistic health coaching. The list goes on. Over 350 people, from the judiciary to law enforcement, attended a meth seminar last month.
Of course, not every program is a result of Boo’s singular initiatives. But as a leader, he has motivated the community. As the executive director, he has shepherded and managed the agency with pride and professionalism rather than controversy or incident. He has sourced new revenue streams and made the Pride Center campus the hub of LGBTQ activity in Broward County, cleaning it up aesthetically and driving it professionally- not bad for a guy who was part of a high school senior class of 45.
As a Broadway aficionado, he knows a little bit about the stage. The Purdue graduate is using the savvy he gained as a management professional in private industry to drive the Pride Center’s services to the entire community.
Boo’s vision for the Pride Center is still barely accomplished. Engineered in phases and tempered by budget limitations, he still sees a courtyard and plaza with benches, sculptures, and additional lighting, a pedestrian walkway along the hidden 150 stretch of waterfront. Already, it has gradually cultivated its outdoor space for live performances, movie showings, rallies, and flea markets. With Boo at the helm, there is confidence more is to come.
Whether it is the popular Camp for Health offering massage and holistic care on its campus, or a non-profit initiating a healthcare navigator program, the Center, under Boo’s leadership, has become an inclusive and nurturing environment for the LGBTQ community, a lot more than just an auditorium to hold a meeting. For all these reasons, his efforts and energy make Robert Boo the winner of SFGN’s Achievement in Excellence Award for 2014.