When Robert Santana ’08 (child and adolescent development) took office as CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast in 2005, the nonprofit had a single site with 12 staff and 130 children and youth involved. Fast-forward a decade and a half, and the chapter serves nearly 9,000 children and teens across 66 sites with the help of nearly 175 dedicated staff members.

Santana will be a speaker at the G3X Conference at Cal State Fullerton’s Mihaylo College on Aug. 15. The four-day seminar provides professional development, guest speaker lectures and networking opportunities for Southern California nonprofit and social enterprise professionals. Register today.

A Mission-Driven Leader Heads an Expansion

Serving the youth of the cities of Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, Irvine, Orange and Newport Beach, Santana’s chapter provides opportunities in many historically underprivileged communities. When measuring success, he looks at the talent he has brought to his team.

“I define success based on the talent I have recruited and cultivated,” he says. “The leadership team we have at the club is world-class and our culture of innovation has driven me to think even bigger on behalf of those we serve. We’ve extended our reach and increased our bandwidth to take on the most challenging issues in Orange County while deepening the impact we bring to families.”

Under Santana, the Central Orange Coast chapter has acquired YEP for Kids, a STEM-focused nonprofit that teaches internet safety, computer science, coding and engineering, thus ensuring the organization’s mission is attuned to the needs of youth growing up in our digital world.

By 2025, he anticipates that the club will be using the most current technology to prepare youth and serve families with the skills of the future.

Robert Santana speaks at the 2019 annual Mihaylo College Center for Leadership Awards Luncheon.

“We are a 21st-century Boys & Girls club, committed to preparing the next generation of leaders,” says Santana. “We define success as the journey, not the destination. In five years, we will look different, and five years after that, we will look different again. We are always evolving and it is in our DNA to continue innovating and growing our reach. Our team of social entrepreneurs are laser-focused on ensuring all kids have mentors and champions in life.”

The ethos guiding Santana was long displayed on a dry erase board in his office, only recently upgraded to a custom-made wall display: “Success is never owned, it is rented, and rent is due every single day!”

“It is a message I would say daily for almost 15 years and something my team would see when in my office,” he says. “I believe it summarizes me as a leader and describes the reason for my fast pace, high standards and hustle mode.”

A Leadership Journey Defined by Service

Santana traces his leadership journey to his days in the U.S. Air Force as a member of the 15th Security Forces Unit. “Aside from the relationships I developed and my experiences, I had the opportunity to find my voice as a leader and become who I am today. I believe leadership is a choice.”

His military service included tuition assistance, and he earned a B.S. in child and adolescent development from Cal State Fullerton in 2008 and an MBA in organizational leadership from National University.

It was a synthesis of his military experience, college education, passion for youth mentoring, and entrepreneurial DNA that would lead Santana to his dream role of leading the Boys & Girls Club.

For his steadfast dedication to the community, his staff and his organization’s mission, Santana was the recipient of the Excellence in Executive Leadership award at the 2019 annual Mihaylo College Center for Leadership Awards Luncheon.

Addressing Philanthropic Leaders at the G3X Conference

In his presentation at the G3X Conference this August, Santana will focus on the role the nonprofit sector can play in filling the gaps in society, while innovating.

“Whether it is feeding the hungry, responding to crises, or matching kids with mentors, as a disruptor and social entrepreneur, I have demonstrated that there is a fundamental difference between a charity mindset and a social entrepreneurship mindset,” he says. “I will inspire and challenge attendees to ask the right questions and choose to be leaders in the community.”

For More Information

For a complete lineup or to register for the conference, visit the G3X web presence. Or read more of our articles about the Gianneschi Center.