NEWARK – Maleek Greene wasn’t thrilled when his mother told him he was going to start going to the YES Club in middle school.
But that all changed when he met Vee Hottle — her warm welcome helped him feel like he had a place at the clubhouse.
“She gave the place a comfortable feeling,” he said. “It was like a home away from home.”
The Newark High School senior was one of dozens of past and present YES Club members who spent Friday afternoon celebrating Hottle’s many accomplishments and giving her lots of hugs.
After 22 years of service to the YES Club, Hottle, of Granville, announced her retirement in a letter this week. Friday was her last day as director of the club.
“I have had an amazing career,” she wrote in the letter. “It has been a blessing to impact the lives of thousands of youth during the past 22 years.”
After ten years working for the Licking County Juvenile Court, she was hired by Mental Health America of Licking County to run a small, state funded, service learning project.
YES Club office manager Amy Sanders first got involved with the program as a student in the early days when it was based out of the MHA office and focused on service projects and dances.
Since then, the program has grown significantly, moving into its first clubhouse before establishing a permanent residence at 100 E. Church St. Dozens of high school and middle school students, many from low-income families, walk through the doors each day to get help with homework, participate in service projects and have a safe space to be themselves.
When Sanders returned to the YES Club to work after college, she was amazed by how far the program had come.
“I walked in and started to cry,” she said. “Seeing Vee was still here made me want to be here that much more.”
Hottle’s hard work and dedication helped make the YES Club a success, said Amanda Vozzella, director of programming.
“YES would never be where it is today without her,” she said. “She kept pushing and pushing and would not give up on these kids. It’s not a job for her. This was her life. This is her legacy.”
Hottle never lost sight about what the YES Club was about: helping children and being connected, Vozzella said.
“She is 100 percent the best social worker I’ve ever known,” she said. “I’ve never met anyone who I truly believe was meant for this (job) more than her.”
Vee always knew when a student was having a bad day; she would invite such a student into her office to chat, said former club member Stephanie Barrett.
“She always told us we could do anything in the world,” she said. “She never lost confidence in us.”
Hottle wanted the teens to know they had the ability to be leaders and gave them opportunities to get involved in the community, said Newark City Councilman Jeremy Blake.
“She taught them, even if you don’t come from the best life situation, you can be a leader,” he said. “She’s just like a mother to everyone who walks through those doors. She’s ready to give them a hug.”
Although she was dedicated to her job at YES Club, Hottle also volunteered her time in the community, said YES Club member Demitrius Gingras.
“She helps everyone she can,” he said. “She’s amazing.”
Hottle will be greatly missed, and her years of service will never be forgotten, David W. Wenger, president of the Mental Health America Board of Trustees, wrote in a statement.
“The Board has resolved to honor Vee’s passion and dedication to YES Club by ensuring that the program continues and thrives going forward as a safe haven for teens in Licking County,” he wrote.
For Cory Stutes, middle school education coordinator, saying goodbye to Hottle Friday was like saying goodbye to a family member.
“There is a reason Vee is so well suited for this field and YES has been so successful,” he said. “She understands how to connect with people and what people need. She picks up on what people are feeling. She is so nurturing.”
Hottle was always there for him as a boss and a friend, he said.
“I’ve learned things from her I will carry with me for the rest of my career,” he said. “But for her, this isn’t the end of her relationship with YES Club.”
Although Hottle plans to visit and will always be a part of the YES Club family, it will be difficult for the students to not see her every day, said YES Club graduate Landa Dearing.
But members past and present pulled together Friday to support each other and show Hottle lots of love, she said.
“We always say, there is no L-O-V-E without Vee,” Dearing said. “If more people had as much compassion and love for children and other people as she does, the world would be a better place.”
Found in The Newark Advocate April 11, 2015