ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, Fla. — Austin Long has been involved in the Boys & Girls Clubs for most of his life, first as a member and then as a mentor.

What You Need To Know

  • Austin Long runs the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Florida branch in Altamonte Springs

  • He has touched many children's lives for nearly 25 years

Long runs the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Florida (BGCCF) branch in Altamonte Springs. He has touched countless kids’ lives in nearly 25 years of service. 

“With mentoring, it’s all about trust,” he said. “Once the kids trust you, they have the chance to talk to you about anything. So that’s kind of how this kind of stuff builds onto everything. Everything kind of works together.”

Long is in charge of around 60 kids this school year. A number of them come from families struggling to make ends meet, with different things stacked against them. Long is there to help guide them.

“We look at kids for who they are and not where they come from,” he said. “When they walk in these doors, we’re here to be their mentor and guide them and point them in the right direction.”

Long has made a particular impact on DeShaunda DeLaughter. A BGCCF alum herself, she started working for Long in her early 20s.

Long pushed her to go to college and helped her get a scholarship, at a time when she wasn’t sure whether she could juggle going to school and raising two young girls.

“Every day, he would push me to do something different,” DeLaughter told Spectrum News 13. “Even if I said, ‘Oh I don’t think that I can do that,’ he was like, ‘You didn’t even try. How can you say you can’t do it?’

"So he was always pushing me to go that much further.”

Long has made the same impact on her daughters, especially 12-year-old Jayla Diggs. Like her mother, Long saw her potential. When school was not challenging her enough, he and BGCCF helped pave the way so she could attend a competitive private school.

“It’s just great to see her becoming that person who I knew she would be,” Long said.

Last school year, BGCCF served 6,868 kids across 36 clubs. The number of children served has gone down amid the pandemic, explained BGCCF Vice President of Marketing & Community Relations Betsy Owens, but the need across the underserved communities where the clubs are placed has not.

BGCCF statistics show 92% of those children qualify for free and reduced lunch and 73% live in households earning less than $40,000 annually.