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Alex Horvath / The Californian

Zane Smith, executive director of the Boys

A humble, passionate and hard-working individual is how people who work with Zane Smith describe him.

Smith is the executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kern County and he was recently named the Boys & Girls Clubs of America's National Executive of the Year. It's a title Smith earned for making significant contributions through his executive work. He was recognized at a national conference in Orlando, Fla., on Friday.

"It's an amazing honor especially because there are wonderful people who are a part of the club around the country and to be identified among them is honoring and humbling," Smith said.

It was in 1996, when Smith became the executive director of the club, that the vision of there being more to the club than just the four walls where kids went after school kicked off.

Barry Hill, associate executive director, remembers when Smith started at the club and knew great changes were on the way.

"We would drive around different communities and we would see kids playing in their front yard or just walking down the street with friends and Zane would ask, 'Why aren't they at the Boys & Girls Clubs?'" Hill recalls.

It was that vision of bringing kids into the club that took off in the following years.

At that time, the club was in an old church that served about 45 kids a day. Today, about 5,500 kids walk through the doors of the various club sites every day.

Although the main club facility is on Niles Street, the club is now a part of seven school districts and 52 locations in Kern.

"We partnered with school districts to have on-site after-school clubs so that kids can stay at their own school but still get the same quality of the program we have here," Smith said.

Connecting with students and supporting their dreams is something Smith talks about with his staff. He said he couldn't make things happen without his staff, who give their hearts to working with the kids.

Marshal Johnson, the program specialist at the club, believes Smith is a true executive who has the qualities of a great leader.

"A few years ago, we were doing a huge event and it was really hot in the summer and Zane was right there, drawing caricatures for kids and that is just the guy he is, he always there," Johnson said.