EAST ORANGE, NJ — When James Forde was 11, a friend showed up at school dressed in his Boy Scout uniform. “I wanted to know all about it,’’ Forde said. “And when he described summer camp, I was hooked.”
Forde went on to become a scout camp counselor, earn the Eagle Scout rank and build a career running and expanding programs for both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts for more than a decade.
Forde, 37, is now sharing his expertise with the East Orange YMCA, where he became executive director on Monday, Dec. 14.
“I am confident that, with James’ leadership, the East Orange YMCA will be able to expand the services it offers to the East Orange community,” Metropolitan YMCA Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President Edward Philipp said. The East Orange Y is one of six branches of the Metro YMCA, based in Livingston.
“I’m really excited to be working at the East Orange YMCA and my first order of business is getting to know our members and staff and learning more about the needs of East Orange,” Forde said. In the coming months, he plans to seek partnerships to expand outdoor activities, the arts and STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics— programs for children and increase opportunities for all at the facility.
The Boy Scouts taught Forde how to tackle challenges by figuring out how things work and what tools are needed, he said. “Being a Boy Scout ingrained preparedness in me for sure,” the New York City native said.
Forde earned his Eagle Scout rank by organizing a community service project restoring a church tabernacle that had been damaged. He and fellow scouts spent five weekends refurbishing it.
His Boy Scout years gave him the courage to speak in front of a crowd. “When you’re a camp counselor, you have to lead the skits and songs around the campfire,’’ he said. “Having to be theatrical in front of a crowd teaches you public speaking. That’s one of the best things I got out of it.’’
After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelor’s degree in communications and information sciences in 2001, Forde was hired by the Boy Scouts of America Greater New York Councils, where he ran a program for at-risk children in 20 city schools across four boroughs.
Forde was promoted to council program director, overseeing training of adults and organized regional events, including a highly publicized citywide pinewood derby at the ESPN Zone in Times Square.
In 2007, he became director of the Boy Scout’s Camp Keowa, the largest and most diverse of three Boy Scout camps at the 12,000-acre Ten Mile River Scout Reservation in the Catskills in New York.
On his first night on the job, an adult went into diabetic shock. Forde snapped to action, directing staff to call the hospital and guide an ambulance down the mile-long camp road to the campsite, where a paramedic performed first aid.
“It was a harrowing experience, but my staff and I were able to remain calm,” Forde said. “It was all due to the training we received as scouts and staff.’’
Forde became acquainted with YMCAs while working as the membership services manager at the Girls Scouts in Virginia. The Girl Scouts partnered with the YMCA in Charlottesville to provide after-school experiences in leadership and community service twice a week.
When Forde came to the Girl Scouts in New Jersey, colleagues spoke highly of the Metro YMCA.
“I am impressed with the mission of the Metro YMCA and want to ensure the East Orange Y continues to provide cause-driven services,” Forde said.