When Roby Little retired the first time at age 49 she planned on taking a part-time job. Lee’s Summit CARES was the right fit at about 15 hours a week.
Little had taught speech, drama, debate at Pleasant Lea Middle School, but needed a change because she had rheumatiod arthritis. “The rigors of teaching just got too difficult. You’ve got to corral 129 kids, stand in front of class…” she said.
The position was for directing two programs at ReDiscover, one to train adults selling alcohol in retail shops and another for parenting classes seemed doable.
She did a lot more.
Under her leadership, Lee’s Summit CARES blossomed into its own not-for-profit, spun out of ReDiscover to operate more efficiently, with three employees and four contract labor positions and about a $360,000 annual budget. Little’s responsibility expanded to a full-time job during her 14-year tenure.
“I think what happened, when she got in her position, she realized we could do so much more,” said Kim Fritchie, president of Lee’s Summit CARES board. “It just naturally grew and grew, from the connections she has with people in the community.”
Now Little is retiring again, June 30, and the agency is looking for its next director, Fritchie said.
While Little oversaw the agency it has:
persuaded the City Council to pass a social hosting ordinance so parents are held responsible for drinking parties at their houses and the Lee’s Summit Police Department to establish party patrols
helped Clean Air Lee’s Summit pass a ban on smoking in public buildings
started the Community of Character program to broaden character education from beyond Lee’s Summit classrooms to adults and businesses
added a Youth Advisory Board that creates the annual Celebrate Sober campaign
started an anti-bullying program, with 530 workshops for more nearly 12,500 kindergarten, fifth and sixth grade students since 2007
helped fund a school-district wide student assistance program and supports clubs in schools that organize activities for members who pledge toare alcohol, drug and tobacco free
“Got Talent” is a major fundraiser which also began under Little’s watch. She said its appeal was that it is family-friendly entertainment.
“This job is about community mobilization to prevent drug and alcohol abuse and for violence prevention,” Little said. “It was totally out of my realm of experience, but being a teacher trains you for many jobs.”
It also gave her contacts in the community with former colleagues and students.
Tony Stansberry, a former superintendent of Lee’s Summit School District who was a driving force to bring character education to the district, talked to her about broadening the effort, to reach parents and businesses. Without solid examples at home and in the community, they decided, character education in schools alone wouldn’t be as effective.
Little said the agenchy took on that initiative because youths developing good character traits are less likely to have risky behaviors or drink or take drugs.
It led to the first Mayor’s Character Breakfast in 2004 kicking off the Community of Character program, which Little learned about at a conference and brought home. Mayor Karen Messerli gave her support, and since the breakfast has grown to more than 600 people attending and honored more than 100 citizens for acts of kindness, bravery and lifetime achievements.
Little grew up in Lee’s Summit, her father a butcher at a grocery, her mother also a teacher. She was awarded the first Truly 150 Community Hero recognition from the Truly 150 Sesquicentennial Steering Committee. Lee’s Summit CARES was named Missouri Coalition of the Year in 2014.
Little said as community leaders worked on an issue, they’d think of a related problem, so also would steer their efforts there too.
Trying to educate retailers on keeping underage users from buying tobacco and alcohol, led them to realize better possession laws and enforcement by Lee’s Summit Police Departments were needed.
Working with police, it started an effort to stop adults from allowing drinking parties at their homes, passing the social hosting ordinance and starting “party patrols.” “People who host, lose the most,” is its slogan.
“We’ve seen a decrease in the number of house parties in the community,” Little said.
She said Lee’s Summit CARES supported the smoking ban because many of Lee’s Summit’s youth are employed, such as busing tables, and so exposed to second-hand smoke.
Search Institute Surveys of eighth, 10th and 12th grades conducted in the schools for Lee’s Summit CARES show a decrease in tobacco use, Little said.
Little said she thinks Lee’s Summit CARES will need to consider issues like so-called “vaping” or electronic cigarettes, because users are still put nicotine into their bodies, using electronic methods. “Whether it’s safe or not, time will tell,” she said.
The group also needs to educate voters on two controversial constitutional amendments that could be on the ballot in 2016 to legalize marijuana use in Missouri. Even if it only becomes legal for adults, it will still be more available to children and would change perceptions so they think use is OK, she said.
Little said once she’sretired she’ll spend more time with her has three grandchildren and be able to travel or do volunteer with Summit Art without scheduling conflicts.
“Everybody comes to a time when you say, OK, I’ve done this,” Little said. “It’s an accomplishment I feel proud of, of course I didn’t do any of these things alone, I’ve had lots of great helpers.”