33 years, 7 months and 24 days add up to a wealth of memories. For Willie Linn, so many of his best memories involve helping the children and teens who come to The Barry Robinson Center (BRC) for treatment.
Linn recently retired from his job as activities coordinator and long-time Scoutmaster at BRC. On his last day, Thursday, October 8, he rang the BRC bell to the cheers of many colleagues on campus. Ringing the bell is a discharge-day tradition for residents to celebrate the end of their treatment and a fresh start.
For well over a decade, Linn served as BRC’s first Scoutmaster. BRC sponsors Scout Troop 397, part of the Tidewater Council, Boy Scouts of America, with a Cub Scout pack, a younger Scout troop and an older leadership Scout group.
Linn established the troop and led it with strong, consistent support from administration and the Board of Trustees.
“I came to work one day and found a note on my desk, asking if we could do a Scout program,” he recalled. “I spent a couple weeks to figure out how we could sponsor an official Scout troop without breaching the kids’ confidentiality.”
Linn worked closely with the Tidewater Council, which he said has been very supportive and wonderful to work with. He took a creative approach to involve residents in Scouting. Under his guidance, residents had opportunities to participate in many positive group Scout experiences.
Over the years, BRC Scouts presented and retired colors at campus events, held flag retirement ceremonies, sold popcorn, built picnic tables, “camped” overnight in the gym, learned about bike safety and enjoyed Rain Gutter Regattas.
Some residents come to BRC with Scout experience. Linn helped them continue work on merit badges and advance in rank. He also had the privilege of helping several residents achieve Eagle Scout – Scouting’s highest achievement.
“I stay in touch with some of my Scouts and recently received an invitation to one young man’s Eagle Scout ceremony,’ he said. “I’m really looking forward to attending. I wouldn’t miss it.”
Linn started at BRC when the center first opened its residential treatment program in 1986.
“I thought it would be good to get in on the ground floor of a new program,” he said. “I started as a residential counselor, served as a team leader and unit manager, worked in activities, went back to the dorms, and worked for the past 17 years with the Scouts. I’m a jack of all trades and filled in wherever they needed me.”
Linn said he always enjoyed working with the residents, even those described as “hard” because of the severity of their mental health diagnosis.
“All of our residents are good kids. Somewhere inside they have heart, and we help guide them to find that goodness inside. Everyone here really cares about the kids,” he said. “You just need to be a good listener, let the kids talk and really listen to what they’re saying.”
In every position he’s served, Linn said he always tried to be a good male role model for the residents. He understands it’s especially important for children and teens from military families with dads who may deploy often.
What’s the future hold for Linn? For now, he’ll be spending more time with his family and landscaping their backyard overlooking a lake. Next year when his wife retires, they’re looking forward to traveling. New Orleans tops their list of places to visit.
“I gave up time with my family to be with my BRC family, which they always understood and supported. Now it’s time for them.”