Ben Kemmer has always enjoyed working with youth. Originally from Illinois, he spent time providing runaway and street homeless outreach in the Bloomington area. During his college days, he took some time to get involved with coaching and after-school programs.
Today, Kemmer serves as CEO of the Florida Keys Children’s Shelter. Located in Tavernier, the shelter contains an array of programs, residential and nonresidential, to assist and counsel youth and their families in their time of need.
Moving down with his wife in 2000, he landed a job at the shelter as a youth advocate, where he worked to ensure kids were receiving the necessary attention and counseling.
“What I enjoyed most was taking kids on recreational outings like fishing and the beach. We’d also go to Dolphins games,” Kemmer said. “I’d get them out in the community and they’d have fun. That’s the key; keeping them busy or else they keep you busy.”
At the children’s shelter, Kemmer said, it’s an always-changing atmosphere as kids come and go. The most rewarding aspect of what he does? It’s the ones he sees years later who grow up and become productive citizens in the community.
“Twenty years later, they come up and thank you. And lots apologize for their behavior,” Kemmer says. “I love this job. I don’t even really call it a job.”
When Kemmer first started at the shelter, he didn’t have any kids. Today, he has four kids who are 18,16,14 and 12. His wife works as director at Mariners Hospital.
Full name? Benjamin Douglas Kemmer.
What did you do last weekend? I participated in the Marathon games with the Florida Keys Shelter. It was a charity event that benefitted 10 different charities, in which we were one.
How did that go? Staff and I participated in the pentathlon, and we came in third! We all did different events. I kayaked.
What’s something people don’t know about you? I am the evening transport for my kids and their friends to clubs and sporting practices from Key Largo to Islamorada. I got the family minivan.
What’s the first thing you do when you get up? Coffee first. Sit down. Then I wake up the kids and let the dog out.
What about your job is challenging, and what about your job do you enjoy? The most challenging part is with the youth we get from the community. A lot of the times we are unaware of certain behavioral issues the youth might have. Our team gets together, and we need to make sure the kid gets all the appropriate services while with us to make sure they get everything they need while here. A lot of times, it’s a short period of time while they’re here with us.
What’s enjoyable is working with a great team and staff we have here. We’ve got a lot of staff that bring a lot of different skills. It’s a high-energy and fun place. Like I said it’s not like a job. I like playing pick-up basketball with the kids. That’s a bonus.
The best word to describe the staff and volunteers you work with? They are very skilled and very patient. It’s a hard job. Our staff is very resilient and having done the job myself for eight years, it can be stressful.
What’s your plan for Easter? I’m the cook of the house, so I will plan on making a full spread with turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole. We usually do the Easter egg hunt, although the kids are a little old. In the evening, we get family together and watch a movie.
The best thing you ever found in an Easter egg? Growing up, we had Easter at grandma’s. Basically the kids would get to find the candy and she would hide $10 bills for the adults. It was something different she wanted to make sure we were having a good time.
Where do you like to go with the family for a weekend? They like Orlando. We just went all in on Universal. Although it’s a mad-house, they love it.
Did you have a role model growing up? My dad. He was a hard worker and a provider, and he was the one who got us into sports and fitness. He did marathons.
Something you do on your spare time? When I get time, I like to fish and boat … the normal Keys routine.
Best piece of advice you received? Treat others as you want to be treated. Just be a good person.
Your dream trip? I would like to do Portugal. I was in the Army for a little while and got to see Germany and that area.
If you could be in any movie, what one would it be? “Star Wars.”
Finish these sentences…
My least favorite chore is … picking up dog poop out of the yard.
My superhero power would be … flight like Superman.
My favorite kind of food is … Mexican.
The Florida Keys Children’s Shelter is … a wonderful part of the Keys community and a needed resource.
Child Abuse Prevention Month (April) is important because … we need to make sure these vulnerable kids get the services they need.