The troubles that Kym Laube once viewed as her greatest challenge, she now considers her greatest gift.A minor brush with the law as a teen struggling to pass high school earned her a community service sentence that would forever alter her life’s path.
“It was the kind of community service that came with, ‘Yes, your honor. No, your honor. I’m sorry, your honor,’” the lifelong Westhampton resident explained on Friday.
As part of the service requirement, a woman named Jeanne Block, who then headed the Parent Teacher Organization in Westhampton Beach, asked Ms. Laube, then around 16, to hang up posters advertising a camp for teens run by Human Understand and Growth Seminars, a local nonprofit best known by its acronym, HUGS.
The program caught Ms. Laube’s eye.
“I just kind of felt that it was for good kids and I started to second-guess going,” she said. “I just thought that there was no way that I would ever fit in there.”
Ms. Block, however, had solutions for all Ms. Laube’s excuses, and refused to take no for an answer.
Close to 30 years later, Ms. Laube now serves as the executive director of HUGS, a position she has held for almost a decade. Though Ms. Block has since died, Ms. Laube said she utilizes her job to carry on her mentor’s legacy by inspiring other children to lead positive, substance-free lives.
“My life shifted so powerfully and I had such an amazing experience,” she said of the program she attended on Shelter Island as a teen. “For me it was the right program at the right time, because what I found was profound love, and that was something I had not experienced.”
Ms. Laube was employed briefly in alcohol- and drug-treatment programs before returning to HUGS, where she worked her way up through various positions before becoming executive director in 2002. She was the sole employee of the organization when she took that job, but much as changed since then, she explained.
She now has the help of three full-time and one part-time employee, who help run the overnight drug and alcohol prevention programs and leadership seminars at Shelter Island throughout the year, as well as an after-school “drop-in center” at the Westhampton Beach Middle School.
“It’s after-school, with a little bit of a twist,” Ms. Laube explained.
The roughly 30 students who attend each day participate in activities that are designed to help them learn more about themselves and their peers while taking on leadership roles, avoiding substance abuse and handling the stresses of middle and high school. The organization focuses on prevention, rather than counseling and intervention, and aims to create a culture of young people who are more aware of themselves and their peers so that they may support each other as they navigate the struggles of adolescence, she continued.
Ms. Laube, 44, also travels across the state and country to give leadership presentations and hold workshops in schools, as well as for parents.
“This is really an extension of who I am,” she said, of HUGS. “There is no real line between work time and non-work time.”
Earlier this month, Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman announced that he had chosen Ms. Laube as his appointee to the Suffolk County Women’s Advisory Commission, which advocates for women by suggesting programs and advising the Suffolk County Legislature on policy.
“There is more work to be done and I believe Kym will be a great asset toward that common cause,” Mr. Schneiderman said in a prepared statement.
When she isn’t speaking before an audience of students and teachers—a task that, she said, still brings on the nerves—planning some activity or finishing her administrative duties, Ms. Laube can be found camping by the beach with her family, or bowling, a lifelong hobby.
She and her husband, Kerry Laube, a sergeant in the Westhampton Beach Police Department, met at the former Westhampton Lanes in the village. They live in Westhampton Beach and have two sons, Zachary, 19, and Jordan, 16—who both participated in the HUGS seminars and also took on leadership roles.
Ms. Laube, who also serves as president of the National Association of Teen Institutes, and holds memberships with the New York State Association of Substance Abuse Professionals and the East End Prevention and Awareness Committee, among other positions, said she is excited to bring her experience and perspective as a youth organizer to the county commission.
Her own childhood experiences have allowed her to recognize and relate to the struggles of teens and children today, she explained, but she still credits her success to that bit of divine intervention that allowed her to cross paths with Ms. Block all those years ago.
“If I didn’t do this, I don’t know what I’d do,” Ms. Laube said.