After 40 years of work with the agency, Coosa Valley Youth Services executive director Mike Rollins is retiring with his successor already chosen.
Coosa Valley’s board of directors thanked Rollins for his service during a meeting Wednesday afternoon, presenting him with an Alabama-shaped plaque bearing a chronicle of his work with the organization. Coosa Valley Youth Services provides residential diversion programs for minors in the juvenile court systems of Calhoun and its surrounding counties, with a detention facility, a home for girls and the Lewis Academy — long known for its obstacle tower that was removed in August — on McClellan Boulevard.
Rollins will continue to work until Nov. 1, when Jason Granholm, current Lewis Academy program manager, takes over as executive director.
Rollins, 58, seemed touched — and a bit embarrassed — by the recognition at the meeting.
“Y’all didn’t have to do all that, but I appreciate it,” he said.
Rollins has been involved with Coosa Valley in some regard almost since it opened in 1974 as the Coosa Valley Regional Juvenile Detention Center. He said he had been a detainee at the facility when he was a teenager. It was much smaller then, he said, a far cry from the 90-plus program participants, detainees and 70 employees that reside and work there now.
A few years after he was released, at only 17 years old, he applied for a part-time maintenance job at the detention center. He filled out a one-page application for the position with the help of a woman working at the facility. One of the questions on the form asked “What is your ultimate goal with this company?”
As a joke, Rollins said, he suggested that the woman “put down that I want to be the director of this place.”
“She chuckled and laughed and wrote it on the form,” Rollins recalled after the meeting. “If I could find her now and tell her, what a tale that would be.”
He went from maintenance work to covering shifts for detention center guards, eventually taking a full-time guard job. He was promoted to detention program manager, and continued to be promoted until he was at the top.
“This place was a definite crossroads for me,” Rollins said, seated in the board room after the meeting ended. “All the years I’ve been here I’ve wanted to be sure it was a positive crossroads for other kids coming through.”
Granholm said before the meeting that he admired Rollins for his involvement with the community and his dedication to Coosa Valley’s mission.
“He really cares about the kids, the agency and the staff,” Granholm said. “Those are going to be tough shoes to fill.”
Granholm joined Coosa Valley in 2006, after 10 years in the U.S. Army. He still works with the National Guard, he said, though he may have to pull back from that to focus on his new management.
Rollins said he’d been offered a few other jobs since he decided to retire, but he hasn’t taken any of them. He hasn’t quite decided if he’s going to give up another of his responsibilities, working as an auditor for the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs’ Juvenile Justice department, which he’s done for the last nine years. He told ADECA he’s probably not renewing his contract in January, just in case.
What he has decided for certain is that he’s going to have fun with retirement.
“I’m going to enjoy life for a while,” Rollins said. “I’m going to travel.”
He said he wants those who follow in his footsteps — and those in juvenile justice statewide — to remember they’re working with children, not hardened criminals.
“These kids aren’t going away,” he said. “They’re coming back to our churches and our neighborhoods and our households. We need to give them a fresh start.”