Youth Odyssey Executive Board Member James Gourley, of Gourley Contracting, is one of Youth Odyssey’s biggest fans and supporters. I sat down with Gourley at the beginning of the summer to find out where his passion for Youth Odyssey came from, and how it has changed his and his families life.
Youth Odyssey: First off, give us a little background information on yourself. You are a man of many skills, how did you end up in the contracting business?
James Gourley: My wife and I were living in Florida when we became pregnant with our first child. My mother-in-law was not about to allow her first grandbaby to be born in another state, so we moved home to Corpus Christi after about a year of arm twisting. I started working for Dusty Durrill, my father-in-law, who owns a real estate management company and is a philanthropist here in town. He’s the one who actually got me involved with Youth Odyssey. I started working for him managing construction during the opening of Concrete Street Amphitheatre. I started managing all their construction and my business, Gourley Contracting, blossomed out of that as I started taking on outside jobs. It just grew and grew and that’s how we got where we are now.
YO: When you were introduced to Youth Odyssey by Mr. Durrill, what made you want to take a special interest in it?
JG: Through Youth Odyssey, I saw kids that had never been out of their little world of the Housing Authority or Corpus Christi, had never even gone to Padre Island, have the opportunity to see the outdoors and enjoy the things that I’ve enjoyed my whole life; boating, being on the water, and being in the woods. It was just amazing to me that somebody could go through their life without being exposed to those things. Also, my daughters were right at the perfect age to be part of Youth Odyssey. Both of them have been on many Youth Odyssey trips and have grown and blossomed because of their involvement. It really introduced them to kids from all walks of life and all background, and opened their eyes that we are very fortunate to be living the life that we live. For them to help other kids was really fulfilling for me and for them. To see the things that my daughters have done with Youth Odyssey, and the confidence they’ve built because of it, has been truly amazing. My daughter Mckinna stood on top of a telephone pole for the first time, it changed her whole life! I see that in all the kids, I see the same kids year after year, and now they’re going into the military and graduating from HS and they are wonderful human beings and mature and able to speak in front of people and do things that they probably thought they would never be able to do and probably wouldn’t be able to do if it wasn’t for Youth Odyssey.
JG: I owned a commercial diving company for 18 years before we moved back here from Florida. I’ve been teaching diving since 1984. I went to school at Southwest Texas State at San Marcos. I was a performer in the Aquarena Springs Underwater Theater there. It’s still a big part of our life. We volunteer there in the diving for science program, we clean the springs and do other jobs up there. My daughter, Mckinna, and I have been doing it for quite some time now, We volunteer there and several other places where divers are needed. Diving is what I live to do outside of my job.
YO: What are some of your favorite moments from working with youth, teaching them scuba diving during Youth Odyssey’s Delta Camp?
JG: When I do my summer camp program with discover scuba and emergency first response, youth are scared when they first put on scuba gear and put their face in the water. Just to see the youth from the beginning of the day, when we start and I have to coax them to even put their face in the water and breath, to the end of the day, where they’re so proud of themselves. Then the next year I see the same kid again and they’re jumping in the water and ready to go. I think it’s a leadership thing where they’re able to come out of their shell. They might not have the confidence in many aspects of their lives to be able to do things, because they’ve never been given the opportunity to be an individual and shine. That’s really what Youth Odyssey does it gives youth that self confidence that allows them to shine and grow and become a leader.
YO: What piece of advice would you give our youth?
JG: Don’t ever be afraid to try, you’ll always regret a decision not to try. You might not succeed and that’s ok. If you try, in the end, you’ll be so proud of yourself and it will be a life changing experience.