Judd Meinhart once took a group of teenagers to walk dogs at the Animal Rescue League of Berks County as part of a community service project.

"I just felt at home with all the awesome animals, the barn-type atmosphere," he said.

The experience left an impression on the 34-year-old. Meinhart will assume the position of the shelter's executive director on September 9.

Meinhart has spent the past 10 years working for the Olivet Boys & Girls Club of Reading and Berks, most recently as its director of teen services. He said he's used to juggling a breadth of responsibilities, but knows he has some big shoes to fill.

The league is the largest animal shelter in Berks County, taking in 10,000 to 12,000 animals a year at its Cumru Township facility. Harry Brown, the organization's executive director, has become known for his tireless work ethic since he took the position in 1991.

When Brown took over, the shelter only took in around 4,000 animals per year.

Brown admits that the position is a demanding one, as evident from the 70-hour work weeks he has maintained through the years. But he said he's confident Meinhart is a good fit for the job.

"Some people come in at the top, and they don't want to learn what goes on at the bottom," Brown said. "Judd's willing to learn, and that's why he'll do fantastic here."

Meinhart has taken a hands-on approach to learning the job, such as cleaning kennels alongside his employees.

"There's an amazing team of people here," he said.

Meinhart will oversee a staff of 31 and numerous volunteers, as well as the eight-building facility's construction projects and maintenance issues.

The Wyomissing High School graduate has a bachelor's degree from the University of Delaware in exercise sports science and a master's in business administration from Kutztown University. But he said he received his true education in nonprofit administration during his time at Olivet.

Meinhart said he's most proud of his work on Olivet's college-access program, which he built from the ground up in 2010. The initiative helps high school students get accepted into universities and trade schools, and has so far yielded a 92-percent high-school graduation rate among its 200-or-so participants.

Meinhart said he plans to apply what he's learned at the shelter.

"It's about finding a need in the community, seeing what your clients like and what's really needed in filling that service gap," he said. "Then you have to communicate the success, show why it's a vital part of the community."

On Meinhart's to-do list as executive director is implementing an ASPCA-inspired program that better matches pets with prospective owners, and spreading the word that the shelter has more than just pit bulls up for adoption.

Brown will still work at the center until Jan. 1, when he officially retires. He said he plans to work as an animal control officer at the shelter three to four days a week.

When asked if he'll be adopting Brown's ambitious work schedule, Meinhart laughed.

"I'm certainly going to be here and accessible to staff and to the public and share my passion for animals," he said. "But I might take a vacation every now and then."

Contact Laura Newberry: 610-371-5081 or lnewberry@readingeagle.com.