Hector Kilgoe, an alumnus of the Charlestown Boys & Girls Club, spoke at the 2017 House Party. Below are his remarks from the event.
“When I think about my childhood, I am sometimes surprised that I made it this far. Growing up in Charlestown was not very easy. Surrounded by gang violence, drugs, and decades-old racial animosity, it was not extremely difficult to fall through the cracks, to become another forgotten soul, sentenced to a life of constant struggle for survival. There is a very good chance that without the Charlestown Boys & Girls Club, I would not be here. So, before I speak about all the wonderful opportunities I have had over the years because of the Boys & Girls Club, I have to thank all of the staff and supporters of the Club, in a very literal sense, for saving my life.
What the Boys & Girls Club represents to me is access to a better life. Being the son of a teenage mother, who was just starting high school when I was born, and an immigrant father from a country most people have never heard of, I was not taught to expect much from life. Like many of my friends who did not go to the Club as children, I was not meant to go to college, never mind graduate school. Of my childhood friends who did not go to the Club, the best case is a gas station attendant. With a small, steady income, he is much better off than many of our other friends who are either in prison or dead as a result of a drug overdose or drug-related violence. My life represents one side of two divergent paths.
At the Boys & Girls Club, I experienced many firsts that set me on the path to success. From small victories, like winning a ping-pong tournament, to the opportunity to study at Phillips Academy in Andover, the Club has provided much more than a space for getting off the street and staying out of trouble. As a ten-year-old, I was given my first opportunity to be a leader, helping to plan a Hawaiian-themed party with the Torch Club. Around the same time, I had my first salsa lessons, which a few years later led to performances at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland with my high school. The Club provided my first opportunity to live away from home with a session at Brantwood Camp. That was also my first and, hopefully, last time sleeping in the woods. With the Club, I went on an airplane for the first time, flying Northwest Airlines to the Mall of America for the annual Keystone conference. My first job was at the Club, doing a bit of everything, from helping younger students on their homework in the library to signing people in to bringing members to the front desk when their parents came to bring them home. And, probably most important to where I am now, the Boys & Girls Club brought me on my first college tour.
The staff at the Boys & Girls Club saw something in me that drove them to invest in my future. Even when I went away to boarding school, John Killoran, who loves to tell everyone how terrible I was as a child, actually drove me to and from campus because my family doesn’t have a car. He made sure I was able to work over the summer. He kept me on track, making sure I never wasted my time. John was the stable presence in my life as I was growing up. John was a father to me, and without him, I wouldn’t even be able to imagine the bright future that I see for myself now.
Now, I am a graduate of Phillips Academy and the University of Pennsylvania. I will receive a Master of Theological Studies degree in less than two weeks from Harvard Divinity School. And I will be returning to Penn for a PhD in religious studies in the fall. And, as is the way of the Boys & Girls Club, I have always been taught to give back whenever I can. So, I will be an RA in a freshman dorm and I will rejoin the mentoring program that I helped to create when I was on campus as an undergrad. And, after five more years of graduate school, my goal is to become a professor in order to both teach and serve as that stable figure for students like me, at the university level. Before those students get to that point, I am confident that the Boys & Girls Club has them covered. Thank you for all you have done for me, and with the support of everyone here tonight, I know that we can continue and expand the amazing success of this community.”