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“You can have a beautiful facility, but it’s just furniture until you get someone behind it that gives it the energy and attention that it needs—someone who will teach a child and show them interest.”

– John Killoran, Charlestown Club Director of Community Partnerships and alumnus

For John Killoran, Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston (BGCB)’s Charlestown Club has been an integral part of his life for over 35 years. Yet his story is not unique—every day, John embodies the consistency, dedication, and adaptability inherent in BGCB staff that goes hand-in-hand with the organization’s 130-year-old commitment to serving Boston’s youth.

Killoran still fondly remembers when he first started working at the Charlestown Club. Even back then, in the summer of 1986, the Club was leveraging community partnerships and taking members to every corner of their city. For John, his connection to the Club grew deeply personal during his teen years, when the Club served as a consistent, caring environment for him to play sports and make connections with his peers.

The Power of Relationships Through Adaptability

While John explored other career options after graduating from Boston University’s Hotel and Restaurant Management program, he found himself continually drawn back to the Club. “The youthwork kept me busy and I loved the environment of BGCB. This place was hopeful—the relationships with the families, the relationships with the community mattered,” John says.

In the 80’s, Charlestown was leading the way in engaging immigrant and low-income families. They were the first Club to hire a full-time social worker dedicated to ensuring members’ emotional needs were being met. And when the community shared concerns about not having a safe ride to the Club, Charlestown adopted a shuttle service to housing developments to ensure transportation was never a barrier to accessing the Club.

(L to R) Derek Gallagher, Krishna Foran, Sharon Fidler, and John Killoran share more than 125 years working at the Charlestown Club.

Over 35 years later, John saw the same adaptability and consistency during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We wanted to look back on this time and say, ‘what did we do?’ And I think we can look back on that time and actually say that we stepped up big time,” John says, emphasizing the critical role of transportation and making internet accessible while pivoting to remote learning. “Parents loved that kids would get up, get dressed, and get prepared as if they were going to school, and the Club provided that environment. It was a big deal.”

The Secret Ingredient? Consistency and Compassion

In his time as a tenured staff member and community fixture, John has seen that it’s who you hire that makes this work not only successful, but impactful over generations. “If you do not have the love and passion for this work, then it’s not for you, and the kids will feel that,” John says. “You can have a beautiful facility, but it’s just furniture until you get someone behind it that gives it the energy and attention that it needs—someone who will teach a child and show them interest.”

John Killoran with a Charlestown Club member

Even in John’s personal life, he’s felt the support of the Club around him, particularly when his sister passed. “Everyone wants to be the person to help someone out, but you have to have strength to let other people help you,” John says, crediting the Club and community for teaching him that skill. When life got hard, it was the Charlestown staff that stepped up to make sure he and his family had what they needed. “Everyone’s looking out for the kids, but we look out for each other.”

Through the years, it’s been the consistency of the Club’s approach that sticks with John. As a Club member, Killoran remembers receiving the same message from his parents—”treat people the way you want to be treated”—which was only reinforced by his time as a member and young staff.

Today, he embodies this wisdom in his evolving roles overseeing community engagement, facilities, transportation, and security. “Titles come second and you’re a youth worker first,” John says, reflecting on his years as Director of Operations. “I’ve got staff all around me who believe in a team approach and collaboration even if it doesn’t fall under your department.

As the Director of Operations, John thought of himself as the Vice Principal of the Club, often serving a disciplinary and accountability role for members. “I got some tough kids, and I can honestly say I was hard but fair,” John says.

“You develop the closest relationships with those kids that you can connect and laugh with years later. I give those kids a lot of credit for coming back after a hard moment.” It’s through those moments of structure and guidance that John saw those members really grow past their struggles and begin to work toward the person they were meant to be.

John Killoran with Hector Kilgoe, Charlestown Club alumnus and House Party 2017 speaker

“"What makes John one-of-a-kind is he'll do anything for the Club and our families. He always has. Whether it's driving something across the city or sitting down with a parent, he represents everything it means to be a youth worker who's community-first."”

Derek GallagherCharlestown Club Director, alumnus, and longtime colleague

Stability in an Everchanging Community

Over the last several decades, gentrification has rapidly affected Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston’s neighborhoods and families, with Charlestown being no different.

Down the street, the Bunker Hill Housing Development is undergoing a $1.4 billion reconstruction, nearly doubling the size from 1,100 Boston Housing Authority (BHA) units to 2,699 mixed income units. With housing stability being a proven factor in emotional wellness and academic success, Club staff are already seeing the impact on members.

While the intent is to create higher quality affordable housing opportunities for long-term residents, “short term, it’s going to displace a lot of our families who have relied on the Club,” John says. “The Club has provided a security blanket for our families that they are now going to lose. The Club is all about developing relationships with members and their parents. We establish a trust with them over time by providing safe and nurturing afterschool programs that are not cost prohibitive. That consistency and care can be taken away in an instant.”

As displaced families work to find new BHA housing, chances are high that families will be led to different parts of Boston and beyond. “If you’re going to get displaced, you could end up anywhere in the city and lose your Club connection,” says John. “Many families might be forced to move back to the country they emigrated from. In some cases, you don’t get a goodbye or get to know what happens to the family. They’re just gone.”

John Killoran with community members at Charlestown Club’s 130-year anniversary party

What’s Next for the Club?

Through a global pandemic, an evolving housing crisis, food insecurity, and an increasing cost of living, John has seen the neighborhood surrounding the Club change rapidly. Businesses have closed, families have moved, and the need for stability and mentorship for youth is as strong as ever.

As Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston evolves its priorities around family needs, John believes our success lies in partnership. “We can’t lose sight of the purpose—helping the kids in the most need—and we can’t do that without strong relationships,” John says. “There’s always going to be a need for social recreation, the gymnasium, the pool—that will always be there. But then above that, how are we going to help with other agencies in the community?”

As the Club moves forward amid change, John continues to be inspired and motivated by his colleagues, so many of whom he’s grown up and worked with for decades.

“The people that I work with—they’re friends now,” John says. “Not for one second did I ever dread coming to work. It’s hard but it matters, and I love the fact that you feel good going home knowing that you helped other people and that you did something important.”

John Killoran with Lisa Gillis, South Boston Club alumna and current Gerald and Darlene Jordan Club staff

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