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Did you go to the Club? Derek Gallagher’s Story

“Kids come to our Club and the instant they walk through our doors, they are Club kids. Just like I am. You’re a part of something bigger than yourself.” – Derek Gallagher, Club alum and the Executive Director of Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston’s Charlestown Club

I started as a member of the Charlestown Boys & Girls Club 40 years ago when I was six. And I’ve been working at the Charlestown Boys & Girls Club, starting out as a Junior Staff, for 28 years. So I know nothing but Boys & Girls Club, as it is embedded in my family story. My mother Lois Gallagher, a member of BGCB’s Board of Trustees and former Chair of the Charlestown Club Local Advisory Board, grew up as Club kid. In fact, my father grew up as a Club kid too. Back in the sixties and seventies, there was a Boys Club and a Girls Club. On the last day of June 1963, my mother, a Junior Staff at the Girls Club baked cupcakes for a bake sale and my father, a member of the Boys Club, walked out and bought one. The rest is history.

If you do know Charlestown, it’s a very diverse town and it stretches to both ends of how people live. We have the largest housing development in the state of Massachusetts 100 yards from the Club in one direction and $2 million condos 100 yards away in the other direction, and that’s how Charlestown is. All of those kids come to our Club and the instant they walk through our doors; they are Club kids. Just like I am. You’re a part of something bigger than yourself.

To this day if I meet someone from Roxbury, South Boston, Blue Hill Ave, Chelsea, it’s not “Where did you go to high school?”, it’s “Did you go to the Club?” If they did, you start reminiscing about memories of playing basketball or learning to cook at the Club. There is a large group of alumni that in 125 years have come through the Club doors and we are very lucky to have their support.

A few years ago, reading a local newspaper in 2014 when an obit­uary caught my eye. It was one of the longest obituaries I had ever read, Ben Hurley, born and raised in Charlestown, one of seven children. Ben spent most of his life in California and worked at Xerox, but was also a World War II hero who flew 59 flights over Germany. The last line of his obituary, read “In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston–Charlestown.” We all struggled to find his connection to the Club.

He said he’d never told anybody this, but his whole life was made possible because of what the Charlestown Club did for him. He had nothing growing up, but they gave him respect and dignity. It was stunning.

Finally, we found a woman who told us that she was his daughter. She came to the Club and told us his story. She explained why he insisted that donations go to the Club on his death bed. He’d never told his kids that he grew up in the Club, or that he was poor as a kid. He said that when he was a kid, he didn’t have pants, and they gave him a new pair of pants. It changed his life. His children were stunned. He said he’d never told anybody this, but his whole life was made possible because of what the Charlestown Club did for him. He had nothing growing up, but Club gave him respect and dignity. It was stunning.

That’s what the Club is. It means so much to the members and alumni who walk through its doors. I can do my job at the Club, my staff can provide opportunities to members all because of people like you who support the Club. I appreciate it, my mom appreciates it, my staff appreciates it, and most importantly the kids appreciate it.

Derek Gallagher is a Club alum and the Executive Director of Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston’s Charlestown Club.