Boys & Girls Club changing with the times
By Mike Barresi
young kid reads the plague outside the clubhouse, circa
within is opportunity. Come ye men and women of tomorrow and
embrace it. Here is an open doorway to success and
you are welcome. Enter.”
So reads the
plaque that hangs outside the Keane Children’s
Center at 15 Green St. in Charlestown, right next to the library.
itself is new, but the words date back to 1917. They are words
that kids for generations have read as they enter the
Boys & Girls Club of Charlestown.
If the words have not changed, much else has over the decades.
In 1893, carpentry, printing and painting were the core programs
taught at the club. Today, in place of carpentry, computer skills
are taught. According to the club’s Web site, its mission
is “to enable low-income children to become ‘fluent’ in
the use of technology.”
Design workshops have replaced printing and workshops on digital
photography have taken the place of painting, although art is
still an integral part of club life.
President & CEO
of Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston Linda Whitlock
or seven years ago, the Boys & Girls Clubs began
to implement technology programs, said Linda Whitlock, president
and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston.
realized that technology was changing the way all of us did our
work,” she said. “The way everyone communicates
with one another.”
But not only have the classes changed at the Charlestown club.
So have the students taking them. When the club was founded, all
its members were boys.
And as recently as 10 years ago, nearly all its members were white,
a reflection of a largely Irish, working-class community that gained
infamy 30 years ago for its deeply ingrained resistance to forced
school busing in Boston.
the complexion of Charlestown has changed, and the complexion
of the Boys & Girls Club has changed even more.
Of the 600 kids ages 6 to 18 the club serves, 36 are percent white,
54 percent African American and 8 percent Latino.
director of the Boys & Girls Club of Charlestown,
said that a large part of Charlestown’s noticeable increase
in diversity can be linked to the Boston Housing Authority and
the integration of the housing units it oversees about a decade
overview reveals that 70 percent of the children who
are members of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston come
from families that make less than $37.500 per year
economic challenge faced by Charlestown’s often-strapped
residents is color blind. But the task of teaching mutual respect
and offering hope to kids in a community in which a quarter of
the 7,341 households earn less than $20,000 a year can be challenging.
“Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston has always been about
serving young people, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances,” Whitlock
said on the Boys & Girls Club of Boston Web site. “It’s
no coincidence we deliberately bring advantages to youth as we
have become engaged citizens and responsible adults.”
“Boys & Girls
Clubs of Boston has always been about serving young people,
especially those from disadvantaged circumstances” –Linda
Who is poor
and who isn’t doesn’t get discussed at
the Boys and Girls Club. But the club’s top officials know
that nearly seven in 10 of their members come from families with
incomes below the poverty line.
The first line of defense, says Atkinson, who came to Boston after
serving as the national director of education and the arts in Atlanta,
is helping students learn in an atmosphere of self-respect and
“Teachers may call and say that one particular student may
need extra help in a subject,” she said. But any kid can
get one-on-one tutoring every week from volunteers. The same kid
will get the same tutor, week in and week out, in order to create
a structured, responsive learning environment, Atkinson said.
club doesn’t check with the schools to find
out how each member is doing in their classes, the educational
department is in constant contact with the schools to see if a
student may need special attention.
said she doesn’t want the club to feel like
school. She wants it to be a place where the kids can ask questions
they didn’t ask in class, to try things they don’t
try in school and to take part in projects their school may not
And if a parent pays a little more per year, there is a Friendship
Club, where licensed professionals tutor and guide about 30 kids
throughout the year.
example of the club's success