There have been Christmas parties for the kids at the Boys & Girls Clubs in Charlestown going back 90 years or more, but few have been as special to leaders of the club than over the last few years when college-aged Club kid alums have come into volunteer during the holidays.
That was the case all last week and, especially last Friday, Dec. 20, when the Club had its annual Christmas party for members, and about a dozen former Club members returned to lend a hand.
“They go off to college and it’s like they’re your own children because you want them to succeed so badly,” said Club Director Derek Gallagher. “Every time there’s a break though at college, they come right back in. Whether they are freshmen, sophomores, juniors or seniors, they want to come here and give back to the younger kids. We had 11 or 12 come in this year. It makes it so special for the younger kids here.”
Many of the kids at the Club, Gallagher said, will have their highlight of the year be the Club Christmas Party. Those same kids often have no mentors who have gone on to further their education. That’s where the returning college kids play such a critical role.
Gallagher said the young kids see the older kids, and remember them being camp counselors or staff members. Then they learn they’ve gone on to Harvard, Mass Maritime, Northeastern or any other college. That sets a standard, he said, for them to reach towards.
“They are alumni, but they’re not old enough to be part of the older alumni group we have,” he said. “So they’ve formed their own group informally. What’s huge is when they come in, you have a huge group of 7-to 12-year-olds and they see the Club kids that have moved on to Harvard or UMass. Yet, even though they’re now off to college, they haven’t forgotten the kids and want to give back.”
Last Friday, amidst staff and children dressed in pajamas for the Christmas Party – which is helped out with generous donations from companies and private individuals – there were also college kids decked out in their pajamas and laughing along with the younger children.
“When they have a choice and want to come back and help, that means so much,” said Gallagher. “That’s when we know we’ve been successful. Without us forcing it, the kids here now see the older kids that left and are successful in college. It’s a really nice thing for everyone and it happened on its own.”