When Charlestown’s Derek Gallagher got the nod to become the next executive director of the Charlestown Boys & Girls Club, the local club not only got a professional who has spent decades attending and directing the club, but also a family that can trace its roots back to a shared plate of cupcakes 60 years ago in front of the old club on High Street.
Gallagher, 46, was announced late last week as the new director of the Charlestown club, with former Director Pete Nash moving up to a job with the Boys & Girls Clubs in the central office downtown.
Gallagher comes from a large family in Charlestown and has been the Program Director at the Club for several years. This week, he told the Patriot-Bridge that it was a great next step for him and one he is ready to take on.
It becomes a logical step because not only did he and his siblings go to the Club as kids, but also his parents attended the Club and remain very involved there to this day.
“I was a Club kid from the day I turned 6,” he said. “I remember my father bringing me through those doors and the adults who checked me in. The Club was big for my whole family, and my parents even went to the Club and they met for the first time in the Club. In 1963, my mother was in the old Girl’s Club on High Street and asked to bake cupcakes for the last day. As it happened my father was walking on High Street as she came out the door with the cupcakes. He asked if he could have one, and that’s how they first met. Thank God she made cupcakes, or we might not be here. When I was named director, I have never seen my mom so happy. She loves the Club. It’s all we know.”
Gallagher attended St. Francis School in Charlestown and then Don Bosco in Boston – playing all the local sports here including Charlestown Little League, Youth Hockey and Pop Warner.
More than anything, though, he was very big on the Club, and credits it with keeping he and his friends out of trouble.
“It’s really the reason I am who I am today, and it saved a lot of us,” he said.
That was in the days of “gym and swim,” when the Club had only a few staffers and limited sports programming. Now, however, Gallagher said they have 22 full-time employees and about 18 part-timers and they have programming for just about any interest.
Gallagher said he will continue to promote partnerships and to reach out to the community.
“A lot of what we do is a ton of partnerships,” he said. “I think building relationships with a lot of businesses in the Town is a good next step. There are a lot of businesses we don’t know and don’t know us.”
Another key issue, he said, is the One Charlestown development. He said many kids at the Club live in Bunker Hill and he doesn’t want to lose families, and likewise, he doesn’t want to see families lose the opportunity to upgrade their living conditions.
“That’s a huge elephant in the room now,” he said. “We’re going to lose families. I don’t want that to happen. For the first time in years, we have a waiting list for six and seven year olds and that’s a good problem to have. That’s a group where we see the most need, and we don’t want to lose that progress.”
That waiting list is another key change that’s happening in the Town and affects the Club. He said about five years ago he noticed that families weren’t leaving Charlestown once their kids got to school age – a trend that happened for years in the Town. With more families staying put, more kids are coming to the Club.
Additionally, his connections to the schools and community (his brother, Jason, is the principal of the Harvard-Kent and his sister, Corey, lives in Charlestown, too) make it easy to help the kids in the Club and get to know their families personally.
The one drawback, however, is that being the director takes him one step away from the programming and relationship building with the kids. However, he said he’ll make sure to stay as close to that as he can in his new role.
“It is one step further away from direct programming with the kids,” he said. “My goal is to stay as close to that as I can. I’m still going to help referee basketball games. I’ve been on the school bus going to summer camp since I was a kid 40 years ago, and I will still find my way on that bus now.”
Gallagher’s parents are Jimmy and Lois Gallagher, of Charlestown. Lois is a Board member with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston downtown.