The Watertown Boys & Girls Club opened its doors 50 years ago, and has been a place for the youth of the town to have fun, learn, and inspire them as they look to the future. The people who founded the Club, guided it through tough times, and built its solid foundation were honored at Friday night’s 50th Anniversary Gala.
The Hellenic Cultural Center welcomed friends and family of the Watertown Boys & Girls Club, including some of the earliest members. The audience of distinguished guests included former board members, board presidents, and executive directors, along with the Governor of Massachusetts. The night celebrated not only the Club, but Watertown itself.
Chairman of the Watertown Boys & Girls Club Board Phil Greenough recalled some of the “Founding Families” who provided key support to the club, including the Deans, the Whitneys, the Mugars, the Hechts, among others.
“When the community leaders in Watertown launched the club 50 years ago it really had a simple mission,” Greenough said. “It was really to create a place that was safe for children where they could learn and grow, and really be in the hands of caring adults. I don’t think they had a plan for more, other than every year do the best that you could to make sure the Club was funded. through donations and fundraisers.”
Gov. Charlie Baker and his wife Lauren attended the celebration, having been invited by close friends Joe and Jenny Nardone. Joe told Baker that the Club opened when he was 12 and it saved his life. That is something the governor has heard a lot about this and other Boys & Girls Clubs, especially during the COVID-19 Pandemic. That is why he filed a $100 million matching grant program for youth organizations to expand their programs and improve their facilities.
“You should all be hugely proud of the roles you played in this organization’s history because believe me these organizations matter, this one matters, and they absolutely, positively save kids’ lives every day and you should be very proud of that,” Baker said. “And I can tell you as Governor of the Commonwealth. I am enormously grateful we have Boys & Girls Clubs from one end of Massachusetts to the other that really matter in the communities they operate in.”
During the event, the awards were presented to people who have played a part in the Club’s success. The Founders/Distinguished Service Award went to John Airasian, and the Bernadette Corbett Trailblazer Award was presented to Kelley MacDonald.
Alan Medville, President of the Club’s Board of Directors, said Airasian has made an enormous impact on not just the Watertown Boys & Girls Club, but the entire community.
“There are forces in nature that shape the land around them and the environment: think of rivers, think of tides, think of glaciers. They are transformative, they are foundational,” Medville said. “John is a force of nature in Watertown and has been for over 50 years. And the work he has done has helped to shape what we see and what we have in this town.”
Airasian was a member of the founding committee that built the Club, as well as being a founding member of the Watertown Chamber of Commerce and its first president. He also spearheaded Watertown’s change from a town meeting to a town manager form of government, was elected to serve on the first Charter Commission, served as chairman of the Arsenal Development Committee, he was president of the Rotary Club, served as an interim School Committee member, was a founding member of the Friends of the Mount Auburn Cemetery, and was on the Watertown Traffic Commission for 50 years.
Airasian said he always looked for ways to make Watertown a better place to live, and he recalled “we all knew at the time that building this Boys & Girls Club would strengthen our community.”
“I wasn’t alone. I looked at the list of Foundational members and I see people who have given so much more over the years,” Airasian said. “We have been very fortunate to have great directors, board members, supporters over the course of 50 years. Those people are the real Club that still exists today.”
He thanked his family, friends, and the supporters of the Club who came out to celebrate the Club’s first half century.
“I love Watertown and I think everybody knows that, and I try to do the right thing by everybody,” he said. “I am very proud of my family and my boys and my friends. I really appreciate you people being here tonight.”
The Club had some rocky times early on, including when the IRS impounded the Club’s checking account when quarterly taxes were overdue. During her acceptance speech, MacDonald recalled how the namesake of the Trailblazer Award navigated the rough seas and came out stronger than before.
“Bernadette called emergency meeting of the Board of Directors and, as directed, we all came with our check books: we had a payroll to meet,” MacDonald.
Corbett also created a committee to address the issue, made up of herself, MacDonald and future Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly.
“Long story short, we raised enough money to get the IRS to back off and we were operating on a solid footing once again,” MacDonald said. “And I know the pain Bernadette went through, during those few months when we restored the Club because I think she was afraid the Club was going to close and we were going to lose it. And it is because of her leadership that we kept the Club and kept it going.”
While MacDonald called Corbett a true trailblazer and called her a mentor, others said the same about MacDonald. Judy Johanson, who was the first female member of the Club and later an employee and board member, introduced the woman mentored her when she was a new member of the board.
“I once asked what I should do to be a contributing board member. She guided me to focus on my areas of strength and not be afraid to think outside of the box,” Johanson said. “She offered me empowerment and inspired me to do more. I’m sure I am not the only one here to experience that influence. That is what a trailblazer does.”
Along with serving on the Boys & Girls Club board for 45 years (including stints as President and Chair) MacDonald served on the Club’s Finance Committee, she was the director and president of the Watertown Belmont Waltham Mental Health Association, served as a member and chair of the Watertown School Committee, she was a member of the Watertown Council on Aging, was a member of Watertown Council for Arts, and served as director of the Friends of Matt Galligan.
The Gala celebrated both the first 50 years and the next half century, Medville said.
“There are two primary purposes for this evening. The first one is to celebrate all the people who made this happen for the first 50 years. The second one is to build on that to create a new foundation for our next 50 year. Building that foundation takes hard work, it takes dedication and it takes money,” Meville said.
Medville pointed out the staff who have made the Club a success, including former executive directors Alan Gallagher and Renee Gaudette who led the club for a combined 39 years. He also introduced new Executive Director Gary Beatty, who said he was delighted to be at the Club.
“Seeing the faces around the room tonight, hearing the stories, seeing the love that is in the room, some of the information I got to learn this week in my first week on the job, it’s not something that I take lightly,” Beatty said. “I am incredibly proud of this opportunity. I have loved my first week on the job. We have a brilliant group of people who work at the Club and I invite each and everyone of you to come in, say hello, and see what we do in person. And more than anything else, continue to support us.”