A Look Back at the First 50 Years of the Watertown Boys & Girls Club

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Watertown Cable

The Watertown Boys & Girls Club turned 50 years old in 2022, and during that time the club has faced its share of challenges to continue its mission of serving the youth of the community.

On Oct. 28, the Club hosted a 50th Anniversary Gala to celebrate the people who made the first half century possible, and asked for support to continue serving Watertown.

Watertown came together to build the clubhouse on land on Whites Avenue, near the then-Town Hall, now City Hall. The first step was to get approval to use the land, recalled Allen Gallagher, who served as Executive Director from 1991 to 2012.

“Of course Saltonstall Park is public land,” Gallagher said. “First they had to draw up a petition and run it through the State Legislature to get permission to go to carve out that piece of land for the Boys & Girls Club and the parking lot.”

The club opened in 1972, and has had some longterm supporters, said Kelley MacDonald, who has served on the board since the 1970s and served as Board President from 1986-88. Some she pointed out in the video that played at the 50th anniversary gala were Hank Frissora of Charles Construction, Ray Dupuis of Casey & Dupuis Equipment, Mal Whitney who helped raise money for the construction, Mal Hecht, and Stephen Mugar.

Renee Gaudette, Executive Director from 2013 to 2022 said the Mugar Family has been loyal supporters of the Watertown Boys & Girls Club. Stephen’s father, Sarkis, started the first Star Market in Watertown Square, Stephen took over, and later his children David and Carolyn were involved with the club.

“The Mugar family has been instrumental in the Club’s sustainability over many decades,” she said.

Financial challenges started early in the Club’s history, MacDonald recalled in the video.

“In 1975, Watertown was a hurting community, the (U.S. Army) Arsenal had closed, and left a huge block or property on Arsenal Street. The country was heading into a recession,” she said. “Our donations were going down because people were losing their jobs. The companies couldn’t even afford to support us the way that they had.”

Gallagher recalls a year when the electric company shut off the Club’s power during the week of Thanksgiving because they had fallen behind on bills.

“Kelley MacDonald, she called everyone up that she could get, and asked them to come to her house,” Gallagher said. “We all met and everyone reached into their pockets and took out their checkbooks, and scratched up enough money for what was needed at the time and the electric company turned the electricity back on for the kids.”

In the early 1980s, longtime supporter Bernadette Corbett became Board President and MacDonald said she led the charge to allow girls to be members as well as changing the name from the Watertown Boys Club to the Watertown Boys & Girls Club. MacDonald explained that first, the national organization had to change its name.

“Bernadette went to the national headquarters and petitioned the national board to recognize us as the Boys & Girls of America,” MacDonald said. “And our board voted unanimously to make it the Watertown Boys & Girls Club.”  

Watertown Boys & Girls Club alumni have come back to contribute to the Club, including some recent and current staff. The current Program Director Erin Hickey recalled how she first got involved in summer camps and then in the swim team, the Wavemakers. Current Aquatics Instructor Alec Holland started as a club member, and recalled going to Camp Hale during the summer driven by Ernie Thebado.

Gaudette started in the biddy basketball program as a child, and became a Club regular. She came back to lead the organization in 2013 at a time when the Watertown Boys & Girls Club was looking to redefine itself.

“I am proud of what we accomplished over the last nine years,” Gaudette said. “We crowned our first ever Mass. Youth of the Year — Destiny Santaluccia — revamped the organization, offering more opportunities for our youth to succeed, including music and language lessons, science and technology programs and mentoring and volunteer opportunities.”

In 2018, the Club celebrated the opening of the new teen center as part of the expansion of the Watertown Boys & Girls Club.

The COVID-19 Pandemic created its own set of challenges in recent years, said Phil Greenough, board president from 2020-22. The Club received a significant contribution from the Watertown Community Foundation to keep the programs going, Gaudette said. And when children faced food insecurity, the Club partnered with Crazy Dough’s Pizza and Donohue’s Bar & Grill to provide meals.

After five decades, Club’s basic mission of providing a safe place for children with a caring staff remains the same, and Gaudette said that children need help more than ever.

“Kids today need even more support in developing their social and emotional skills and to develop 21st Century job skills,” Gaudette said in the video. “The club is prepared and ready to address these needs because of our committed staff and impactful programming.”

Greenough noted in the video that the Watertown Boys & Girls Club is the largest non-profit serving Watertown’s youth, and it helps educate kids and make them better citizens.

“I think there is nothing more important than investing in kids and giving them the opportunity to really grow and prosper,” Greenough said in the video. “It has become my mission to get word out that people need to invest in the Club, because this is the future. This club needs your support.”

See more about the Watertown Boys & Girls Club at watertownbgc.org

See the video from the Watertown Boys & Girls Club’s 50th Anniversary Gala, produced by Watertown Cable’s News Director Dan Hogan, below:

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