Dot's Mr. Dependable marks 25 years as clubhouse chief

Bob Scannell: The Dorchester Boys and Girls Clubs leader with two members, Precious Ruiz, left, and Damaris Nova. Photo by Bill ForryBob Scannell: The Dorchester Boys and Girls Clubs leader with two members, Precious Ruiz, left, and Damaris Nova. Photo by Bill Forry
There has been talk about hosting a gala dinner to mark Bob Scannell’s 25th year as the leader of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester — a milestone that passed rather quietly, in true Bob Scannell style, last week. Maybe the City Council will declare it ‘Bob Scannell Day’ in Boston. It should.

But whatever the councillors do, it will pale in comparison to the daily rewards that Bob gets from kids like Precious Ruiz and Damaris Nova.

On Tuesday, as Bob stood chatting with parents in the lobby of the McLaughlin Center, the two pre-teen girls approached bearing hand-made signs singing the praises of their friend Bob. Nothing fancy, just two more grateful kids who know that with Bob, as Damaris’s card read: It’s ‘Love all the time.’

This is why Bob Scannell and so many of his colleagues— like Mike Joyce – are still here after so many years.

And it’s not like folks haven’t tried to lure him away.

Kevin Chapman, the Dot born-and-bred actor who serves on the clubs’ board, has been a close friend to Bob and his wife Mary for 20 years. Chapman marvels at the sacrifices both have made to devote their lives to Dorchester’s kids.

“There’s companies out there that have offered him huge sums of money — and that’s happened multiple times,” says Chapman. “People say to him, ‘Bob, why don’t you take this— you’ve got three kids of your own to put through school.’ He always says the same thing: ‘Who’s going to take care of the kids?’ ”

“Bob’s never wavered from that reply. I’ve never seen anyone serve with such humility and grace,” Chapman says.

Scannell, a Quincy native who attended BC High and Suffolk University, arrived here as a 25 year-old in 1987 — a pivotal time in the neighborhood’s history as it turned out. A huge wave of youngsters was flooding the streets, gang activity was on the rise nearby, and the demand for a sanctuary was at an all-time high.

Don Rodman, who was on the board of the clubs for ten years before Scannell was hired, says Bob recognized the changing needs and “brought the club up to another level.”

In 1990, Scannell launched an expanded program— dubbed Safe Summer Streets— to add after-dark programming hours to the clubs’ schedule, especially for teens who were most at-risk from gun violence. He recruited talented young people from the neighborhood and plugged them into much-needed jobs working with younger kids. He found other passionate role models like former NBA star Bruce Seals —who has himself become a mainstay at the club’s Deer Street gym— to coach and mentor.

Most of all, Bob made a difference by being Bob — a fun-loving, warm person who greets every kid by name and immediately makes them feel at home when they walk through the doors.

Scannell can be a disciplinarian when he needs to be — just ask Mark Wahlberg, whose teenage antics got him an extended time-out from the club on Bob’s watch. (Scannell now serves on Mark’s foundation board and Mark, a generous benefactor, serves as a club trustee.)

But Bob has bonded with each new wave of youngsters by doing what you’re supposed to do at a kids’ clubhouse: Have fun. Scannell is a gym rat at heart whose trademark half-court jump shots (off the ceiling and in!) have won over legions of tough-to-impress Dot teenagers.

Bob’s ability to let loose and bond with his members is all the more impressive when you consider the constant pressure he’s been under to run a growing organization with scores of employees and millions of dollars in bills each year. Scannell has successfully navigated the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester through two tough recessions, a challenging identity change (BGCD was formerly known as the Marr Club, a name that still graces the original Deer Street facility), and an expansion to include the Denny Youth Center on Columbia Point. Working closely with Mayor Tom Menino’s administration, Scannell got control of a former drug den on Melvinside Terrace and replaced it with the impressive, four-story Paul R. McLaughlin Youth Center, named for the assassinated West Roxbury prosecutor. The building, which opened in 2000, gave the Boys and Girls Clubs a high-profile presence on Dot Ave. and expanded critical child care and after-school slots for teens and toddlers.

Scannell has done all of this so well that his organization was called upon recently to take over the management of Brockton’s club, which has fallen on difficult financial times. Scannell and his management team from Dorchester stepped in six weeks ago and are currently doing double-duty: prepping for Dorchester’s busy summer season and re-tooling Brockton’s club to make it self-sufficient, hopefully within the next two years.

Lee Kennedy, who has served as the board chairman for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester for several years now, says the Brockton project “says it all” about Bob Scannell:

“When people have problems, they call Bob for help and direction. He’s the go-to guy in this community and he’s viewed that way by his peers. That’s why the national Boys and Girls Club organization asked for his help in Brockton, where they’ve been having some real difficulties. He’s got no real connection to Brockton! And, typical Bob, he says, ‘We’ve got to do this. These kids really need this place to stay open.’ ”

Dorchester folks know how true that is. No one wants to even think about what our neighborhood would be without a Boys and Girls Club on Deer Street and Dot Ave. Many hands have made the campus what it is today—countless donors, politicians , even a movie star or two. But none of it happens without one guy: Bob Scannell, Dot’s Mr. Dependable.

Thanks, Bob.