Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester launch 50th anniversary this weekend

Look for a large contingent of Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester members to march in Sunday’s Dorchester Day Parade as part of the observation of the club’s 50th anniversary this year. Above, a group of members in last year’s parade. Seth Daniel photo

Look for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester to have a large presence in this Sunday’s Dot Day Parade. The club will begin an observation of its 50th anniversary this weekend with an alumni reunion event at their Dorchester Ave.-Deer Street campus on Saturday afternoon from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Then, a large number of current members will march in Sunday’s parade, led by a contingent of baton-twirlers who made their debut in last year’s parade.

The weekend events are a sample of more to come as the BGCD commemorates the 1974 opening of the original clubhouse on Deer Steet near Savin Hill. The organization has grown over the last five decades to include two additional facilities— the Paul McLaughlin Teen Center on Dorchester Avenue and the Walter Denny center on Mt. Vernon Street. The milestone anniversary comes as the organization gears up to build a fourth site— the Fieldhouse+, a 75,000-square-foot facility that will be constructed on what is now a playing field next to the McCormack School on Mt. Vernon Street. The observation of the 50th anniversary is expected to include a groundbreaking for the new fieldhouse later this year, but Dorchester Day serves as a perfect kick-off for the anniversary, according to Bob Scannell, the president and CEO of the club.

“I tend to think in decades and about the kids that were here over the years and what programs we were running and how much we’ve grown,” said Scannell in a recent interview with the Reporter. There were five full-time staff members when Scannell arrived to lead the organization in 1987. “Now we’re at almost 70 full-time people and 100 part-time. It seems that every other week, staff are coming up with a new program because they know what’s going on in the community. They know what the needs are. That’s the way we’ve evolved and there’s just so much going on.”

Mike Joyce, the director of programming at BGCD, has been on staff for 45 years, a remarkable career devoted to the kids and teens of Dorchester. Joyce is rarely away from the club’s facilities – even on his “off-hours,” he’s engaged in working with neighborhood youth.

Joyce has observed tremendous changes in demographics and the origins of many waves of club members but he says that basically “kids are kids. I don’t think really they’ve changed that much. I think the opportunities to kind of take a right turn or a left turn have become more prevalent, but maybe in different forms,” he said. “But, you know, kids are generally the same. They’re a great judge of character. They absolutely know who’s really [working] on their behalf and who’s not.

He continued: “Bob and I will tell you, we were like disciplinarians, but yet they respected us. Because they watched, they observed, and they saw that ‘these people care about us. They’ll do what they can for us.’ And, I think that’s still the same today.”

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Above, a collage of photos from the BGCD shows Mike Joyce and members through the years.

When Joyce, a Dot native himself, started working at the Deer Street “Marr Club” club in 1979, he remembers that it “seemed massive. It was a big building, gym, pool, stuff that I hadn’t really seen before, but, as you look back now, it was a small staff, small budget. You just kind of made the most of what you had. I think the club in that time has kind of elevated its status.”

Joyce credits the staff of the club, who, he says, have always responded to the needs they saw in the community and “being more aware of surroundings, the neighbors, who’s here, who needs us, and why.”

Today’s club has a $10 million annual operations budget, 5,000-plus members who pay a nominal fee annually, and a deep reservoir of goodwill that Scannell says has become multi-generational.

“I can remember three-year-olds coming to my office and maybe they needed a time out or whatever. And now their kids have come here and gone through and are off to college and in the workforce. I’m like, ‘Oh my God.’ But that’s what we strive for actually, the continuity of care and generations of families to be involved with the club. That’s what’s really, really important to us.”

This weekend’s alumni event is open to the Dorchester community and will include the third annual Bruce Seals 3-on-3 basketball tournament, a memorial event for the beloved Seals, a longtime club staff leader who died in 2021. The event will be held from 11 2 p.m. on the outdoor court on the Deer Street campus and will include music, food, and raffles. Tickets are $25.

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