I grew up in a single parent home as the oldest of four. Crack cocaine began to place it’s evil tendrils into our community and guns became readily available for any ambitious young child to play into the illicit trade. My mother needed someplace for us to go why she worked the long hours it took to support all of us. Fortunately for us, there was a Boy’s Club on the corner of Pitt Street and Houston in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I remember it being one of the biggest facilities for young people in my area.
My younger brother and I came on board as midgets. I was an impressionable eight year old with a heavy accent who just learned how to speak English fluently. At the Pitt Street Boys Club, however, I was met with open arms. Mr. Garcia, the Director, knew all 1,000 of the young boys who came to Pitt Street usually by their first names. He was soft spoken but stern when it came time to correct us. Mr. Garcia ensured that all of us were engaged with several programs that anywhere else would have been unaffordable to all of us.
The Pitt Street Boys Club had everything we needed to forget about the horrors we witnessed on the streets. There was an Olympic sized swimming pool. There were several intramural sports that helped promote teamwork. There was a woodworking shop and a screen printing press for us to design and print our own shirts. There were martial arts classes. There were year round camping programs. There were always tournaments in pool, table soccer, and table tennis with several prizes. There were opportunities to win scholarships to private schools. There were so many programs at Pitt Street Boys Club that I never had the chance to try since my brother and I were involved in so many others. Yet it was not just the programs at the Boy’s Club that kept bringing me back. It was the staff.
I recall people like Mr. Kuumba, the woodshop teacher. Mr. Kuumba was a proud college graduate and it was him who made me realize that college was attainable. It was Mr. Kuumba who taught us that idle hands can only lead to trouble. There were people like Speedy, the young counselor who worked the front desk and seemed to have everyone’s phone number on speed dial before there was even a touch tone phone available to everyone. Speedy was quick to contact a parent if he saw any one of us doing wrong inside or outside of the Boy’s Club.
The man who gave me my first job, Mr. Sanchez, was a short but loud older gentleman who always encouraged each one of us of our full potential. He refused to accept mediocrity and set high standards. Before he offered anyone a job, he asked that person to volunteer first. Mr. Sanchez helped instill the concept of pitching in to help one’s community. Mr. Fisher was a Bob Hoskins look alike who taught me how to swim. He was a by the book army veteran who ran his swim team like a platoon of fresh faced recruits. As a coach, he taught me how to utilize all of my faculties when tackling a problem. Whenever I teach a martial arts class, I could still hear his voice demanding more workouts from our bodies. I think I inherited those expectations from him.
I could go on and on about the people at the Pitt Street Boys Club who had such a major impact in my life. I can safely say that if it wasn’t for the Boys Club, I may not be the man I am today. To be honest, I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for the Pitt Street Boys Club. I know quite a few people who did not take the opportunity my brother and I chose and they are not here because of that mistake. Someone said that you should never accept anything you would never give your children. Well, I am proud to say that my eldest daughter attends the local Boys and Girls Club in my area. Like her father, she enjoys every minute of it.
The staff at the Boys and Girls Club of Dayton are all wonderful and helpful. Like the staff that I came to know and love as a child, they know all of their children left under their care mostly by their first names. They also have the colorful personalities that bring back fond memories for me. Most of all, the staff there are caring and passionate about what they do. I am tremendously thankful for the people who helped me when I was a child. Yet I am more grateful for those who are now helping us raise our daughter.
– Pitt Street Boys Club
Manhattan, New York Alum