Helping the Helpers


From 7:30 in the morning until 8:45 at night, the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence is open and serving children and teens from more than 11 public schools in Lawrence, Mass. Whether supporting students in their schoolwork, offering gym breaks, engaging kids in afternoon art activities or providing high schoolers with a safe place to go in the evening, the club is helping youth keep moving forward, despite the pandemic. And now Brooks is happy to help them.

Continuing our longstanding partnership, Brooks has pledged that for each gift the school receives, up to 750, during our annual Giving Day on February 25, the school will donate to the club an item that they need for their afterschool program.

"It really means a great deal to us," said Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence Education Director Karen Kravchuk. "For Brooks to be involved in the education of our members here, and the success of our kids, helping them to do the best they can and make it through such a challenging time ... that's huge, especially since we're desperately missing seeing everybody."

Pre-pandemic, Brooks's community service group had reported to the club weekly to offer members assistance in the homework room.

"This is Lawrence's club, not some cookie-cutter national organization, and a glance at the list of club 'graduates' who have given back in substantial ways (including many Brooks alumni) demonstrates the effectiveness of the program," said longtime volunteer, English teacher Leigh Perkins '81 (on right).

Hear from past Brooks School student volunteers about their experience pitching in at the BGCL.

With COVID-19 restrictions, though, such volunteering has been impossible. "We certainly don't have the numbers that we normally have, moving and grooving with 400 kids in the building [either]," said Kravchuk (shown far below), "but we're happy to just be open and do whatever we can to keep some semblance of normalcy in terms of our programming and for the members who are coming."

"The people who work at the club are some of the hardest working and most selfless people I have ever met," said former member, Associate Head of School for Faculty Affairs John McVeigh. "They care so much about kids and about helping, and they welcome everyone who walks in the door."

Today, the organization is operating a "neat wraparound program, almost, for those [40] kids who do remote learning here because they go right from online school to the afterschool program downstairs," said Kravchuk. It's a godsend for parents working outside of the home. "They certainly appreciate that their kids have a safe place to be, reliable Internet, food provided to them and caring adults who are checking in and making sure that the kids are where they're supposed to be for Zoom," she added. "Many parents have said that they're happy their kids are able to be with other kids and get that social interaction, too."

One of the challenges of providing all this support, however, is running out of materials. "We have some things here, but for each of the rooms and programs that we have, there has to be supplies for each child in each place," explained Kravchuk. "That means a baggie in the art room, and also in the makers classroom, for example, for each of the 40 children with their own individual crayons, pencils, markers, things like that." New books and pads of drawing paper are also in demand.

"The kids love to write and draw," Kravchuk continued. "To have those things replenished, so that the children can continue to have the materials they need to do art and the makers class, in addition to their remote learning, would be great! Even on a regular, daily basis [pre-pandemic], we go through those things. Now, they go crazy quickly."

Shared History

Opened more than 125 years ago — first as a boys club, before a girls club was created in the 1990s and connected to it through a shared gymnasium, then reimagined in an entirely new co-ed building in 2007, thanks in large part to a gift from former member and Brooks alumnus Bill Perocchi '75 — the club has long been a mainstay in the Lawrence community.

"Since my time there," said McVeigh, "they have built a new clubhouse and they continuously upgrade the facilities and the programming to ensure the kids there have access to the kinds of opportunities, mentorship, and experiences that will change their lives for the better."

"The work that is done at the club is so critically important to the youth of Lawrence and the surrounding areas," said Associate Head of School for Faculty Affairs John McVeigh. "For many kids, it is the most important thing in their lives. It's where they eat, study and play each day. It's where they learn the skills that will help them in school and in life."

He should know. McVeigh belonged to the club and attended their former Academic Basketball Awareness summer camp through his senior year of high school, after which he received a scholarship through the club that made it possible for him to attend Merrimack College. McVeigh then returned to coach at the camp each summer — for more than 25 years.

"Many of the players I coached there are now young coaches themselves working with kids at the club," said McVeigh (above). "There is such a family spirit there. So many alums of the club go back to help because they want to give back and repay all the mentorship and coaching and love they found there."

"I first started going to play basketball at the club in the mid 1980s and it's amazing to see that so many of the same people who made such a big impact on me back then . . . are still making a huge difference in kids' lives to this day," he said.

Brooks School got involved even further back than that. "Brooks has a proud history of partnership with the club," McVeigh noted. "And no one personified that more than Maureen Perkins H'81, W'56, P'81, P'83, GP'14, GP'18, who spent decades working to keep our two institutions connected and ensuring that everyone involved learned and grew from the experience." The late founder, and former head of Brooks' Community Service program, was recognized by the club for her dedication with the Jeannie Melucci Award in 2007.

"Before the term 'community partner' became a thing, Maureen Perkins was my very first community partner," said BGCL's Kravchuk, a former teacher. Two days a week, Perkins would bring students from Brooks to the club to help kids with their homework, and once a week the kids would go to Great Pond Road, where they would visit the computer lab and then write about a topic of the day that Perkins would turn into a newspaper of sorts.

Her daughter Leigh Perkins '81, P'14, P'18 (below) has continued the support. "Being involved with the club, over the 24 years I've been back working at Brooks and before that alongside my mom, has taught me so much," said the younger Perkins. "Every person I have met there, staff or student, is working so hard to do and be better."

"There's no way we can support our kids, academically in particular, without the support of volunteers," said Kravchuk. "The kids count on it. . . . It's huge, really."

To hear Dean of Community Life Ashley Johnston describe it, helping support the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence now, in a time of need, is as much of an investment in their program as it is in Brooks's.

"We feel very fortunate to be able to partner with such a wonderful organization," said Johnston, who currently oversees Brooks's afternoon Community Service group and describes the club as "a pillar" of the program. "Our students have thoroughly enjoyed afternoon tutoring, inviting BGCL students to Brooks campus for a basketball game and donating gifts to families for the holidays. We hope to continue this amazing partnership for many more years."

"Brooks students quickly become attached to the members," said Perkins of the school's volunteers at the BGCL (Nalia Medina'18 on left). "...The lessons for Brooks kids are endless at the club, and in Brooks students, club members find kind, funny, patient, clever and caring mentors, as well as models of possible futures."

And though Brooks students aren't able to offer their traditional help to club kids right now, McVeigh notes that the school's support is more critical than ever, as the pandemic "has been incredibly hard on the club and the work they are trying to do. Any and everything that we can do to help them will make a difference."


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