By Owen Charters
On the morning of National Child Day this year, I was eating breakfast in a hotel dining room in Ottawa and chatting with a colleague from another youth organization. A woman at an adjacent table turned around and interrupted me: “Did you say you work at Boys & Girls Clubs? That organization saved my cousin’s life.” Surprised, I asked her for more details. That led to an email exchange, which culminated in her cousin sharing her story with me directly. With her permission, I am sharing it with you here.
“I would love to share my story of how the Club impacted my life. I am a survivor of mental, emotional, and physical abuse by a parent, and growing up, the Club was a safe haven for me. I was able to escape my troubles for a couple of hours and be a child.
Being a part of the Club has given me the opportunity to experience and see so many things, things that I would have never been able to experience if I didn’t attend the Club. I made so many friends and the Club really helped me in learning English, as French was my first language. It is thanks to the Club that I speak English today. I also learned how to swim!
I went to the Club in the west of Ottawa, 2528 Dumaurier Avenue. I used to live in a neighbourhood right near it. I remember just waiting for 3:30 pm to arrive so that I could run up the hill and go sign in. This Club has done sooo much good for our community, from barbecues, basketball tournaments (competitions between different neighbourhoods where the Club would fill with over 300 people—it was really crazy how many people would show up! Even people who were too old to join the Club came to watch!), talent shows, and outings to farm camps and Mont Cascades—it was all a blessing to us.
If we ever needed something, we knew we could always go talk to Tim, Theresa, or Kim and they would help us whichever way they could. If we needed shoes for basketball or soccer, they had the right pair for us. They always adjusted themselves and the Club to our needs. I remember when Tim and Theresa realized that a lot of the kids were talented with music and were into rapping, so they decided to add a recording studio in the music room. We had a garden behind the Club and I remember being sooo excited because I love planting. And we would use the vegetables in cooking class every Tuesday at 5. My mother started calling Theresa “Mother Theresa” because of how kind she was and how much good it did for my mom knowing that we had a safe place to have fun and be ourselves. Every year, she would go and sign the admissions forms for me and my brother with no questions asked.
So many precious memories. I will forever be grateful for the love, safety, joy, comfort, and opportunities this place has given to me, my brother, and all the other children I grew up with. I know people who are in their 30s today who still speak about how funny Tim was and how good the Club was to them growing up. That is how impactful that place has been to many of us.
I’m also thankful and grateful for the people who have donated throughout the years (we had a gala every April where different people would come and donate to the Club) and made it possible for the Club to give us the things that we needed.
I think it’s very important that people know how life changing and impactful a place like the Boys and Girls Club is in the lives of children who come from neighborhoods like the one I grew up in. People may forget what you did or said to them, but they will never forget how you made them feel. The Club made me feel important. It made me feel worthy. It made me feel very good. And I want every child to experience the same joy I felt being a part of the Club.”
If you have a wonderful Boys and Girls Club story like this one, please share your story.