Sarah Nardone (Attended Stoneham Club beginning at age 8 in 1982)
Tell us a little bit about yourself: I couldn’t wait to sign up to join in all of the fun that my older brother & other older neighborhood kids had been enjoying for years. My brother and I were extremely fortunate to have been raised in a loving and supportive family, by my parents, who are blessed enough to still be happily married today. We lived within walking distance of Stoneham’s Boys Club (now Boys & Girls Club), and at times it was a second home to us. My folks worked in inner-city education, and we were lucky to spend summer holidays in Gloucester, where we eventually moved full-time. I graduated from Clark University in Worcester, MA, though I spent a substantial amount of time spreading my wings while studying in Europe. After having lived in several places in the States, I relocated to Italy, where I was based in Rome, and became fluent in Italian. As an independent contractor in tourism and events, my work took me all over the map, leading tours & promoting destinations. After over a decade of living abroad, I returned to my home base of Gloucester to be closer to Framily (dear friends & family). I continue to freelance in the field of travel and hospitality, including organizing corporate and customized events, managing international incentive programs, and working with music tour productions. While I left pieces of my heart in some special places with those I met along the way, my memories of the mentors & fellow club members of the SBGC remained with me throughout.
Tell us your “club story’’: “Having an older brother who was already a BC member, I looked forward to joining myself. My excitement was also mixed with trepidation, as I didn’t yet know many of the other girls who would be members with me. Since there were only one and a half “girls only days” it was probably a Monday, when my Mom accompanied (dragged) me into the Club to sign up for the first time. I remember not being tall enough to see over the counter of the front desk, clinging to my Mom’s hand, and hiding behind her in fear. Though I wasn’t typically a shy girl, and really did want to join in the fun that the kids were having at the club, I was absolutely petrified to actually go inside on my own. The idea of being left alone in a new environment with lots of unfamiliar older girls, was utterly daunting. That’s when a fresh-faced Donna Earle (DiVirgillio), “the BCG angel”, emerged from behind the counter to meet me with her big smile that provided me a sense of belonging and security. She reassured me that she would be there throughout my first day, and many more to come. (Surely, Donna hoisted herself onto the counter, swinging her legs around as she often would when rushing, with her key ring jangling from her jeans). Believe it or not, after almost 4 decades, I can still remember that feeling of intense curiosity and anticipatory anxiety all together. The BGC was a great alternative to being home alone before my parents arrived from work, and offered a safe and caring place for us to explore all aspects of childhood.
Favorite memories from attending the Boys and Girls clubs? There are just too many to choose a favorite, but the following stand out: • Gymnastics and Dancing shows with the fun Cheryl Valente • Tournaments—bumper pool, ping pong, pool, checkers, cards … • Gym games—(announced over the microphone: “8-12, 12-14, 14 & up or, all ages, boys, girls, co-ed in the gym for…”) Nerf, crack up, Jelly ball, Bombardament, Kick ball, Bowling, Tag, Pickle & various organized Sports and “Open Gym” time • Outdoor activities- Manhunt, Big wheel races, the Turkey Trot, and I especially loved the annual huge hot air Balloon-like tent that we’d run under in Rec Park • Road race (walk/run) from Stoneham’s BC to Woburn’s BC • Sleepovers in the gym were so fun, though certainly trying for the Staff who maintained the patience of Saints • Themed parties (Halloween…) • Giant gym Mat (Pole Vaulting) • Watching MJ’s debut video of “Thriller” with Donna & other fellow “sisters of the day”, gathered around the tables under the TV that was way up high on the wall, with snacks (jolly ranchers, devil dogs, Charleston chew, orange crush, root beer…) • Saturday afternoon pizza deliver • Volunteering to set up for Bingo, earning a soft drink & donut • Arts & Crafts Room activities • Visiting Mr. O in his office on “boys’ days” • Field Trips- Wallex Roller Skating, Canobie Lake Park… • Hanging out w/ friends- playing, chatting, listening to jukebox favorites, telling secrets in the bathroom (the sound of the girls’ bathroom door hitting the wall when kicked, and Donna forcing us out of there when our time was up) • Chatting w/ Donna, before it got too busy, as she sunbathed on a metal chair hanging out by the side door or back gym door. She nonjudgmentally listened to my childhood stories, pre-teen fears, friendship dilemmas and heart break woes, offering guidance as needed. I recall her helping me to choose between studying French or Spanish in 7th grade, advising me to write down the pros & cons of each alternative when faced with a decision.
The phrase, “It takes a village”, though overused, is true. Caregivers, teachers, coaches, BGC mentors, and other role models, all do their part to raise emotionally, mentally and physically healthy kids that will thrive in society. Whatever children’s home situations are, involvement in their local Boys & Girls Club will certainly build their resources and help them to best navigate the complicated world of growing up, and beyond. In my case, the life lessons that I learned through my experiences at the Club were supplemental to those that I was fortunate enough to gain at home. For many kids though, the BGC is the sole, or at least primary, source of learning discipline, responsibility, accomplishment, and feeling truly accepted for who they are, during some very vulnerable stages in life.
For me, the SBGC reinforced the nonjudgmental ideals instilled in me by my folks and added to my open-mindedness which led to a number of meaningful friendships and enriching adventures throughout my life. Even though Stoneham wasn’t demographically diverse, at the Club we interacted with a variety of people. It was expected that we be respectful and accepting of our peers who varied in race, socio-economic background, religion, physical & mental capabilities, and whose interests and talents differed. Just as cursing, smoking and violence weren’t tolerated at the Club, neither was discrimination, and consequences of such behavior were applied. There were rules that we had to follow, and when they were broken, we weren’t just punished, but spoken to, reasoned with, and given a platform to express our side. Kids were given a voice to communicate, and actually be heard by adults, something that they may not have been afforded in other facets of their lives. The club equipped us with the opportunity to explore the arts on many levels; from sports to boardgames, and crafts to music. We developed crucial life-skills such as: team playing, following directions, mutual respect, sportsmanship, resourcefulness, collaboration, responsibility, sharing, risktaking, creativity and humility .
The Club offered the chance to be a leader to those who, in other parts of their lives, may not have felt comfortable to put themselves out there to participate. Though the facility itself and access to its equipment was valuable, mentors such as Donna (maternal-like figure who also treated us as equals as we matured), Flynny (very influential, father figure to my brother), and many other staff members, were the true heroes of this enrichment operation. Working tirelessly behind the scenes, the administrative team, including Mr. O, and the forever-devoted board, should also be credited with the survival and evolution of the SBGC. Their devotion to future generations was demonstrated by developing a strong, extended support system for the youth. That structure benefitted families throughout the community, both those who were faced with adversity, and “privileged” ones. Like educators and public servants, the dedicated BGC staff members served as advocates that youngsters could turn to in times of need, providing them a safe haven, and caring about their happiness and health. The compassion, patience, selflessness and other good-hearted values embodied by those who worked at the club, provided an all-inclusive environment for our impressionable youth, and this inspired me to strive for goodness.
Many of my life-long friendships were born and nurtured at the Club, where there was a family-like atmosphere. My participation in BGC volunteer work within the community, served as a reminder of the importance of giving back to others. At the Club, we were encouraged to play hard, and tap into our imaginations and creative sides, cheer on “the underdogs”, and try again when we failed. This supportive, “get out there and try” approach undoubtedly inspired me to take risks in exploring things that I otherwise may not have attempted. This ultimately shaped my life’s professional path and personal desire to explore other cultures. Learning to do things on my own, reassured by the support of my Club tribe, instilled bravery in my little-girl-self who eventually grew to be a very independent woman. In a time that didn’t encourage girls to take chances in male dominated fields, the BGC gave us a secure setting in which to flourish. We connected with other girls who became our allies, and together we overcame insecurities that would have otherwise held us back. With the encouragement of our peers and adults at the club, we were challenged to extend our reach, resulting in broadening our self-esteem and self-worth that gave us the confidence and courage to stand up for what we believe in. This strong sense of self, ability to voice my beliefs and conviction to stand by them, helped me fight peer pressure in situations that could have been potentially harmful to me. Knowing that, at the BGC, I would be valued even when following the beat of my own drum, empowered me to pioneer my own path. I attribute my sense of fairness and determination to advocate for those less fortunate, to principles that were exemplified by Club role models. At 10 years old I was entrusted with the responsibilities of Saturday’s Bingo card distribution, working alongside a quick-witted, hard-working woman who took me under her wing. Rose showed me how to remain respectfully firm, even when dealing with ornery customers. That job, in addition to occasionally working at the refreshment stand, setting up for bingo in exchange for a donut and soft drink, and later instructing gymnastics established in me a good work ethic, discipline and the skills needed to budget my modest earnings. What is one positive quality that you have today because of the impact of the BGC?- The independence, confidence and inner strength that I possess to overcome insecurities, even in intimidating situations, is thanks in part to my experiences at the SBGC. The courage to step outside of my comfort zone in pursuit of new cultural experiences led to invaluable learning and meaningful friendships.
What word of advice would you give young girls who attend our clubs today? “Play Your Hearts Out! Take advantage of all of the opportunities at the BGC and try new things. That vulnerability and spirit of adventure could ignite a zest for life, providing fun but also give meaning and purpose. Keep in mind the maxim that down the line we often regret the things that we didn’t do more than those that we did, and ask yourself what you have to lose provided that your actions don’t negatively affect others or yourself. Remember that you will fail at times, but not trying would be a real missed chance. Persistence will pay off!”
Thank you to all our women alumni who shared their club story with us this month and helped us to celebrate the history of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Stoneham & Wakefield!