Women who inspire us: Kafi N. Sanders

Tell us a little bit about yourself: I still have family in Stoneham and in MA though I now live in New York. I went to school in the Stoneham public school system through middle school. After that I graduated from a private girls high school in Virginia, and then went to Union College in Schenectady, NY where I acquired a BS in Biology and Psychology and a minor in Africana Studies. I attended the Yale School of Medicine where I obtained a Masters in Public Health with a concentration in Global Health and Development. I worked at the MA Department of Public Health as an Epidemiologist in the Immunization department where I helped with vaccine programs for the state of MA, and then moved to New York City to work at Pfizer, Inc. I also began a program at the Hunter School of Public Health to acquire a Doctorate in Public Health. So I attended a mix of public and private schools.

Tell us your “Club Story:” I started going to the Boys & Girls Clubs around age 7. My parents got divorced and the Club really helped fill-in the gaps living with a single parent. I absolutely loved being at the Stoneham Club. Donna and Flynny (the adults) were excellent role models and mentors, and they were so fair. I always felt that inside the Club you always got a fair shake no matter who you were. That was more impactful than I could have imagined.

Favorite Memories: My favorite aspect of the Club was that it was so fun. There were always so many kids around so you weren’t ever alone. I remember the Mazza, Ridell and Ponzo kids, a Corcoran or two and my favorite O’Halloran! There were so many more children as well. My immediate family is small so I adored being with a lot of kids of all ages. There were also a lot of activities like art and dance classes, games in the gym like bombardment, archery, BB gun target practice, pool, bumper pool, darts, trips to the beach, the annual road race or eating contests to look forward to. It was a different time when the songs of the 60s to the 80s were on the jukebox and provided a mellow backdrop to a lot of fun and many covert life lessons. I think the most played song was Boston’s “More Than a Feeling”.

How did the BGC shape your life: The Stoneham Club shaped my life in a lot of ways. I was exposed to so many different kids, and with the help of our adults we really learned how to work through our differences and also how similar everyone’s wants and desires are at a core level. Everyone wants a turn, a chance, to be heard and to be part of something and at the club everyone had an opportunity. It also taught me to be tough; you earned everything and got nothing for free. Through our activities we also learned to work independently or as part of a team which I cycle between every day in my career. I also found that the Club was one of the only places where girls really got to do a lot more than in other aspects of our lives and there was a wonderful freedom in that. I was there in the early 80s and society was a lot different than it is now. That freedom prepared me to be competitive and feel confident in environments around the globe where there may not be any other women or people of color. It also helped us all learn what it was like to lose or to win, very Important lessons for kids. A positive trait I have today because of my time there is that I’m confident. I’m confident enough to say when I don’t know something or speak up when I do, to go anywhere in the world and connect with anyone. I’m confident with winning and losing because there’s always a lesson in it and I’m confident to get back up and go after what I want. You could easily cycle through all of that in a week at the club!

Advice to young girls at the BGC today: My advice to girls attending the Clubs now is to really use your time there to be curious, get to know who you are and learn what you like or dislike. Get to know people who aren’t like you and what’s important to them. You’re young so be brave it will benefit you in your life. Also make sure you build strong relationships with other girls. At the Club there were only a handful of us in my day, but I remember trying to learn how to be friends with all the girls (it was a given that you’d do this with the boys because there were mostly boys at that time). There’s really nothing like having a good group of girlfriends who really get you and who have your back. Most importantly take advantage of the offerings and have fun!!! There’s so much to do and learn in the world and the Boys & Girls Club is a wonderful and safe place to begin your journey.