In the COVID-19 pandemic, the message from leading health experts has been to “stay at home.” For many families who need to go back to work this summer, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Stoneham & Wakefield has been a reliable and fun option for kids to safely socialize. For Joey D’Alessandro, Wakefield Club Director, the club wasn’t just an option for his parents to send him to have fun: it was his second home.
Growing up, D’Alessandro did not have an easy home life. As D’Alessandro began his teen years, his family went through a very difficult divorce in which led to things kids should never see or be apart of. This caused him to have to become an adult much too soon taking on responsibilities no teenager should ever have too.
“Do you want to know the most important thing the Boys & Girls Clubs did for me? It wasn’t the programming, the mentoring, the homework help, or the physical activity. The most important thing the Boys & Girls Clubs did for me was give me a place to be,” said D’Alessandro.
If it wasn’t for the supportiveness of the club, D’Alessandro may have had a different future. The club began to take notice that he was caring more for his sister and helping his dad more around the house taking more of a leadership role.
“They let me stay after close. They pretended they had reasons to open early so I could come in. They came up with random volunteer jobs so I could keep busy,” said D’Alessandro.
D’Alessandro has had a successful journey so far, getting a degree in social work from Salem State University, and being named the Wakefield Club Director in January. As club director, D’Alessandro looks to provide the same care that supported him throughout his tough childhood.
“I feel like I owe a lot to the people who are there at the club…I’ve tried to hit the ground running and just do what they did for me. I have a really good foundation as to what this club can do for a kid because it did that for me,” said D’Alessandro. “I use that every single day, whether it’s a kid who doesn’t have lunch, someone’s relative is sick; I use that experience I had in every conversation I have with the kids.”
D’Alessandro stressed the importance of recognizing the problems kids may be facing when they aren’t at the club. During the COVID-19 shutdown, the Boys & Girls Club of Stoneham & Wakefield worked with non-profits, restaurants, and food-banks to deliver meals to their families, including weekly care packages and three meals a day.
“During club hours is our break…There are a lot of things that go on after hours. Yes, we’re an afterschool program, but what makes the place special is the relationships we’re able to build with our kids and families,” said D’Alessandro.
Known as “Jlahts” by his campers, D’Alessandro has seen the impact the club has had on him and looks to make that same impact on kids in the future. “I look to be doing this for a very long time,” said D’Alessandro. “I love it. It’s not work for me. It’s a lifestyle. It’s been that way since I could remember.”