Giovanni Melchiorre Bosco, known as Don Bosco-The Saint of the Young, was born 200 years ago in Italy last month and before his death in 1888 he dedicated his life to reforming troubled youth, street children, juvenile delinquents, and other disadvantaged youths through love and compassion not punishment.
In Italy at the time, when St. Don Bosco began his work in Turin, his method was known as the Salesian Preventive System. That philosophy of helping youths lead productive lives as members of the community continues today at the Salesians Boys & Girls Club on Byron Street. With a shoestring budget, the Salesians and Fr. John Nazzaro are able to help thousands of children each year through the club’s afterschool program and summer camp.
So it comes as no surprise that the Boys & Girls Club on Byron Street are planning a special day-long celebration to mark the bicentennial of Bosco’s birthday.
The Salesian Order around the world have been holding celebrations to mark the August 16, 1815 birth of Bosco and on Saturday, September 26 the Salesians Boys & Girls Club will kick off a celebration at the Boys & Girls Club parking lot at 1 p.m.
“At 1 p.m. we will be having a family carnival followed by a Mass and then a neighborhood BBQ,” said Nazzaro. “Then at 7 p.m. we will host a Savio Alumni Reunion inside Savio Hall.”
The connection between Bosco and St. Dominic Savio goes back to the 19th century when Savio was a student of Bosco. Savio was studying to become a priest under Bosco’s Salesian Order when he became ill and died from pleurisy at the age of 14. Bosco, had very high regard for Savio, and wrote a biography of his young student, The Life of Dominic Savio, which helped elevated Savio to sainthood.
“We want this to be a community event,” said Nazzaro. “While it will celebrate the life of Don Bosco and the Salesians’ mission here in East Boston it will really be a way to welcome the entire community to the Boys & Girls Club.”
Nazzaro said that for those new to the area or unaware of the Boys & Girls Club there will be tours of the facility, which includes the gym, chapel, Savio room, cafeteria and the afterschool facility downstairs at Savio Hall.
The Salesian Boys & Girls Club accommodates over 350 young people a day and has over 1,000 youngsters on their active membership. The registration fee for one child is a minimal $20.00 a year.
“The Boys and Girls Club laid the foundation for my success by providing me a safe place to grow, adults who served as my mentors, and a community and culture that instilled in me confidence and a love of community” said former State Rep. and current Chief Secretary for Gov. Charlie Baker Carlo Basile. Basile, also a Savio grad will be on hand for the celebration.
Each year the Salesian Boys & Girls Club runs a summer camp and this year over 200 young people will take advantage of this fantastic program. Each year the Boys & Girls Club runs an annual breakfast and other fundraising activities to raises money for kids who otherwise would not be able to participate in a safe fun filled summer.
“We do a lot with the money that we get and we have over 40 families that receive scholarships for our program each summer,” said Nazzaro.
Nazzaro, who grew up in Eastie and knows the neighborhood, has been running the Salesians Boys and Girls Club inside the former Savio Hall with tremendous success.
After Savio closed, the Boys and Girls Club officially moved its headquarters from the big brick building on Paris Street up to Orient Heights.
“We were lucky we got 60 to 80 kids a day at Paris Street,” said Nazzaro. “Now we’re getting 350 children.”
The 350 children who show up daily do so primarily for the Boys and Girls Club’s after school program that costs local families a very modest $20 for the entire year.
“The program serves children ages 6 to 19 from 2:30 to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday,” explained Nazzaro. “We offer computers, after school help, homework help, sports, art and crafts and provide snacks every day at 5:15 p.m.”
With the celebration kicking off at 1 p.m. Nazzaro said parking will be available at Savio Field located off Woodsworth Street.