Matthew Gutierrez was a lost boy. All he remembers of his early childhood was, to quote an Irish author he has probably read by now: silence, exile and cunning. Remarkably, thanks to the help of many other generous people, he has emerged happy, educated, sociable and ready to make his mark on the world. Early in his childhood, his family disintegrated into a string of custody battles and court appearances. Living with his father, as an only child, he moved from one residence to another, occasionally ending up in a homeless shelter. Whenever they settled in a place long enough for him to attend school, his mixed race heritage meant he was an outsider even among other Hispanics because he looked too Caucasian. Ostracized, with little emotional connection to whatever curriculum he was studying, he had no way to really grow up, to form social bonds and build a sense of self-worth. Talking with the social workers who tried to help did little to give him any sense of a hopeful future.
His good luck was, first of all, having a devoted father. One day, during his free time, his dad took Matthew to an East River park for a baseball game. They made conversation with another father, who was there with his two sons, and their new friend invited them to join in their practice session. It turned out he was also a coach for a youth baseball team organized by the Boys' Club of New York. An invitation to join that team was all it took to completely change Matthew's life: because of the generosity of donors who support the organization, Boys' Club was able to offer him a membership for only $5. It may be the best $5 he and his father ever spent. The clubhouse provided by Boys' Club became a second home, where he connected with other kids who accepted him and developed a love not only for baseball, but also pool, table tennis, and swimming. It essentially connected Matthew with the world around him. One of the programs offered by the club prepared him to apply to top private schools--a regiment of study with tutors, lesson plans, and emotional support. It opened the door to his future.
"Though serendipity describes how I came across the Boy's Club, I'm not sure what word to use to describe what I felt when I discovered I'd been admitted to Lawrenceville," he told the assembled group for the club's annual fall dance at The Plaza not long ago. "I could literally see the rest of my life changing before my eyes in the greatest way possible. There I became a writer, drummer, wrestler, technician, friend to many and a young adult. I even managed a perfect 4.0 (GPA) in my senior fall, became a member of both the Mid-Atlantic Prep League all-star baseball team and the National Hispanic Scholars Association."
And now he's headed to Columbia University.
It's hard to describe how gratifying it was to see and hear this remarkable young man's story. His gratitude to the many donors in the audience was touching, but his achievement as a human being was even more moving and inspiring. Boy's Club of New York is changing lives, a wonderful organization that works largely under the radar. As a resident of this city, I've backed Boys' Club for years. The dividends for everyone have been remarkable: the creation of rewarding lives for young men of character who, in turn, make a positive impact on their communities. Mentoring kids is magical. And organizations like Boys' Club of New York foster these nurturing relationships with boys where a dismal future can be transformed in an amazing way.