Brought up by a single mother in a “tough neighborhood” in Brooklyn, Richard Gutierrez said he understands what life is like for many of the children served by the South Queens Boys and Girls Club in Richmond Hill.
He knows what it’s like to have his father leave when he was 6 years old and watch a mother struggle so her son can succeed. Above all, he said he knows what it means for children when someone puts their faith in them — which is what he said his mother, Jacqueline, did for him and what the South Queens Boys and Girls Club does for hundreds of economically disadvantaged children throughout the borough.
“The Boys and Girls Club is a gem that’s been shining brightly for more than 50 years, providing children with social services so that they can achieve and succeed,” Gutierrez said at the group’s 55th annual dinner held at Russo’s on the Bay in Howard Beach on Tuesday night.
Gutierrez, the president of the Queens Bar Association, was one of three of the organization’s board members to be honored at the dinner that was attended by hundreds of people.
Robert Vaccarello, president of the RY Management Company, and Lou Calemine, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, were also recognized at the event.
“There is a ray of hope in the world today, and that’s the South Queens Boys and Girls Club,” Vaccarello said. “They give disadvantaged young people the chance to build self-esteem.”
Calemine also touted the organization as playing a crucial role in the lives of Queens children and adolescents.
“It takes them out of the streets and away from bad homes,” Calemine said. “This club and these people may be the only good thing in these kids’ lives.”
George Russo, president of the club’s board of directors, said the evening’s festivities are amongst the most crucial times for the organization, allowing it to raise money for the group’s programs.
“This keeps our doors open, and our lights on,” Russo said.
During the event, Ozone Park Kiwanis Club President Jonah Cohen presented a check for $10,000 from his group to the SQBGC.
Russo and Joseph Ferrara, the group’s chairman emeritus, said they are especially looking forward to the organization’s future, particularly because they recently broke ground on a $10 million clubhouse, which will be located at its present site at 110-04 Atlantic Ave. in Richmond Hill.
“It’s going to be a state-of-the-art building, a real feather in the cap of the community,” Russo said.
Ferrara said the clubhouse, which they broke ground on last spring, will allow the group to offer more programs.
“We’re ensuring the future of the youth in our community,” Ferrara said.
State Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) agreed with Ferrara.
“Richmond Hill is a very interesting community,” Lancman said, with residents who “come from all over the world, speak many different languages and worship at many different places, but the one thing that unites them is a need for a place to grow and become productive members of society. The South Queens Boys and Girls Club gives them that opportunity.”