For well over a century, generations of Dorchester kids and teens have come through the doors at the old municipal building on Columbia Road. Since 1978, the top three floors — including the classic, penthouse basketball gymnasium— have been occupied by the Bird Street Community Center. There are bigger youth centers in Dorchester— sleeker, better funded and more highly visible. But few, if any, have the knack that Bird Street has for working with at-risk kids and putting them on a path to success.
On May 7, Bird Street will celebrate its 35th anniversary with a special event at Florian Hall that will also serve as a farewell to Andrea Kaiser, Bird Street’s do-it-all executive director who will step aside later this summer. Kaiser, a classically trained pianist, started as the center’s development director in 2004, but was stepped into the breech as top administrator just months later. The interim stint as director turned permanent when the board could not find a better person for the job. Andrea has shined in the role, building up the fundraising base and partnerships that’s crucial for the center’s 1,300 young members and its 50 person staff. She’s also led a renovation, including nice upgrades to the top-floor gym, which has a shiny new floor to match its low ceiling.
The stars of next Tuesday’s celebration, however, will be the kids who make Bird Street truly special. The Girls Dance program will perform and members of the Fashion Design program will strut their stuff. Boys from the glass-blowing program will show off their wares. Alumnus Juan De Jesus— who grew up across the street in Uphams Corner and now works for Major League Baseball— will give the keynote address.
Bird Street’s work often goes unheralded, but they serve a vital purpose in focusing on youth at-risk of falling through the cracks. Their licensed School Age Child Care Program (SACC) helps working parents with children ages 5 through 13 by giving them a safe and nuturing after-school destination. Bird Street works directly with eight Boston Public Schools in Roxbury and Dorchester and provides safe transit for the kids to get home. It’s a seamless system that puts a premium on tutoring help and high school and college prep. They also provide a key link to summer and part-time jobs and funnel their members into a summer-long day camp in suburban Boston.
Tuesday’s celebration at Florian Hall starts at 6 p.m. You can call Bird Street at 617-282-6110 to get tickets.