By Ginger DeShaney
“Be the person you needed when you were younger.”
That’s Allison Baker’s favorite saying. “I try to live that quote,” she said.
And she is succeeding … big time. Allison is a lifelong Southie fixture who works tirelessly for the neighborhood’s children through the Edgerley Family South Boston Boys & Girls Club, local community centers, the CYO basketball program, and her nonprofit organization Kickoff for Kids.
When she was younger, Allison had the people she needed: Katie O’Connell, Barbara Kelly, Joe Kelly, Kathy Davis, Kevin Lally, John Lydon, Sean Monahan, Ronald “Cheech” Maciejewski, and so many others. “All these people still do youth work,” Allison said. “Those people have been role models to me.”
Allison spent much of her youth at all the South Boston community centers. “Growing up in the community centers, I’ve just always felt connected to them,” she said.
“Any job I’ve ever had I worked with kids,” added Allison, who noted she has worked at almost every community center in Southie. “I enjoyed my childhood so much in the community, so I want to make sure other kids get the same things I did. I think that’s why I like to give back.”
Allison started working at the Tierney Learning Center in 2016 and it “really changed my perspective of life,” she said, noting the job made her want to help the kids in the Old Colony area realize that there’s more to life “than that little circle they’re in.
“I didn’t know what to expect when I went down there,” she said. “I talked to some of the kids and they’d say, ‘Oh, Halloween was canceled.’ Just experiencing what Christmas was like for them … I need to do something. They didn’t know Santa came to your house. I tried to think of stuff that I could do to change that for them.
“That’s when I started to brainstorm. I need to do something and Kickoff for Kids was created.”
In 2017, the first Kickoff for Kids all-girls flag football tournament was held over the Thanksgiving holiday. The event raised $10,000 that year and all the proceeds went to nonprofits that benefit kids for Christmas.
This year, with a delayed tournament date of June 12 because of COVID-19, the event raised $34,000! Those proceeds are going to summer camps.
As always, Allison makes the donations to the nonprofits in memory of Colin McGrath, a little boy who was killed by a car in South Boston, and part of the proceeds go to Colin’s Joy Project.
Allison is grateful to the local businesses who give back and help make these annual fundraisers possible. “They give so much to us. So many people are willing to help,” she said, noting she loves that Southie is such a tight-knit community.
As a Southie kid, Allison played every sport that was offered here. But she excelled at basketball, playing in high school at Mount Saint Joseph Academy in Brighton before her bad knees derailed her goal of playing in college at Westfield State (where she graduated with a degree in psychology).
Through coaching, she can instill her love of the game into others while giving back to the community.
Her basketball career began at age 6 in the Gatey CYO program, starting in the instructional league when Barbara Kelly and Linda Chapin ran the program.
“They joked, ‘You signed up for instructional league and you never left,’ ” Allison said. And she concurs: “I started when I was 6 and never left!”
In third grade she showed up at instructional practices to help out. At 14, she was old enough to coach her own house league team, but before then she assisted coaches and volunteered in any way she could. When Allison turned 21, she started coaching travel teams.
“I’m 27 years old; I’ve been involved for 20 years,” Allison said about the CYO. “That’s crazy to say.”
She is now coming full circle: Allison is taking over as commissioner of the girls’ CYO program after longtime commissioner Marie Laundry retired. Allison knows she has big shoes – er, shorts – to fill (Marie wore shorts year-round, Allison said), but she’s up for the challenge.
This past year, while running the girls’ instructional and house leagues, Allison also coached a girls’ house league team, a girls’ third- and fourth-grade travel team, a boys’ seventh- and eighth-grade travel team, and a girls’ high school team.
While she normally focuses on the girls’ program, Allison and her cousin Jacqueline Beggan led a team of boys Allison knows from the Tierney Center. “We brought them to all the games,” Allison said. “We’d take them out for pizza … trying to introduce them to different parts of the community. That’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
In addition, Allison helps run a women’s basketball league, and she plays and coaches in the Boston Neighborhood Basketball League.
Allison is taking on a new role this fall as a full-time paraprofessional working with autistic kids at the Perkins Elementary School.
She’ll already know a lot of the kids at the school. Many of the kids who participate in the Tierney programs attend the Perkins. Plus, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Allison’s cohort at the Boys and Girls Club consisted mostly of Perkins kids.
She knows she will have a lot on her plate – teaching, working part time at the Boys & Girls Club, running her nonprofit organization and the girls’ CYO basketball program, and playing hoops herself — but she’s excited for the coming year. “I’ve never felt burned out. It’s just what I like to do. I don’t ever see myself being burned out,” she said.