When the club opened, Mary Kate played bumper pool and basketball with kids from all over town and would hang out in her dad’s office until he went home.
“I grew up with the Boys & Girls Club,” she said last week, “and I’ve pretty much worked in it almost my whole life.”
Mary Kate may have the same reddish hair and freckles as when she was in grade school, but she’s a 30-year-old woman now, with a child of her own. And she’s back at her childhood clubhouse as it hits its 20th anniversary.
This time, instead of hanging out in her dad’s office — Kevin’s moved on to be senior vice president of government relations for the Boys & Girls Club of America in Washington, D.C. — you can find Mary Kate sitting down with children at the club to show them her drums and photos from Africa.
She calls these her “teachable” moments: when she can talk about her experiences and share something about another culture.
Africa, after all, is where Mary Kate goes when she’s not at the Boys & Girls Clubs.
She was first hit with the travel bug while she was in college. She spent a summer in Alaska followed by a year in Barcelona, Spain, as an au pair. Then she applied to work as a Peace Corps volunteer — something her uncle, California’s Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, and her aunt, Patti Garamendi, had both done in the 1960s.
Mary Kate served for two years in Benin, West Africa, where she taught English and volunteered with a health clinic in the village of Djougou. She worked to promote child vaccinations, prenatal care and anti-child trafficking in what’s considered to be a nerve center for child trafficking and one of the poorest countries in the world.
“Working with the children over there was challenging because of all the obstacles they face, but it was absolutely rewarding,” she said. “It was a gift to be part of their community.”
After the Peace Corps, she stayed awhile in Africa, where she worked in Senagal, married and had a daughter, who is now 2½ years old.
And now, except for occasional visits to Africa, Mary Kate’s back in Tracy as a grant coordinator for the Boys & Girls Clubs. Her goals are to improve services for Tracy’s children, to track and measure their progress, to build and improve relationships with donors, to research and apply for new grants and to follow through with existing ones.
And this time around, she has her own daughter in her office — learning the ropes of public service.
• In the Spotlight is a weekly profile in Our Town. To nominate someone to be In the Spotlight or to comment on this week’s column, contact Our Town Editor Justin Lafferty at 830-4269 or firstname.lastname@example.org.