The Rise of Child Care with John Kelly

The Social Centers Conversation

John Kelly
EBSC Executive Director 1983-2017

As executive director of the East Boston Social Centers for 34 years, John Kelly had the pleasure of experiencing the dramatic changes in the community in and around East Boston and gracefully faced the challenges that came with them. The organization was transforming to concentrate more on Early Learning and After School care programming, and was one of the first in Eastie to do so. At the same time, with new immigrant groups moving in, John put himself in the position to unite everyone; the old and the new Eastie residents. 

You made so many great things happen and impacted so many lives in your 34 years of service at the East Boston Social Centers. Of what are you most proud? 

You were instrumental in building the early learning field as we know it in Massachusetts. How was the system when you started and what work did people do to get us where we are today?

I was still in grad school when I was running the pilot "Welfare to Working" program and I was looking at why are people on welfare, who is on welfare. It was mostly women with small children. There wasn't anything called child care. Back then, there were schools that were called nursery schools. They were mostly for families with money; so there wasn't really anything for ordinary people or poor people in terms of what we now call child care. So I had to start with that premise. I did a lot before I got to the Social Centers. I worked on the first after school programs for the Boys & Girls Club, actually changing it from just the Boys Club to the Boys & Girls Club. We were getting into things other than just athletics and arts, including child care. So we ran one of the first after school programs. I had to think, "What should After School time be?" because there wasn't any model. I had to think "What is it? Is it custodial? Is it a membership? What's the relationship with the parents? What are the issues with the kids?" The obvious thing was that it's after school, they just got out of school; the children have all that energy you have to allow and recognize. I also learned that how we greet the kids everyday is a big thing. 

When I got to the Social Centers, I actually drafted the initial regulations for the state for after school child care because it was a new thing. But when you really look at what is it, it's been formalized and codified. When you look back in time, mostly women cared for children, and now that child care is more formalized and gender issues have changed, women were given the chance to become professionals and do so much more with the opportunity to have their children in child care programs. 

The Social Centers was one of the first three licensed and accredited child care centers in the state. We have been leaders in that for a long time. Our mantra was "Quality, Affordable Child Care," and there was a big style in what we did; we collaborated with all the child care providers in East Boston and there were sites like ours across the city for every neighborhood. All the neighborhood sites collaborated to ask for more resources for child care and later on, after school programs. 

Now in this new phase of your life, what brings you your greatest joy? 

Well, my favorite thing is when this amazing couple asked my wife and I to dinner. [Shows a photo of a lion and lioness] This was from our trip to Africa. It was always my dream to go to safari trips in Africa and it was worth it all! We went all around Africa and we even went on one of those really fancy trains, like the orient express; I had always wanted to go on one of those. We went all the way to the tip of Africa, Cape of Good Hope... It was beautiful. Retirement has been great! When I'm feeling well enough, I like to travel, kayak or canoe, and work out. Growing my beard out has been fun, too. 

Our Pizza & Comedy Night Fundraiser is coming soon! 
April 11th 6:30-10:00 PM
Prince Pizzeria, Route One Saugus