He ushers a visitor into a well-lit lounge that resembles a college common area. That’s deliberate, he says. The design helps kids become accustomed to the college atmosphere. It’s apparent he feels at home here, and he should, because, in a way, he grew up here.
As a boy, Blake Lynch attended the Oberlin and Harrisburg chapters of the Boys & Girls Clubs and now serves as the newly hired director of development for the Harrisburg club.
A number of pivotal people and experiences laid the foundation for his journey from kid at the club to staff. He recalls, for one, Mr. Lee, who volunteered there.
“Mr. Lee was a very strong example of a good man—a great example of what I could become,” Lynch said.
That example embodied a passion for education. He encouraged the youth to have vision and dreams. He ran a program called “Passport to Manhood” and wanted to see the boys become positive examples in the community.
“Part of the reason I love Boys & Girls Clubs so much was Mr. Lee,” Lynch said.
Level of Excellence
Lee’s example was particularly important because Lynch, whose father passed away, grew up in a single-parent home.
Lynch speaks with obvious admiration about his mom. The family lived in Cole Crest, a public housing project in Steelton, until his mother was able to move the family to a home in Susquehanna Township.
He credits his mother with giving him what seemed like a middle-class life. Until the age of 17, he was unaware that the family ever collected welfare or lived in subsidized housing. His mother always worked and projected a professional persona. He said that she “expected the same level of excellence” from them.
That work ethic rubbed off on Lynch, and he began working at the Wendy’s on Eisenhower Boulevard at age 14. From there, he worked at the DoubleTree hotel and Taco Bell. His leadership skills showed at an early age, and he became a McDonald’s shift supervisor at 16 and, amazingly, a shift manager at 17. With no money for a second vehicle, he arrived at work via his mother or a taxi. If his mom or funds proved unavailable, his bike or his two feet carried him to his job.
Work was important, but Lynch felt that education was essential. Shippensburg recruited him for track and field, but he decided to attend Messiah College instead.
The reason? Messiah’s emphasis on service. Boys & Girls Clubs, as well as his church, had instilled in him a commitment to service that he felt he could fulfill at Messiah. He described his time at Messiah as phenomenal, as he made lifelong friendships and received an excellent education in communications.
For financial reasons, Lynch was unable to graduate but is determined, one day, to finish his degree. In fact, he credits Boys & Girls Club for this spirit of resolve.
“Determination is taught here,” he said. “In this community, you need grit and determination.”
People also need someone to believe in and help them.
Joe Massaro, general manager at the Harrisburg Hilton, has served as that positive mentor for Lynch. Massaro hired Lynch as a sales manager and, six months later, promoted him to corporate and government sales manager.
“He’s a very personable young man who connected very well with our customer base and other employees,” said Massaro, who added that Lynch carried himself professionally and encouraged those around him.
In turn, Lynch complimented Massaro as a role model and said his time at the Hilton was one of great personal development.
Widening the Road
It takes good people to help children and youth navigate the challenges of living in Harrisburg. Poverty, in particular, prevents children from having access to opportunities and ideas.
“The road into poverty is wide, but the road out of poverty is narrow,” said Lynch.
Boys & Girls Clubs, according to Lynch, aims to widen that road by providing a structured, safe environment and support system for kids—and access to the world outside their block.
The Allison Hill clubhouse is full of chatter, laughter and the noise of a ping pong game. Walking out the back door, one finds a well-maintained, colorful playground, begging for kids to whoosh down the slide, a large pavilion, and the impressive Ollie’s Bargain Outlet Park, a sports field complete with shiny artificial turf (no maintenance), proper dugouts and a legit scoreboard.
A secure, yet unobtrusive fence surrounds all of this. The place sends out a respite vibe—not accidentally.
“Boys & Girls Clubs of Harrisburg truly are a positive place for kids,” said Lynch. “We give them a home to develop and grow into themselves—in a community that may not be so nice sometimes. We want them to be committed, great citizens.”
To the kids at Boys & Girls Club of Harrisburg, Lynch represents what Mr. Lee, his mom and Massaro were to him—a great example. He feels blessed to have his life come full circle in such a short time, led by all the people who have assisted him along his journey.
As a visitor leaves the building, a young man of about 13 unhesitatingly opens and holds the door. It’s a poignant gesture that leaves one with the feeling that Lynch and Boys & Girls Club are on the right track.
Learn more about the Boys & Girls Club of Harrisburg at www.bgchbg.org.