Nick Cabral was one of the very first members of the Alameda Boys Club when it opened in 1949. (The Club wouldn’t change its name and be known as the Alameda Boys & Girls Club until the 1990’s.) When Nick was at his grandmother’s house at about 7 years old, founder Leonard Lee came up to her and said ‘I’m going to start a Boys Club – can I take the kids?” Off went Nick, his brother, a cousin and a few other boys from the neighborhood with Leonard to the new Club. Its first location was at Alameda’s First Presbyterian Church on Santa Clara Avenue. The church gave them one room, and all it had in it was a mat and a rope. Now in his 70’s, Nick has very vivid and fond memories of his time at the Alameda Boys Club when he was ages 7-18.
After about a year, the Boys Club moved to the Encinal Projects in what is now Alameda’s Marina District with Director Joe King who became Director after he graduated from college. Nick stated affectionately that Joe was an exceptional leader to the boys who were members of the Club. He was like a second father to all of them, teaching them skills, coaching their sports games and taking them on once in a lifetime fields trips for kids of those ages. Every Tuesday was field trip sign up day, and all the boys would be very excited. Some of these wonderful trips included a night of camping in the Oakland Hills, where the boys felt like they were in the true wilderness; the Hayward plunge swimming complex and to Nick’s all-time favorite, a camping trip to Yosemite National Park. This trip was transformative to every boy who went, and solidified Joe’s role as an influential member of each of their lives. Although Nick came from a loving family environment, he revered Joe as one of the greatest men and mentors in his life and to this day, still stays in contact with him and his family.
On his way walking to the Club, ten other boys would have joined in on the walk by the time they arrived. The Club would open at 1pm and again at 6pm in the summer. Nick and the other boys would spend all afternoon there, race home to eat dinner, then run back to be at the Club by its second opening at 6pm.
Down the line, the Alameda Boys Club expanded to an old National Guard building in Lower Washington Park. Here they had access to a large baseball field, the beach and the San Francisco Bay. Because the boys couldn’t use a private Alameda pool, Joe taught them how to swim in the cold waters of the bay. Some of Nick’s other favorite activities were Friday Night Movies for five cents and ping-pong ‘around the world’ style on the one table they had. The gym was also always in motion, with boys never stopping their basketball games until they had to go home. When older, Nick and his friends became ping-pong team leaders and he also worked as a Front Desk boy. He also recalls meeting former president Herbert Hoover in 1957 at the grand opening of the Lincoln Avenue clubhouse.
Nick and the other boys became like brothers, many of whom he still is in contact with today. Often referred to as ‘those kids’ or ‘West End kids,’ they often felt a form of judgment from other members of the island, bringing them closer together. “We were all we had” Nick stated. “It didn’t matter about race.” He also recalls that the staff simply cared about the kids. “They weren’t making a lot, but still cared about us and giving us attention.”
Being a member of the Alameda Boys Club taught Nick many invaluable lessons and values he still holds to this day. Joe taught the boys not to use swear words. He and other staff taught them to share, that other people count, about diversity, acceptance and loyalty and because of this, the Club was an absolutely enjoyable place for Nick to go. As he got older, Nick and his wife Joyce would welcome Alameda Boys Club kids into their home. Whether they wanted a place to hang out or a place to talk with a mentor, they were always welcome. Nick could often see that these kids looked distressed or in pain, and understood that they needed to be there. Joyce would make them Kool-Aid and so the kids were dubbed “Nick’s Kool-Aid Kids.” Kids Nite Out co-chair Tim Marr was one of these kids.
Nick believes that the Alameda Boys & Girls Club has throughout its years provided a wonderful service for kids and he continues to support it because he likes to see its growth in serving new kids each year. “The Club is a safe-haven for many and [the staff] are touching their souls…It is enjoyable for them.” He also believes that the Club is a necessary place for our community’s kids who need a place to feel safe, have fun, receive impactful one on one attention and do great activities like sports, gardening, cooking and technology. Finally, Nick believes it’s important for kids to have a second home wherein their family environments might be busy or less than ideal.
While the members might not realize it now, Nick believes they are making memories that will carry with them throughout their lives. Memories of the fun activities and field trips they took; memories of the staff who will have an impact on them and memories of spending time with their friends.