The idea of “access” has always been important to Gabino A. Castelán. His family moved to New York City from Mexico when he was only 7 years old, and like many immigrant families, they struggled to make ends meet. For Gabino and his four sisters, it was particularly challenging to figure out how to get access to quality afterschool programs that would help them improve their English, make friends, and really get to know their new city.
Finally, Gabino was able to join BCNY as a 10-year old, and attended the East Harlem clubhouse, now known as Gerry Clubhouse. There, he found he suddenly had access to more programs and activities than he knew what to do with: from swimming, boxing, and pool, to the art rooms, music studios, and learning center, it felt like Gabino could do anything.
Early on, Gabino met former Board Member and volunteer Judy Makrianes, or “Ms. Mak,” as she was known around the clubhouse. Even after three years in New York, his English was still poor, making homework a real challenge. But Ms. Mak went out of her way to work with him every afternoon, helping him improve his English speaking, reading, and writing.
“It was like having a new part of my family. She was like a grandma to me.” says Gabino.
Gabino was determined to excel at school, and knew that a great education would open doors for him. It was at Camp Cromwell that he first heard about the Independent School Placement (ISP) Program, and soon enough, Gabino was being encouraged to apply by Ms. Mak, as well as other Education staff members—even BCNY’s then-Executive Director went out of his way to encourage Gabino to apply.
Gabino did apply, and was eventually accepted to the Church Farms School in Pennsylvania, despite being “undocumented. “I had a great team who helped me get where I wanted to go,” says Gabino of his Boys’ Club mentors. At CFS, he started deeply exploring visual arts, especially drawing and painting.
After graduating from CFS, Gabino was able to study art at Hunter. He also attended a prestigious Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, a prestigious artists’ residency in the Summer of 2014. He also taught at the Joan Mitchell Foundation as an Artist-Teacher, and currently teaches at Creative Art Works.
Now a graduate student, Gabino is dedicated to making art accessible to his old Harlem community. Last year, he founded Cultural Workers, an educational interior design organization that focuses on sparking community revitalization in under-resourced neighborhoods. His first project involved transforming an unused storefront into an open arts center that offered free art classes and workshops to the community, providing access to professional artists and supplies to everyone who cared to stop by.
Gabino has kept in touch with his Boys’ Club family, and hopes that someday soon he’ll be able to encourage another Boys’ Club boy to demand access to greater opportunities, and to reach for HIS dream, just as Gabino was encouraged to do so. How will he know how to best help that boy? “The Boys’ Club showed me how to do it.”