Making a Difference: Hilda Gathright

HARLINGEN — It’s been a labor of love, all these many years.

The vitality of the young faces at the Boys & Girls Clubs accentuates the passion of the work there. Many people carry the torch of that love, that belief. At LeMoyne Gardens, it doesn’t take long to spot the local hero.

“I made it, I hit the ball,” a young girl says eagerly to Hilda Gathright, the unit director.

“Awesome,” Gathright says to the girl.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Harlingen in the LeMoyne Gardens Community is a place of hope, unbridled joy and activity. Numerous programs seek to foster the development of talent and intellect, all of them within Gathright’s supervision.

“The thing that I enjoy is seeing the kids come in with open arms and a big smile,” she said. “Here they just release.”

Gathright has been with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Harlingen for more than 20 years. She started out at Harry Nigro unit, developing her skills at helping children find their path.

Then there arose the need for a Boys & Girls Clubs unit in LeMoyne Gardens. She and her husband, Gerald Gathright, began working on a plan for a club in LeMoyne. Gerald Gathright is the professional officer for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harlingen.

Hilda Gathright began working with the LeMoyne Gardens kids in 1989 at the community office. A year later, a brand new Boys & Girls Clubs unit opened down the street.

The situation then was quite different than it is now. The children were as delightful as always. However, they were surrounded by troubled circumstances involving drug abuse and even some violent crime. This dark side of the bright light in the children’s faces perhaps made Gathright’s presence even more vital.

She recalled one small boy about 5 or 6 years old consistently showing up at the door. She’d tell him he was too young, but he often found a way to sneak in.

Once he was old enough he was a regular presence at the club. Many years later he told Gathright the Boys & Girls Clubs at LeMoyne had been a safe haven. He’d seen his uncle shot and killed, a traumatic experience of the kind no one forgets. Today, that boy is a successful man. Gathright speaks with him from time to time.

“We have come a long way,” Gathright said. “We have some of these issues, kids come from single parent homes or both parents being illiterate. I am so happy to provide after-school activities.”

The programs she offers the children after school include Triple Play, which is a math program. There are numerous crafts activities such as making gingerbread men and necklaces. The children have access to fine arts programs. Reading programs improve literacy, and sports leagues offer youth the chance to play volleyball, basketball and other games.

“We do programs to promote physical fitness and healthy habits,” she said.

Gathright also appreciates the results, the successes, of which there are many.

“They bring their report cards to me and I see that their grades are pretty low,” she said. “We sit down and talk about ‘Why are you making the low grades? Let’s come up with an incentive.’ Rewards may include a trip or a pizza party.”

Her evident joy and warmth are at once balanced and extended by the stern discipline she exercises with the children. A young girl appears at her side, her voice almost a whisper.

“What makes you think you can just walk up and ask for something?” she says to the girl. “Do you see me handing things out?”

“No,” says the girl, somewhat taken aback.

“You want something, you have to earn it,” Hilda says, the little girl walking quickly away.

Perhaps one of her strongest tools of success is consistency and the refusal to allow circumstances to get her “down.”

“Life is too short,” she said. “I don’t let that happen.”