Madison Backer named Youth of the Year at Boys & Girls Club

PITTSFIELD — No matter what aspects of Madison Backer’s life have changed, there has been one constant: The Pittsfield Boys & Girls Club.

The Club’s 2016 Youth of the Year award was earned by Backer earlier this summer. 

“Those who earn the title embody the values of leadership service, academic excellence and healthy lifestyles. They exemplify the critical impact that Boys & Girls Clubs have on the lives of young people,” reads the award statement.

The recent graduate of Pittsfield High School has been a member as long as she can remember, first coming with her grandfather when she was young, and continuing to do her studies, sports and activities on Melville Street through middle school, and eventually becoming an employee and camp counselor.

“I started here as a kid going to adventure camp, regular camp, I did basketball, junior leaders and that led to senior leaders,” said Backer. “It got to the point where I was able to work here. I started doing concessions and odd and ends, then summer came and I did rec therapy with my grandpa for three years. This year I switched to day camp and life guarded.”

When she did not make the high school softball team as a sophomore, Backer struggled to find a silver lining. However, some good came out of a tumultuous situation, as she doubled down on her work with the Club, becoming an even more dedicated member and worker.

“Instead of playing softball, I would come here, get my work done, do what I needed to do,” said Backer. “Junior year came around, and I didn’t try-out [for softball]. I got offered the job with mini-members and I said ‘I’m just going to do that.’ The last couple summers I’ve been here with the kids day in and day out. I’m happy that, what happened in high school, and other things that have happened along the way, this has more than made up for it.”

This fall, when Backer enters into the Dental Assistant program at McCann Tech, she’ll continue to be a presence at the Boys & Girls Club. After completing the one-year program in North Adams, she’ll likely continue her Hygiene studies at Springfield Tech or Hudson Valley. Still, she doesn’t have any plans to leave the Club behind.

“After school every day, it is a tight schedule, but hopefully I’ll still be able to do the mini-members program and do some swim lessons a couple days a week at night,” said Backer. “It will be tough, but I don’t want to lose the Club entirely, so I’ll be coming back and forth.”

After deciding she wanted to remain close to home after high school, Backer and her family mulled over what would be her next step. According to the honors graduate from PHS, she always enjoyed going to the dentist, so plans were set in motion to seek information about the McCann program, which she was accepted into on the strength of her personality and dedication.

Backer’s path to the award seemed organic, as a longtime member and dedicated employee of the club for many years. However, she was again thinking of others when it came time to consider applying.

“I didn’t want to apply, because I thought I may just get because I was around for so long,” said Backer, who also had two good friends applying, but found out that the voting would be completed anonymously not by the local staff. “They both got awesome scholarships and money towards school, so it was great. We all got something. It was a great honor to get.”

One day, earlier this year, Backer went in to pick up a check and was called into the office with Activities and Technology Director Shannon McMahon and Executive Director Chris Jacoby. The two informed her that she had been selected. 

“Madison has been around here since she could walk,” said Jacoby. “She has proven incredibly dependable in terms of her work. What has impressed me most has been her perseverance in the face of adversity and overall determination. That is why the young kids look up to her so much.”

“I enjoy the Club. It is a great atmosphere and a great place to get away and be with friends,” said Backer. “It is a safe place to be.”

The Pittsfield Boys & Girls Club is as much a staple in Backer’s family as it is in the local community. She had two uncles who were members and played hockey with the Club throughout their youths, and of course, there was her grandfather who first brought her to the Club.

Richard Backer received the Club’s Lifetime Achievement award last summer. The presenter: his teary-eyed granddaughter, Madison.

“That was really big. It meant a lot. My whole family came out, she said. “He’s been sick and unable to get out a ton, so it just meant a lot to me to be able to present him with the lifetime achievement award. He’ll never forget it.”