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BGCL Alumnus to Describe How ‘Hard Work Pays Off’ at Fundraising Auction on April 2 in Haverhill

March 18, 2016

Rafael Morales and his four siblings moved more than 15 times after emigrating from the Dominican Republic before their mother, Belkis Aquino, landed a factory job in Lawrence that allowed her to put food on the table, a stable roof over their heads, and clothes on their backs. He was only 11 years old, but living in poverty had already taught him to take care of himself.

Even though her 12-hour workdays lasted late into the night, Morales said his mother taught him two important lessons during this time. "First was some very special advice she would send me off to school with each day: ‘Learn all you can, so you make something of yourself someday,'" he recalled. "The second was far more powerful and life-changing. She got me a membership to the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence. The club became my home. The only thing I didn't do there was sleep."

Morales, who lives in Lawrence, will share his story of gratitude and giving back as the keynote speaker at the Tropical Paradise Gala Auction benefiting the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence on Saturday, April 2 at 5:30 p.m. at DiBurro's, 887 Boston Road in Haverhill. The event is the club's largest annual fundraiser, accounting for a significant portion of its annual operating budget for critical programs focusing on academic success, healthy lifestyles, and community involvement for more than 3,800 youth members.

Looking back, Morales said he is grateful for all he was given during his five years as a club kid - from supper each night to life skills such as discipline in completing his homework before basketball practices and games. In fact, it was on his very first day that he met Steve Kelley, the club's associate director and basketball coach whose selflessness extended to sharing his homemade lunches with the youngster. Through Kelley's mantra that "hard work pays off" in all areas of life, Morales thrived.

He earned the Paul Cronin Scholarship and attended Central Catholic High School, where he played basketball and football and participated in a number of school groups. At the club, Morales was a member of the community service-oriented Torch Club and Keystone Club, which he says taught him to "exemplify all of the leadership traits I learned from the staff" while internalizing the importance of education, respect, goal-setting, perseverance, and accountability.

"Steve was the father figure I needed. He taught us to work harder than we ever had thought possible, and he held us responsible when we would make mistakes," Morales said. "He would make you believe in yourself. That belief is what made me the man I have become today."

Morales, who earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from Anna Maria College in 2010, joined the club's staff as coach of the seventh grade boys' basketball team in 2012. Now in his third year coaching the eighth grade team, Morales said it's "extremely gratifying" to be in a position to pass down the life lessons he has learned - and now, to give back as the keynote speaker at the auction, for which he has volunteered the last few years.

"I have seen the impact that time, attention, advice, and financial support have had, not only in my life, but in the lives of thousands of kids who have walked through the doors of the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence," Morales said. "That's why I'm here now, trying to do what I can to help these kids - wherever they go, whatever they do."

Tickets to the auction cost $200, and tables of 10 are still available for dinner, cocktails, and live and silent auctions. Raffle tickets are also available - $100 for a chance to win $5,000! For more information, contact Special Events Coordinator Sarah Hogue at (978) 683-2747, ext. 128 or visit

Did You Know?

The Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence serves over 3,500 inner-city children every year.