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Helping kids in sports and life

Over the past four decades, no one has positively impacted Western New York youth and youth sports more than Dick Gallagher. At 77 years old, he’s well past the age of retirement. But there’s still nothing else he’d rather be doing with his time.

“I’ve been very fortunate in my life to do some wonderful things,” Gallagher said. “And I will keep going as long as I can.”

Gallagher first came to Buffalo in 1967 to pursue his master’s degree in social work at the University at Buffalo. After graduating, he began working at E.J. Meyer Memorial Hospital — now ECMC — and eventually became the executive director of the New York State Council of Alcoholism. In 1987, Gallagher helped form Kids Escaping Drugs (KED), an organization dedicated to providing a treatment facility for chemical-dependent adolescents. The Renaissance House was built in 1990 and currently houses 30 boys ages 12-17. A second building, called Stepping Stones, was added in 1995 for girls.

The addition, Gallagher says, came about after a personal tragedy.

“In 1993, my daughter Christine committed suicide and she was only 24 years old. Her untimely death was related to alcoholism. And that’s the worst thing any parent could ever go through with their children. Two years later, with the agency, we were able to build a 16-bed facility for girls.”

Having been in the addiction field for more than 40 years, Gallagher knows the signs and signals all too well — changes in mood and behavior, slipping grades and hanging out with different friends are just a few. And with the current opioid epidemic sweeping the country, he says it’s more important than ever for parents to pay attention.

“Kids who overdose or that are struggling, it wasn’t just something that happened yesterday or a few weeks ago. It’s something that’s been building for years. And the signs are there.”

Throughout his career, Gallagher wasn’t only dedicated to helping kids fight addiction. He was also focused on showcasing youth sports and athletes. In his free time, he connected with various youth sports organizations and publicized athletes’ achievements.

“I think the more active kids are, the less likely they are to go the drug path. Even though it’s never a guarantee. I’ve seen very good athletes struggle with addiction and go on to play sports in college. And I always felt that when I looked at the lack of recognition in high school sports, that there was something missing,” he explained. “That’s why in 1983, I started a publication called Western New York High School Football, which changed eventually to Western New York High School Sports. The kids worked so hard and they deserved to be recognized.”

Gallagher committed himself to publishing the paper and coordinating numerous awards banquets for athletes for almost 30 years. Then in 2010, he “retired” and stopped producing the paper in print. But a week later, he started working as a web producer for WGRZ’s Channel 2 News. His primary role is keeping local Western New Yorkers informed on the ins and outs of high school sports and athletes, and he loves every second of it.

What motivates a 77-year-old with an already impressive resume and a living legacy to continue working so hard after all of these years?

Passion, Gallagher says simply. “It’s something you need in order to be successful in this life. When you use that passion — in your life, in your career, with your family — you can accomplish great things.”

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