College Bound Dorchester is still on message: College can be for you

After 45 years of service to the community, Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Houses changed its name last week the better to reflect what the organization is all about. Now called College Bound Dorchester, the nonprofit organization announced the name change as the final element of a year-long re-branding process.

College Bound Dorchester says it will continue to provide educational services for children and adults to help ensure they have the opportunity to achieve their higher education goals. “We wanted a name that reflected the mission of our organization,” said chief executive Mark Culliton. “Our mission is to provide students with the tools and skills to graduate college.

College Bound Dorchester serves more than 1,000 children and adults each year with programs that include Early Education, Out of School Time, Adolescent Development, Alternative Education, and Adult Education.

The goal is create an environment where everyone has the opportunity to pursue college. And the hope is that the programs will have a positive effect on the neighborhood. “We also are not doing this alone,” Culliton said. “Our ability to drive this change relies on our partners and our ability to work with other organizations and educational institutions.”

When it was founded 45 years ago, Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Houses was set up as a nonprofit organization to tie together a group of settlement houses in Dorchester. The houses provided a range of educational and social services including health care, sewing classes, cooking classes, and a food pantry.

Many of the early programs have continued over the years, including early education, child care, after-school programs and alternative school programs for students who have dropped out of school.

“Over the last three years, we have been focusing particularly on education as a way to positively transform a neighborhood,” Culliton said. “We want the community to have high expectations and we want to provide all of the students with the tools to succeed in college.”
The idea of setting the stage for college can be considered regardless of age, he said. From early education and after school programs and summer enhancement, all of the programs help to provide the tools to pursue college, if that is what the student decides to do, he added.
Understanding how kids learn begins at an early age. “You can look at how a child is progressing developmentally and almost immediately determine if they are off-track when they enter kindergarten,” Culliton said.

For students who fall off track and may not be performing at grade level in school, College Bound hopes to offer programs that support them getting back on track. “If we are committed to building a college-bound culture in Dorchester, we need to invest in families to provide the pipeline to make sure the students stay on track. And if they fall off track, that they have the means to get re-engaged,” Culliton said.

For adults, College Bound integrates the mission in its English Speakers of Other Languages class. “We teach English to support parents so they will be able to help their kids in college,” he said.
Fewer than 25 percent of Dorchester residents have a college degree, including an associate’s degree or higher, Culliton said. That said, not all students will pursue college. “If a student gets to that point where they are making a choice of college or not, we want it to be one [a decision] of full opportunity,” he said. “Then if they decide not to choose college, that’s their choice. But far too often, you see children from poor families and often the adults in their lives expect less of them.”

College Bound provides its programs through four main sites and 30 homes where education and child care is provided.