New head helps Project D.E.E.P. focus on future

Project D.E.E.P.: Project D.E.E.P. director Beth Connell with founder Brendan McDonough.Project D.E.E.P.: Project D.E.E.P. director Beth Connell with founder Brendan McDonough.A correction has been appended to this article.

With “balancing school over sports” as its motto, Project D.E.E.P. (the Dorchester Education Enrichment Program) has taught local middle schoolers the value of education for the past fifteen years.

In 1995, Dorchester resident Brendan McDonough noticed that while there were many after-school athletic programs that the neighborhood’s children could participate in, there was a startling lack of after-school educational programming.

This absence, coupled with Dorchester students’ sub-par standardized test scores, motivated McDonough to create Project D.E.E.P. to help Dorchester’s youth become well-rounded student-athletes. D.E.E.P. would not only improve children’s academic performance but also help them gain admission to selective high schools.

Now 15 years old, the organization’s staff and board members are making several changes to strengthen the already successful program.

“The changes we are making are going to ensure that the program will continue for the next 10 or 15 years,” says McDonough, who is president of D.E.E.P.’s board of directors.  “D.E.E.P. will not suffer death by cuts with quality slowly dropping year by year. We’ve had a great past 15 years, and now we’re positioning ourselves for the next 15.

School over sports
In early 1996, McDonough filed a 501(c)(3) non-profit form and sought help from Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s office and other community organizations. With the mayor’s support, McDonough set up D.E.E.P. headquarters in an unused storage closet on the second floor of the Murphy Community Center (now called the Leahy-Holloran Community Center) on Worrell Street. The organization still operates from that office today.

Project D.E.E.P. has served hundreds of middle school students through its one-on-one tutoring program, entrance exam-prep courses, summer camps and private school placement program. Last fall’s exam-prep course helped 97 percent of its students gain admission to entrance exam schools such as Boston Latin School, BC High, and Thayer Academy.

 Dorchester resident Mallory Toomey, a former D.E.E.P. student and tutor, says that the organization’s tutoring program and exam-prep class played an integral role in her admission to Thayer Academy.
Dorchester native Bill Farrell, who has served as D.E.E.P.’s treasurer since its inception, attributes the organization’s success to the dedication and enthusiasm of board members, staff and volunteers. Farrell adds that the incentive of a free athletic summer camp has made the one-on-one tutoring program popular with Dorchester’s youth.

Several D.E.E.P. affiliates say that the organization has helped change Dorchester’s culture.
“One of my first students told me that ‘D.E.E.P. makes it cool to be smart,’” Farrell recalls. “I think it really has created a more academic-focused culture in Dorchester.”

“Dorchester is a funny place,” adds Beth Connell, D.E.E.P.’s new executive director. “It’s known for being rough or tough, color guard or hockey. Education doesn’t really pop out when you say ‘Dot Rat.’ D.E.E.P is helping create a well-rounded person. A person who is good at sports and smart, and that that’s a good thing.”

Changes for future
This year has been one of transition for Project D.E.E.P.
With the departure of long-time executive director John Hanlon in 2009, the organization has used the year of its fifteenth anniversary to reevaluate its strengths and weaknesses while searching for Hanlon’s replacement.

“Things got a little disorganized last year,” says McDonough, referring to the shortage of tutors that threatened to leave students without the mentorship they had signed up for. “We were looking for a new director and assessing the organization itself, but that’s not going to happen this year.”
New fund-raising measures and logistical adjustments are currently being implemented to ensure the program’s long-term stability and improve its efficiency. The core of the program, however, will remain the same.

McDonough credits new director Connell for many of the organization’s new initiatives. A Dorchester native, Connell’s work experience at Mount Saint Joseph and as a fund-raiser at the Genesis Foundation makes her a perfect fit for the position, McDonough says.

“We needed a superman or superwoman,” says McDonough. “Beth fell in our lap. She is vibrant young woman from the community that understands Dorchester with the experience in fund-raising we needed, and she has amazing organizational skills.”

Under Connell’s leadership, D.E.E.P. launched the Sponsor a Student Program last April. The effort hopes to involve more community members and raise money for organization. Individuals donate $100 to sponsor a child’s academic enrichment with D.E.E.P. Donors will then receive a quarterly update from their students. More than $24,000 has been raised thus far.

Farrell notes that while D.E.E.P. is not in financial trouble, the new fund-raising effort is especially welcome in this time of economic downturn.

Connell is also creating a database that will consolidate all the information on students and tutors. In addition, she hopes to have the tutoring program located in the cafeteria rather than scattered throughout the Murphy School in the upcoming academic year.

D.E.E.P.’s private school night, traditionally a panel of admission officers from different schools, will be restructured and divided into two sessions. The first will introduce different types of schools (co-ed private, single sex parochial, and single sex private), and the second will be a fair, allowing students to speak with admissions officers individually.

The board of directors has also established an advisory board comprised of local professionals from varying fields, such as education and business, that will help the board of directors navigate D.E.E.P.’s path in the future.

The non-profit also formed an affiliation with Project B.I.N.D. (the Boston Inclusion Network for Disabilites), a program run by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester, last spring. Middle school children participating in B.I.N.D., which was also founded by McDonough, can now participate in D.E.E.P.’s programs.

“We’re staying true to the mission focus on what we do best: tutoring, exam prep, summer camps, and private school placement,” says McDonough. “We are just making some changes to make are program the very best it can be.”

Connell notes that these changes will help the already successful organization serve its middle school students even better in the future.

“I want D.E.E.P. to be the premier after-school education program in Dorchester,” says Connell. “I want it to run seamlessly so that every kid gets to take full advantage of what we offer here and make his or her future brighter.”

Sign-ups for D.E.E.P.’s one-on-one tutoring program will take place this Saturday, July 25, at 2 p.m at the Leahy-Holloran Community Center. Readers interested in volunteering as tutors are encouraged to sign up by September 18.

CORRECTION: Sign-ups for D.E.E.P.’s one-on-one tutoring program will take place Saturday, September 25.