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Bottom Line extends reach to help 1,000 more students

Kassmin Williams
Bottom Line extends reach to help 1,000 more students
(L-R) Ly Truong, Gladys Ngamo, Pat Tetteh and Jocelyn Santos help make up the 98 percent of Bottom Line students who were accepted into college.

(L-R) Student Shatwuan Lewis works with Mallory Bram, one of the Bottom Line mentors helping students with college applications.

Bottom Line occupied one classroom at the New Mission High School and helped about 25 high school seniors apply to college when the program started in 1997.

In 1998, the organization’s founder, former guidance counselor Dave Borgal, supported those 25 students throughout their freshmen year in college and helped 50 more high school students apply.

Today, the privately funded nonprofit organization works with more than 3,000 high school juniors and seniors and college students in Boston, Worcester and New York City. Its mission is to help low-income and first-generation students get admitted to and graduate from college.

The Boston program has received a $2.5 million grant — to be given over the course of five years — from the Grand Circle Foundation to double the number of students supported by Bottom Line in Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan.

The grant allows Bottom Line to work with more than 1,000 additional students in Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan, according to Bottom Line Executive Director Mike Wasserman.

Wasserman called the opportunity to work with more students “exciting” and recounted the organization’s growth from a small program to one with multiple locations assisting thousands of students.

The grant from Grand Circle is evidence that Bottom Line can have an even greater impact in the city, Wasserman said.

“I think it’s allowing us to do things at a scale that we wouldn’t be able to do before,” Wasserman said.

By the end of 2017, Bottom Line will be working with more than 3,200 students in Massachusetts alone, Wasserman said.

In the midst of receiving the grant and gearing up to take on more students, Bottom Line has also opened an additional Boston location in the Carruth Building on Dorchester Ave., next to the Ashmont MBTA Station.

The new location on the red line creates more accessibility to Bottom Line for students who may have trouble accessing the original Jamaica Plain location, Wasserman said.

“If someone is looking for extra support with the college-application process or with college we want to make sure that our location isn’t a barrier,” Wasserman said, explaining that being accessible via two separate subway lines eliminates a roadblock for students looking to receive support.

The Jamaica Plain location was a barrier for Gabriela Caruffo, 18, of South Boston, who joined Bottom Line in 2012.

Caruffo, who is due to graduate from Community Academy of Science and Health in Dorchester in June, played volleyball, which forced her to schedule meetings with her Bottom Line mentor after 6 p.m., less than an hour before Bottom Line closes.

“I came with everything on and we just sat down with my knees scraped,” Caruffo said. “Sometimes I got home at 9 p.m. and sometimes [my mentor] stayed with me until 8:30 p.m. so we could finish things.”

Caruffo admitted that the new location would have been some help to her because of the close distance to her school, but she still appreciated the guidance she received in applying to and preparing for college.

When Caruffo started at Bottom Line in Feb. 2012, she had a list of 20 colleges and a 2,000-word college essay — the limit requested by the college was 500 words — that had no focus.

Caruffo’s counselor helped cut her list of schools in half and narrow her essay to one topic, helping her get below the 500-word limit.

He also helped Caruffo decide on Clark University. Financial aid was a major factor in the decision for Carrufo, who is paying her tuition alone.

Caruffo’s counselor helped relieve financial worry for her by finding the Phillips Scholarship, which Caruffo applied for and received.

The idea for Bottom Line came out of Borgal’s experience as a guidance counselor for hundreds of students. Borgal wasn’t able to help students with college applications as much as he wished because of time constraints.

“He’d call students a year and two years later, and for a lot of reasons they left school,” Wasserman said. “So the idea when he founded the program in 1997 was, we should be available as a resource for the application process [and] also, once colleges start because things come up. There are academic challenges. There’s finding a way to connect with professors.”

The program for high school seniors and juniors became known as the Access Program and the program for college freshmen the Success Program.

Caruffo attended a small school with one guidance counselor. Tatyana Almeita, 18, of Chelsea, attended Chelsea High School, a bigger school with multiple guidance counselors. But both students had the same problem when it came to seeking help with college applications.

Both experienced what Borgal observed as a guidance counselor, that the counselors’ availability to help with college applications was limited.

Almeita said when she asked her guidance counselors to look at her college essays, they’d read them briefly, but she needed the “constant attention” she received from her mentor at Bottom Line.

“I’m so grateful because I was so indecisive. I kept switching my major and switching my college, but [my mentor] kept helping me,” Almeita said.

High school juniors and seniors and college freshmen that are interested in Bottom Line can apply for the program at www.bottomline.org