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Mentors at nonprofit help students get degrees, jobs

Aneudy Rodriquez (right) reviewed financial aid letters with counselor Cara Press.Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

When Aneudy Rodriguez was a Boston University freshman living on campus, he would leave as often as he could, hopping the number 1 bus back to his Roxbury neighborhood.

"It was culture shock," he said. "Even though I'm from Boston, I didn't feel I was home at first."

Many students from poor neighborhoods face difficulties adjusting to college life — and many end up dropping out. But Rodriguez had the support of Bottom Line, a Boston nonprofit whose mentoring services have helped more than 1,000 low-income students graduate from college.

Just as important, Bottom Line helped many of those newly minted graduates get jobs in key sectors of the Massachusetts economy.


Rodriguez, who graduated from BU last year, is heading to Harvard's Graduate School of Education to pursue his dream of becoming a guidance counselor for at-risk youth. He was also accepted by similar programs at BU, Boston College, and the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Thanks to Bottom Line's help in reviewing the choices, he said, "I didn't have to go through the process by myself."

Bottom Line has assisted students like Rodriguez for 18 years. The success of such programs is also important to the Massachusetts economy, which depends on a skilled and highly educated work force. As baby boomer retirements accelerate in coming years, increasing the pool of well-educated workers will be critical to the state's economic growth.

"Any program that helps graduates connect to careers with job ladders can only be helpful," said Randy Albelda, an economics professor at UMass Boston.

State Street Corp. has hired more than 70 students as interns or employees through Bottom Line since 2009, said Alison Quirk, executive vice president at the Boston financial services company. "In order to meet our ongoing talent demands," she said in an e-mail, "we need to recruit from a wide variety of sources."


Among those who have supported Bottom Line is Governor Charlie Baker, who will be honored Thursday at the nonprofit's annual gala. As chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care from 1999 to 2009, Baker came in contact with interns hired by the insurer through Bottom Line and was so impressed that he served as chair and cochair of Bottom Line's fund-raising galas in 2008 and 2009.

The walls are decorated with college pennants at Bottom Line HQ in Jamaica Plain.Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Baker said Bottom Line's approach — providing students with regular guidance and then getting them started on a career by connecting them to internships at local companies — was radical a decade ago. "It seems like a no-brainer now. But at the time, it was pretty unusual."

Bottom Line was founded in 1997 by former high school guidance counselor Dave Borgal, a Reading native who initially worked out of a small office at New Mission High School in Roxbury. What was often missing for low-income kids was "a college-going culture," he said.

More-affluent high school students have built-in support networks of parents, siblings, and friends, but low-income kids are often "on their own in managing things like filling out applications and college-aid forms,'' Borgal said. (One early supporter of Bottom Line was The Boston Globe Foundation.)

Christal Fenton-Fortes, a Boston College graduate and a lawyer at Ascensus College Savings Inc. in Newton, which offers college savings services, was part of Bottom Line's first class in 1997. Like many other Bottom Line students, Fenton-Fortes, who grew up in Mattapan, was the first in her immediate family to go to college. She met regularly with Bottom Line staff from her senior year at Boston Latin School through her BC graduation.


What sets Bottom Line apart is that "they stay in touch," Fenton-Fortes said. She recalled counselors asking her about her courses, her roommates, and her thoughts on school.

"They're involved in all phases, from getting into college and staying in college to finding a job," she said. "They don't leave off job-finding."

Fenton-Fortes's class had 25 students. Thanks partly to a 2012 commitment of $2.5 million from Alan and Harriet Lewis of the Lewis Family Foundation, Bottom Line is helping nearly 4,000 students this academic year. (The Lewises own Grand Circle Corp., a Boston travel services company.) Bottom Line, with a 2015 national budget of $7.3 million, recently opened offices in New York and Chicago.

Low-income student who get A's are wooed by elite universities, but B and B-plus students often need help to get into schools such as the University of Massachusetts Amherst, UMass Boston, and Bridgewater State University, said Mike Wasserman, executive director of Bottom Line Massachusetts. "If you're low-income and not in the top 5 percent of your class, you don't have a lot of affordable options," he said.

To date, 78 percent of Bottom Line students have graduated from college within six years, more than twice the average rate for low-income students.

That's "an astonishing track record," said chief executive Paul S. Grogan of the Boston Foundation, which has given just over $1 million to Bottom Line over the years.


Chris Reidy can be reached at