Operation Bootstrap moves into new building

August 28, 2012
By Chris Stevens/The Daily Item

After 20 years of basement dwelling, Operation Bootstrap has moved into the light and onto the second floor of the J.B. Blood Building at 20 Wheeler St.

“This place gives a much better message,” said Edward Tirrell, executive director of the educational non-profit that offers adults instruction in literacy, math and computers. “It says you matter, you don’t belong in the basement.”

Bootstrap board member Paula Murphy-Roux slipped off her high heels and into a pair of flats Monday as she pitched in to help Tirrell, his staff and volunteers move boxes, furniture and computer equipment from Broad Street to the second floor of 20 Wheeler St.

“It’s so exciting,” she said. “This is a space that students and faculty can be proud of.”

Both Tirrell and Murphy-Roux said they appreciated their former home but the size of their new home affords the organization room to grow.

Suite 203 is a bright, sprawling space with windows on the outside walls and hallways that seem to go on forever. On a tour of the new facility Tirrell pointed out offices, a large community room, an area for GED classes, that includes smaller rooms for one-on-one sessions, a future computer lab and 10 classrooms, two more than their previous space held.

Until the move, Bootstrap has chiefly focused on helping people learn English and pass their GED, the equivalent of a high school diploma. In the new space Tirrell said the organization will take education to the next level by helping students pursue college degrees or vocational training, which would open them up to jobs where they could make $18 or $19 an hour rather than $8 or $9 an hour.

“They could support a family,” he said.

Bootstrap has also added a transitional coordinator and two educational and career advisers to help students not only decide what they want to do but map a route to get there.

“You really need more skills to earn a higher wage,” Tirrell said. “And Lynn has a very under-skilled work force.”

A higher-skilled workforce is also more likely to attract and keep businesses in the area, Tirrell noted.

Murphy-Roux said faculty and administrators have two weeks to pull everything together before the new year starts on Sept. 10. When it does, Tirrell said there will be 275 students in the building, 30 or 40 who will participate in distance learning via computer and at least another 100 joining conversational English classes.

The conversational classes are Bootstrap’s way of keeping in touch with at least some of the 500 people on its waiting list, Tirrell said.

Board member William Joseph said he was worried about the wait list.

“This bigger place will help shorten the list quicker,” he said.

The new year also comes with a new commitment from students. Tirrell said classes will double from two days per week to four and from six hours to 12. He said the change will likely force some students, who have work or family obligations, out of the program, but it’s needed. Students become frustrated when they don’t see improvement and he’s hoping by doubling their efforts they will move forward more quickly, he said.

Adult basic education teacher Leah Danoff, who is looking forward to putting her own stamp on a classroom she no longer has to share, said she loves her knew classroom.

“I’m really excited for this space, and I think the students are excited too,” she said.

Chris Stevens can be reached at cstevens@itemlive.com.



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