Ben Clark has overseen quite a bit of change at Enroot since he became executive director almost five years ago.
For starters, when he was appointed to the position back in November 2013 the non-profit organization was not even called Enroot. The group was Cambridge Community Services (CCS) and it consisted of three programs. One of the programs was City Links.
The City Links component was established in 1993 as a response to Central American refugees entering the United States due to civil wars in their homeland. When Ben took over at CCS, the Harvard graduate wanted City Links to become the sole focus.
“When I took over, we were Cambridge Community Services and we had three different programs. The strategy that I advocated for and we adopted was to narrow our programmatic focus and expand our geographic footprint.
“It was in 2015 that we decided to narrow our mission, articulate a vision and core values which hadn’t been articulated before and really set our sights on expansion of this one program that was called City Links. Because we were only going to do one thing and do it well beyond Cambridge, we thought it made sense to rebrand ourselves as Enroot. The word itself means to establish, to set roots and we felt that it captured a part of what we do with our students.”
Enroot’s purpose was to empower English language learner students through a after-school program. From 1993 to 2016, Enroot worked solely with students from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. Ben has changed this. Now, the organization also works with teenagers attending Somerville High School.
In the 2017-2018 school year, Enroot worked with students of 26 nationalities from countries such as Bangladesh, Guatemala and Togo. For the upcoming academic year, Ben expects that figure to increase to 27 or 28.
The current executive director has also instigated change in the non-profit as from this September, the program will accommodate people attending college as well as high school. The only rule of the expansion is that college students that will receive the help of Enroot must have been already been a part of the program when they were in high school.
“It’s exclusively to work with students who came through our high school program and now in their first and second year in college. The purpose is to build into a five or six-year engagement and help the students we know and trust us during high-school through that difficult transitional period to college.
The after-school program at Enroot takes place Monday to Friday from September to June. Cambridge Rindge and Latin School students go to the organization’s base on Bishop Allen Drive for the after-school program while Somerville High students get tutoring at their school.
When the programme was founded, the aim was to help students find internships in city offices. Twenty-five years on, Enroot wants to broaden the number of areas that students can gain experience in.
“We were awarded a few months ago a $500,000 grant from Biogen to help expand the number of students we serve in Cambridge and Somerville and most importantly to expand the stem component of our work, so science, technology, engineering, math,” Ben informs.
“A big part of what we’ll try to do and accomplish in the next few years is diversify the internships. Not just in sector but so that there is much more focus and opportunities on the stem areas.”
The program requires a 12 to 15 hours commitment of students with most of the time spent at internships. Students spend an hour and a half once a week with both their mentor and their tutor.
“The mentors are really focused on being a guide, a friend, a confidential source of advice as they go through high school. Usually these will be multi-year relationships with the same individual. They will do fun stuff together. They will go to ball games, bowling and ice-skating. They’ll do hard stuff together like work on college applications and essays.
“The tutoring is explicitly academic. It’s meant to boost their academic achievement and help them learn study skills. How to approach school and their participation in school in a way that will best serve them including how to interface with teachers after school, how to ask for help and budget your time.”
Enroot have one employee working four days a week at both schools involved in the program. The on-site Enroot employees are program directors and they hold a two-hour weekly leadership seminar at each school.
Enroot would not be the service it is today without the generosity of those who donate to the non-profit organization. In addition to Biogen’s contribution of $500,000, travel website Trip Advisor have donated $60,000 over two years while the Cummings Foundation, founded by real-estate tycoon Bill Cummings and his wife, gave Enroot $100,000 over three years.
Enroot is constantly evolving and improving. There is currently nine people employed at the Cambridge non-profit but when school resumes come the fall, that number will increase to 14.
Executive director Ben is young and full of bright ideas and he hopes that the future of the organization that he presides over is just as bright. Enroot will work with 175 students this coming school year. Ben hopes that number continues to increase year in, year out.
“The next five years is really to add two new schools, to grow from serving 175 to the 500 to 600 range. We’ll hit a thousand students before the ten-year frame. We think six schools in Greater Boston is about right to make the case for expansion. Our long-term vision is to be operating and providing this type of opportunity in different cities.”
Image Attribute: Enroot