LIFT: A Community for Learning

Adam Sennott

The Greek philosopher Aristotle once said that, “Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity.”
For students of the Project LIFT program at the Community Learning Center in Central Square, overcoming adversity can be a daily struggle, which is why many of them are turning to education as means to improve their lives.
According to the City of Cambridge website, under The Department of Human Services, Project LIFT offers free classes to those who are homeless and staying in Cambridge. Classes offered through Project LIFT include adult basic education and computer literacy. English speakers of other languages (ESOL) are welcomed.
“It’s a program for homeless adults who live in shelters, on the street, in transitional housing, or are victims of domestic violence,” said Debre Foxx, Project LIFT Coordinator.
While some of the students in Project LIFT are working towards earning their G.E.D., some already have a high school diploma and simply need to refresh their skills.
“You can have a high school diploma, but your skills can be low. Sometimes people just want to work on their skills to improve,” said Foxx. “Because even though they have the high school diploma they have been out of school for a while, or just don’t remember things. So they can take the class just to work on their skills.”
The Community Learning Center offers separate G.E.D. and college preparatory classes. One aspect of Project LIFT that is very convenient for its students is that they don’t have to worry about bring thrown out of the program for not making every class.
“It’s kind of a drop in program, because sometimes homeless people can’t be consistent about doing things because of all of the different things they have to do, or the way that they’re living,” said Foxx. “So we don’t have a mandatory attendance. We encourage them to come to every class because that’s the only way their skills are really going to improve, but sometimes that doesn’t happen.”
Foxx continued, “Some days Pat [the math professor] might have two students, and then some days she may have six to eight people.”
While Project LIFT has English/writing and math classes, they also offer basic computer training in their computer lab. The computer lab is designed to help students learn how to do web searches, send e-mail, and use Microsoft Word, among other things.
Though the computer lab covers a variety of basic computer skills, the individualized approach taken by the teachers allows students to use their time towards computer-related tasks they can use outside of class, such as completing a resume.
“I have them try to tell me every time they come, what’s the problem of the day? What’s on their mind that day?” said Annie Dunbar, the computer instructor. “Because people learn much better not only when they are interested, but when they need to do something.”

While every student in the Project LIFT Program is and has been struggling with homelessness, many are also from other countries and have been away from their families for a long time.
“Students who come from abroad and were not born here, they usually are homesick,” said Dunbar. “So sometimes when I see that I am not getting anywhere I will just say, ‘okay, let’s go to Columbia; or let’s go to Haiti.’ And then we do a GOOGLE search; or we look at photos, we use GOOGLE Earth to [see], where were you living there.”
Although working one on one with each student in her class can be difficult, Dunbar and her assistant, Rhonda McPherson, have seen many interesting people throughout the years. One student in particular even had a law degree from another country and needed help with his resume so he could apply for a job as a waiter here in the United States.
Many students from Project LIFT have gone on to get their G.E.D.’s  and even attend college, and this year’s students are just as ambitious.
“I like the reading class,” said Coleen Marshall, who is in her third week with Project LIFT. “I like the writing, the reading, and the math.”
Marshall continued. “It helps people out to learn something. I think a lot more people should come out here.
Fellow student Steven Payne agreed.
“Hey I am learning and it’s great!” Payne said. ”There isn’t a favorite part, it all connects…. …This is something I have wanted to learn for a while, typing. All these keys have all different functions!”

Besides the Project LIFT program, the Community Learning Center also offers many other services for adults seeking to improve their academic skills.
“It is a school for adults where you can take free classes in ESOL, G.E.D. preparation, and transition to college,” said Kate Hallen, Director of the Bridge to College Program.
The Bridge to College program is another of the more unique programs the Community Learning Center has to offer.
“The Bridge Program is for people who want to go to college and they may not be ready to as far as their academic skills,” said Hallen. “And they also may feel that they don’t know enough about the process of applying for, entering, and succeeding in college. As long as they have a high school diploma or a G.E.D. they can come to Bridge and get help in both academic, and their knowledge in those processes.”
Because of the many services the center provides there have been a plethora of success stories throughout the years, something that has not gone unnoticed within the City of Cambridge.
“I think it’s very important for a large group of people,” said State Representative Alice Wolf, of the 25th Middlesex District. “I have been for many years at their graduations. And if you hear their speakers from their various programs, whether it’s the diploma program, or the Bridge to College Program, or the other kinds of high school graduation programs, what you find out is that they are a lifeline to the future for the students.”
Wolf continued. “I think it’s one of the fairly quiet gems.”
For more information about the Community Learning Center, or to get involved with one of their many programs please call (617) 349-6363, or visit