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Freedom House marks progress on new bldg.

Renovations to be completed by early next year

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Freedom House marks progress on new bldg.
Elected officials and community residents participate in a groundbreaking ceremony at the new Freedom House building, located at the site of the former Grove Hall Library.

For Rashid Selman, music has been a lifeline. Through his turbulent middle and high school years, playing his tenor saxophone gave him solace. His passion for music was on display last week at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Freedom House building in Grove Hall.

As elected officials and community members gathered behind the former Grove Hall Library, which Freedom House is renovating, Selman walked up to the podium, riffing on his saxophone.

“Music has been my salvation,” he told the gathering. “By the time I got to high school, my grades were also in need of salvation.”

For the latter need, Selman turned to the Grove Hall social service agency, which provides educational assistance to Boston teens. Working with coaches from the nonprofit, Selman was able to navigate high school, work through a year at Bunker Hill Community College and gain acceptance at UMass Lowell, where he plans to major in business management, en route to his dream of becoming a music producer.

“Thank you, Freedom House, for honoring me and my passion,” he said.

Selman’s success story was meant to illustrate the effectiveness of Freedom House, but the crowd last week didn’t need convincing. The 67-year-old agency has for decades expanded educational opportunities for Boston teens.

Long housed in a building directly across Crawford Street from the old Grove Hall Library building, Freedom House moved in three years ago. It now is operating out of a set of trailers while the 8,400 square foot library building undergoes a $1.5 million renovation.

To make the new location more welcoming, Janey Construction Management and Consulting, Inc. — the general contractor — is removing the concrete walls facing Crawford and Warren Streets and replacing them with glass facades.

“It will give Grove Hall a new look,” said Latoya Baskin, Janey’s project manager. “People will be able to see how beautiful this building is on the inside.”

The building will be divided into three main spaces: a class room, a computer room and a conference room — all with moveable walls that will allow the entire space to open up into a large conference space.

The building has been rewired to accommodate the needs of the computer lab. The plumbing and HVAC systems also have been updated. In the rear of the building, the parking lot will be resurfaced, benches will be installed for an outdoor learning space and a patio area is under construction. The new location is slated to open no later than March of 2017.

Freedom House currently serves more than 2,000 students from Boston high schools with a goal of boosting college graduation rates, providing students with academic support, along with college and career counseling.

“It’s all about developing a college-going mindset,” says Chief Executive Officer Katrina Shaw. “We give students an idea of what their trajectory is to get to a four-year college.”

Services continue as students enter colleges. Freedom House has staff who work directly with high school graduates at UMass Boston, Bunker Hill Community College, Roxbury Community College and Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology.

The Freedom House staff also work with students who have dropped out of high school, providing credit recovery services.

While much of the organization’s work takes place in the high schools and colleges where its students attend class, the renovated space will enable Freedom House to provide a higher level of services in-house, with an updated computer lab and a more flexible floor plan.

During the groundbreaking ceremony, attended by Mayor Martin Walsh, state Rep. Russell Holmes and at-large city councilors Anissa Esaibi George and Michael Flaherty, Walsh praised the Freedom House for its work to close the achievement gap in Boston.

“It’s actually happening here,” he said.