Earthen Vessels, Inc.

"Enabling inner-city youth"

170 Appleton Street, Cambridge MA 02138

Tutoring Program / grants / camp / Miss Massachusetts USA speaks of her experience with Earthen Vessels / Job Descriptions / contact: or

Earthen Vessels ' financial and other data may be found on the national repertory of non-profit agencies, GuideStar, by clicking on logo:

Scenes from our summer camp in Vermont


Earthen Vessels, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) Massachusetts corporation which was founded by Brian and Marie-Claude Thompson in 1980 to work with inner-city youngsters from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds to help build self-esteem, confidence, personal character and mutual understanding across many traditional barriers of sex, race, ethnic or linguistic background. Earthen Vessels operates a summer camp and an after-school tutoring program, both of which bring together inner-city children and teens of varied backgrounds and Harvard students, also of varied backgrounds, in meaningful long-term relationships. Earthen Vessels ' mission is to develop and educate young people to become tolerant, constructive, imaginative, and morally responsible members of their diverse communities.



Boston Public Schools have a dropout rate well over 40%. For children from the low-income neighborhoods we serve, this figure is even higher. Inner-city children and teens who do stay in school face innumerable obstacles, including low self-esteem, poor basic skills, crowded classrooms, and households in which adults must deal with crisis after crisis and have little time or energy to spend on their children's education.

Among students at prestigious universities such as Harvard, there is often a fundamental lack of understanding of the problems faced by people, particularly children, in the inner-city. While some Harvard students do come from disadvantaged backgrounds, they are the exception. Cambridge is a mere ten miles from Dorchester, yet most Harvard students never set foot in Dorchester, and in fact are warned not to go there.


Earthen Vessels seeks to serve two of the largest communities in the Boston area, inner-city children and college students, by involving forty-five to fifty representative members of each group in an after-school tutoring program. The program has two sets of objectives, which are being met simultaneously in the basement of a Dorchester church.

Children and teens in the tutoring program have a wide range of academic abilities and emotional problems, and the program seeks to empower each of them to improve their lives through education and to envisage their future in an open-ended and creative way. The objectives of the Earthen Vessels tutoring program for the tutees are to prevent them from dropping out of school before high school graduation, to improve their basic skills, confidence, and self-esteem, and to enable them to take control of their lives through education.

The objectives for the Harvard students are to make them aware, through their experience of tutoring an inner-city child, of the obstacles faced by residents of Boston's inner-city neighborhoods, and to effect the way they think out problems of justice and injustice as they step into positions of leadership in government, business and education.

Tutoring session in Dorchester


In 1980 Earthen Vessels began a summer camp in Vermont for at-risk inner-city adolescents, with the goal of providing intensive two-week experiences of community away from the pressures and dangers of urban life. At camp youngsters take on many responsibilities as teams, and they learn to work and play together, despite initial differences, in a wholesome and stimulating environment. In particular, we strive to teach them peaceful methods of conflict resolution which they can put to work in their lives back home.

With five successful summers of camp behind them, the directors discovered that many campers were having trouble with school and some were at risk of dropping out. In 1985, one of the camp counselors, Rebecca Sheridan, then an undergraduate at Harvard, worked with the Camp Director, Marie-Claude Thompson, to develop an after-school Tutoring Program which paired Harvard students with youngsters from Dorchester and Roxbury. The Harvard students and inner-city youngsters would meet weekly for academic tutoring as well as mentoring, and would sustain long-term supportive relationships.

The Program currently matches some thirty inner-city children and teens with Harvard students, both undergraduate and graduate, for weekly academic tutoring sessions. The one-on-one match-up assures that each younster in the program will receive individual attention from a caring and supportive adult who, in addition to tutoring, serves as a mentor and a role model. In weekly tutoring sessions, basic skills are attacked and steady progress is made in reading, writing, math, and critical thinking skills. The Educational Coordinator conducts regular visits with the teachers of all tutees, with a two-fold purpose: to keep track of the students' progress and achievement in school (neither children nor grades tell the whole story of what is going on in school), and to assess, from the teachers' point of view, which skills each student most needs to improve in order to be more successful in school. The Educational Coordinator and Program Director then meet individually with tutors to craft a plan for tutoring sessions that is suited to the tutee's specific needs.

The goals of the Tutoring Program are to improve the tutees' basic skills in reading, writing, and math, to encourage improved academic performance in school, to encourage adolescents and younger children to stay in school, and to enable older students to think seriously about continuing their education in college. Children and teens in the program have a wide range of academic abilities and emotional problems, and the program seeks to empower each of them to improve their lives through education and to envisage their future in an open-ended and creative way.

Tutoring session in Dorchester


The Tutoring Program has grown from eight tutor-tutee pairs in the fall of 1985 to up to 40 pairs each year. Youngsters range in age from 9 to 18, and live in Dorchester and Roxbury. They currently include African-Americans, Hispanics, Haitians, Cape Verdeans and Caribbeans. All come from low-income families, many of which have a single parent. Tutees meet weekly for an hour-and-a-half with their tutors. In addition, many tutors organize individual activities with their tutees such as trips to museums or ball games, and there are periodic program-wide get-togethers for an afternoon of fun and reflection.

Most youngsters stay with the Program for three years or more, usually with the same tutor. Tutors share their sense of academic motivation and discipline and become dependable and trusted friends, providing individual attention and caring to youngsters who would otherwise be lost and ignored in the inner-city environment. Most tutors dedicate from two to four years to the program while undergraduates at Harvard, while some tutors have stayed with the Program beyond their college graduation, making time for tutoring despite the demands of work, medical school, law school, or other graduate studies. The long-term support and friendship the staff and tutors provide is rare and precious--as important, perhaps, as the strictly academic component of the Program.

It should also be noted that the Tutoring Program has as great an effect upon the tutors as upon the tutees. Many say that it is the most important thing they have done during their four years in college. The number of tutors who continue with the program beyond college is testimony to its impact on them. One tutor from Puerto Rico, Luis Girón, was with the Program since its beginning, tutoring for sixteen years through Bachelor's and Master's and Ph.D. degrees, and is still associated with the program as a Harvard Professor teaching Comparative Literature. Another tutor, Julie Whitman, subsequently worked for four years as the Educational Coordinator of the Program, and spent 10 summers at Earthen Vessels camp. She came back in July 2000 to direct the first session. For all, it profoundly effects the way they view questions of social and economic justice, as well as their own responsibility, as future professionals in many areas, towards the disadvantaged in our society. It is a life-transforming experience.

Since 1985, the Program has served over 200 youngsters, only a handful of whom have dropped out of school. In addition, several have moved into challenging academic programs either in Boston's exam schools, in private schools, or, in one case, in an ABC program in Longmeadow, Mass. An increasing number are going on to college, including one formerly homeless Puerto Rican youngster who attended Tufts on scholarship. He did well, taking on leadership roles among the Hispanic community on campus, and graduated. Now married and the father of two, he works full time in business while he and his wife serve as house parents for a group of high-school age youngsters now in the ABC program. He also serves on the board of the Greeley Foundation. Another graduated Magna cum laude from Emerson College after four solid years on the Dean's List, was chosen Miss Massachusetts USA in 2002 and is now news anchor for NBC-TV in Springfield (read her story). She was one of the Boston-area young people profiled by the Boston Herald for Black History Month for continuing to make Black history. 80-100% of the youngsters who stick with the Tutoring Program go on to college!

If you would like to help us help inner-city youngsters and their families, please send us a tax-deductible donation which we will put to good use with a very minimum of overhead expense. Make your check out to Earthen Vessels and send it to us at 170 Appleton Street, Cambridge MA 02138. We would be delighted to speak to you about our work. Feel free to call us at (617) 497-0759 or (617) 287-7569 or contact us by email: or

Earthen Vessels ' financial and other data may be found on the national repertory of non-profit agencies, GuideStar, by clicking on logo:

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