Counselor and student using tablet together As you may know, MEFA is charged with a public service mission to help students and families throughout the Commonwealth plan, save, and pay for college and reach financial goals. This mission is big, and not something we can possibly do on our own. Fortunately, we have forged deep ties into various Massachusetts communities and with partner agencies and like-minded individuals to expand our reach and accomplish our mission. Here’s a spotlight of one organization and a leader within its ranks who’s helping students and families as they plan for college.

Meet Donna Connolly of MassEdCO

Donna Connolly said that she always knew she wanted to be a “helper.” As a graduate of Assumption College with a degree in rehabilitative counseling, she first worked in a position helping adults with mental health challenges. She then entered the world of education as a Talent Search Advisor at Worcester’s South High School, and has continued since then to expand college access to the students of Worcester. She currently does this as the Director of Youth Access and Career Planning at MassEdCO, the Massachusetts Education & Career Opportunities, Inc. in downtown Worcester. She also works with MEFA as a presenter and ambassador. She is one of our lifelines to the Worcester community, and is a tireless advocate and “helper” for those who need it.

About MassEdCO

MassEdCO provides education and career advising to over 14,000 individuals each year, and has several programs serving the community. As Donna explains, “For the last three and a half years we have managed the On Our Way program, which assists pregnant and parenting teens by keeping them in school, getting them through high school, and keeping them on track after that, whether their path is directed toward college or career. It’s something that is really necessary, because there are a lot of communities in which pregnancy isn’t falling.”

Donna also manages the Collegiate Success Institute, a program that enlists the assistance of local business and community partners in an intensive after-school program that takes students who have shown strong academic potential and prepares them for college and beyond. Says Donna, “We’re in 5 public high schools in Worcester and we have partners in the local colleges and businesses. We take corporate volunteers to different colleges and businesses where they teach an entire curriculum on financial literacy and college financial aid.”

When asked if she could change one thing to help her students plan well for the future, she laughs in a way that tells you the enormity of that question. She thinks for a moment, touches briefly on the cost of college, the strain that the financial aid process puts on some families, but gets really animated when speaking to an issue that tellingly is both concentrated in her community and affecting those who are truly outside the margins. She says, “We need more help for our refugee and immigrant populations. Because they come in a little bit older, they may have had their education interrupted. They don’t have the tools that they need sometimes just as far as the language piece. And they are out of high school range because of their age, but really need assistance to be able to transition into college, community college, or work environment.”

This is a problem of which I was totally ignorant. But this is why Donna is the type of person that every city or town needs to be a truly vibrant community. She’s the type of person that meets people where they are, and works to help one person, one student, one family at a time. In the course of our talk, she lamented the logistical nightmares that invariably creep up administering to so many students, schools, and partners. Says Donna, “You can always hear me yelling about some bus somewhere that didn’t show up. If I could buy my own bus and drive it around the city, I’d do it.”

For more information about MassEdCO, visit their website here.

Donna Connolly

Donna Connolly has 21 years of experience with MassEdCO and currently serves there as Director of Youth Access & Career Planning. She has a BA in Social & Rehabilitation Services from Assumption College and an MS in Non-Profit Management from Worcester State University.