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Tommy McDonell, Executive Director & Co-founder, Learning English Adult Program, Inc.
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Tommy McDonell, Executive Director and Co-founder, Learning English Adult Program, Inc., and Janet Burroughs, Program Director, co-founded the Learning English Adult Program, Inc., together. They stated their goals to each other in NYC's Union Square in the pouring rain near Barnes and Noble, then went into the store and bought a book on how to start a non-profit without an attorney. In less than nine months, they had formed a board and a 501c3 non-profit, found a place, furniture, a test, teachers and students, and started a free ESL program funded by a trust fund left to McDonell by her grandfather, Oscar Webber, president of J.L. Hudson Company, Detroit, Michigan. Burroughs and McDonell believed that immigrants and refugees lose a lot to come to America, so they should be able to learn English for free while getting a leg up on an old or new career.

From before the name was on the door, students were asking to enter the program. McDonell designed the first LEAP Web site at 3:00 a.m. and kept it going at odd hours. They advertised for students in foreign language newspapers, wrote grants and worked non-stop to make LEAP a good program, integrating technology into a curriculum that uses the four language skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening. Students in the school do Web searches and write articles for a Web magazine, "Leapalong," at www.weleap4esl.org/leapalong.html. McDonell and Burroughs recently determined, however, that they had underestimated how hard it was to raise money to support the school. They have written hundreds of grant proposals, but have not gotten enough funding. Beginning with the new fiscal year on July 1, 2000, they are putting in place a paid program. LEAP will still be non-profit, but bigger and with students paying.

Business profile courtesy of Family Business Strategies.

About the author: Tommy McDonell is an adjunct instructor at Marymount Manhattan and a doctoral candidate in educational technology at New York University. She won the New York State TESOL James Weaver Award for Excellence in TESOL, writes a column for the newsletter "Dialogue" called "Webbing In" and, "in a previous lifetime," ran a company called Women in Technology, Inc.

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