By Allison Nanni
After ten years of building relationships between South Bend’s Northeast Neighborhood community and the University, Robinson Community Learning Center (RCLC) leaders and staff dreamed of expanding the scope of their hospitality, civic and educational opportunities to students of all ages.
As of September 2011, RCLC was able to accomplish their dream as a result of an AmeriCorps grant through the Indiana Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives. This funding has enabled the RCLC to double their staff capacity.
A team of new AmeriCorps members —six full-time and 12 part-time—coordinate a range of educational programs, recruit additional volunteers, expand outreach and develop curricula to respond to community needs.
AmeriCorps members who complete their service earn a monetary award for college, graduate school, or to pay back qualified student loans and some also receive a modest living allowance during their term of service.
Since 2001, international participants from all over the globe arrive each morning at the Center to learn English. Now, RCLC AmeriCorps members offer a preschool class to the children of these parents. This allows parents and children to learn English as a New Language (ENL) at the same time.
At the RCLC every afternoon, local residents meet to socialize, build skills and share ideas through computer instruction and various clubs.
Lu Ella Webster, a community leader involved in the establishment of the RCLC a decade ago, now serves as a full-time AmeriCorps member. Says Webster, “AmeriCorps has strengthened me and challenged me to reach further.”
Andy Kostielney, RCLC assistant manager, says Webster’s leadership has more than doubled the Center’s outreach to older adults. “Our new book club just finished Cupcake Brown’s A Piece of Cake, and Zumba classes have been really popular,” says Webster.
The busiest time of day has always been after school. Each week, hundreds of students of all ages each week are welcomed into the safety of the 7500 square foot facility. Youth enjoy literacy, entrepreneurship, conflict resolution and afterschool programs that build on each student’s strengths and interests.
With the added support of AmeriCorp members, students can enjoy activities from even broader array of afterschool opportunities. Some participants have engaged in college essay writing sessions. Others launched a new magazine, The Robinson Review, a student-written and edited publication that highlights activities at RCLC.
Outside the Robinson Center’s physical space, the organization has partnered with school systems both locally and nationally through violence prevention outreach that directly impacts over 2,000 youth per year. The Center has engaged thousands of local and university volunteers to implement their high-quality programs for over a decade.
Ellen Kyes, director of the center’s inventive Take Ten violence-prevention program, describes the careful notes and volunteer evaluations she has recorded at the end of each year, “I knew what we needed to do to reach more kids - I just needed the man-and-woman power to implement it! The training, supervision and coordination of multiple sites and hundreds of volunteers required more than one staff position. Now we can take Take Ten to the next level.”
The introduction of these talented and energetic individuals to the RCLC, says manager Jennifer Knapp Beudert, “has given new life to what we think was already a pretty amazing place. All of the members are excited to be here and to contribute to the mission. They have really become part of our Robinson Center team.”