It was within this tensive climate that the Bob Steele Reading Center was formed in Hartford in 1986. The idea for a centralized learning center surfaced within LVA-CT in the early 1980s. The state office presented it to LVGH for its consideration. In the LVA system only the local affiliates provide direct services. To the state office, also located in the capital city, Hartford seemed the only reasonable location for such a center. It was also the most likely place at that time in Connecticut where sustainable funding sources would be found.
The local agency declined on the rationale that it lacked the resources to finance and manage such a program. The state organization moved ahead, nonetheless, in large part because its staff believed that such a model would serve as a viable way of providing support services to students and tutors in Hartford. LVA-CT staff also believed that such a center would help move LVGH toward the more professional model that the state agency deemed essential for program efficiency and organizational survival in a major urban context.
These efforts proved successful. In November 1986, the Bob Steele Reading Center opened with the assistance of a ten-year $50,000 seed grant from the Hartford-based 1080 Corporation. LVA-CT, which procured the financial support, would manage and finance the program while tutoring hours at the Center would be reported to LVGH. A program director and VISTA Volunteer with strong community activist leanings were hired to operate the Center, located at the Moylan Alternative High School in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in Hartford’s southwest end. LVA-CT sought to develop the program as a neighborhood reading center, which would serve students and draw on staff and volunteer resources in the immediate local of the school. The Center’s first director set up an advisory committee comprised of representatives of Moylan School, social service agencies in the neighborhood, and LVA-CT and LVGH staff. The VISTA volunteer, who became the second director, spent considerable time creating linkages between the Center and various schools, head start centers, social service agencies in the neighborhood, and Trinity College. She particularly made a strong effort to link the Center with various Hispanic neighborhoods around the school.
I came on board in September 1987 as the third director and shifted the direction away from the neighborhood concept. I placed my energies instead on developing the instructional program. The executive director of LVGH and I worked closely to identify students and tutors throughout LVGH who might enjoy the support of a centralized site. Drawing upon the rational written in the initial grant proposal for the Center along with my own reconstruction of the mission, I redefined the purpose of the Bob Steele Reading Center. As I began to define it, the Center would provide a staff operated, materials rich centralized site to support students and tutors in individual tutoring matches throughout Hartford and the surrounding towns of Windsor, Bloomfield, and West Hartford, where we occasionally drew students. The Center would also develop programs and projects in small group tutoring and writing, and would serve as a model program for other LVA affiliates particularly in urban or highly populated suburban areas. Much of this was explicit in the original vision articulated by LVA-CT in 1985 and 1986.
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