Thus, a dawning recognition emerged within both the state and local agencies that the “pilot” stage of the Center was over and that the program worked. In order to stabilize the program, and also to provide better headquarters for the LVGH office, key constituents argued for the need of a permanent location. Through the efforts of the affiliate and state agency leadership, a two-year Hartford Foundation for Public Giving grant was obtained. This supported the transfer of the Reading Center’s supervision from LVA-CT to LVGH in October 1989 and the location of the program along with the administrative office of the affiliate to 56 Arbor Street, in the ethnically mixed Parkville neighborhood. The grant also included an agreement that within a five-year period LVGH would assume total fiscal responsibility for rent and for the Reading Center manager’s salary, with LVA-CT playing a gradually decreasing fiscal role each year.
It was this legitimization, in particular, not only of the Center, but also of LVGH that galvanized both the Center and the affiliate into an imminent expansive mode. During the early 1990s, at the agency-wide level, the Center shifted from that of catalyst to affiliate sustainer that enabled other organizational dimensions, particularly Steve Bender’s work to expand into one of the more innovative community-based literacy programs in the state. This, in turn, supported by several grants, provided further legitimization of the affiliate’s expansive energies. As a result of these cumulative developments, in 1992 the Board of Directors hired Susan J. Roman as full time Executive Director. Through her 13-year tenure, she spearheaded the transformation of the affiliate in professionalism staff development, funding, board development, and more fundamentally in the shift in the agency’s organizational culture from its founding suburban design to a full-scale urban non-profit organization. Synergistically, the growth of LVGH provided the institutional infrastructure for the transformation of the Bob Steele Reading Center described below.
In the affiliate at-large, the Center played a stabilizing role between 1990-1995. However, within its own microhistory history, it experienced its most expansive growth in terms of numbers of students served and in its programmatic achievements in small group tutoring, the creation of three student writing anthologies, in the development of a major oral history project with Trinity College, and in the spawning of formal academic research (mine) that highlighted case-study analysis from the program. The program also spawned two books of student interviews and a collection of tutor essays and interviews which provided material for direct instruction, in-service training sessions for tutors, and as primary documentation for a series of essays that I have published in academic journals and books, which I am drawing upon here in this book.
This essay provides a descriptive overview of the program. At another level, I am seeking to elucidate something of the energy field through which the Reading Center achieved its various transformations. Lest this seem overly “celebratory,” I draw out some of the enduring ambiguities in pursuit of the “literacy myth” as well as the evident areas of growth that undergirded the program’s motivation and ongoing source of vitality during this period. In this analysis I draw on the powerful sources of energy inherent within the “literacy myth” refracted through Dewey’s (1916/1944, 1938/1963) concept of growth.
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