Several seniors wait in the living room for help with their taxes. Two classrooms are filled with adults learning English. A lone child plays in the English as a New Language preschool. The unusual lack of attendance is likely due to the inches of snow piling up outside. Such is a Wednesday morning at the Robinson Community Learning Center. As a staple in the northeast neighborhood of South Bend for over 19 years, the Robinson Center is now relocating to a brand-new building, custom-built for their needs, south of campus.
Notre Dame founded the Robinson Center in 2001 as a collaborative effort with the neighborhood to improve community relations. It serves 3,000 community members per year and has a total of about 500 college student volunteers, mostly from Notre Dame.
“We have programs for all ages, from the baby in the top of their baby class to the 96-year-old in the senior computer club,” said Robinson Center manager Jennifer Knapp Beudert.
Other programs include English language learning classes, tutoring, a Shakespeare company, a Take Ten violence prevention curriculum and evening clubs for topics such as robotics and youth entrepreneurship.
The tutoring program matches each volunteer with a student for the entire semester. Sophomore Joe Day has been volunteering as a tutor since his first semester at Notre Dame. During one semester, he was paired with a third-grade boy.
“I'm just this big, tall guy with poofy hair walking in and teaching them math and language arts. Finding out about how his day was and starting to talk to him more about you, and him starting to get to know you, it's really sweet. You kind of turn into a role model,” Day said.
With the relocation, the Robinson Center will gain an additional 5,000 square feet in space, an outdoor green area, large windows for natural light, a maker space/tech lab, a blackbox theatre and an early childhood classroom. The new facility, which is expected to open next fall, will keep the murals and the style of the reception area (the “living room”) from the original building.
“We do try to involve the community as much as we can,” Knapp Beudert said. “The design team at Notre Dame, the interior design [team], presented two color schemes for the building. And we put them out to the whole community and said: ‘okay, you can vote.’”
The final color scheme was revealed to the community with creative flair: the Robinson Center cut into a cake with inside layers that matched the colors of the winning scheme.
The undertaking cost $3.5 million and was funded by Notre Dame, the city of South Bend, Kite Realty, the Leighton Foundation and another anonymous foundation. The Blackhawks, who came to Notre Dame last year for the Winter Classic, donated $90,000 for the tech lab.
“We'll make a real effort to retain the feel of the Robinson Center in our culture. And that won't change, our mission won't change. We still want it to be home for our participants in the neighborhood,” said Knapp Beudert