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Robinson celebrates anniversary

Kelly Meehan | Monday, February 27, 2006

The sometimes-strained ties between Notre Dame and the greater South Bend community disappeared at the Robinson Community Learning Center’s fifth anniversary celebration Friday evening.

The event brought out many members of the community, including University President Father John Jenkins and South Bend Mayor Steven Luecke, to commemorate the work of the Center’s volunteers and reflect upon how the Robinson Center has strengthened the University-community bond.

The Center opened in February 2001 to strengthen interaction between South Bend’s Northeast Neighb-orhood and Notre Dame. The partnership was built through interaction and opportunities that revitalized the community. The Robinson Center offers a variety of educational, health and leadership programs aimed to enrich the lives of volunteers and participants.

Jenkins said he – along with fellow key community leaders – remains committed to the Center, which has seen its number of volunteers and employees more than triple in the last five years.

“[The Robinson Center] is instrumental with forging and sponsoring relationships within the community. I hope to continue to foster this strong relationship,” Jenkins said. “The Center brings people together and makes great contribution to this neighborhood.”

As a researcher of town-gown relations, Duquesne University professor and former Northeast Neighborhood resident Peter Miller returned to his former neighborhood to share the results of his Notre Dame-Robinson Center study.

He said universities generally control the development of their outside neighborhood. However, Notre Dame has managed to foster an equal partnership of dialogue and decisions.

“Notre Dame has come together with [Northeast-side] residents to decide what to do,” Miller said.

Miller shared Northeast-side residents’ quotes with the audience about the impact of the Center on the community-University relationship. Many said prior to the development of the Robinson Center they were not pleased with relations, but upon its 2001 opening, they noticed an immediate change.

“Togetherness – that is what [the Robinson Center has] done. The community and the Center work so well together,” assistant to the mayor Jack Reed said. “They complement each other and it is a wonderful place for young people.”

Miller said the three things that allowed for this relationship are humility, faith in the neighborhood and hope for the future by both partners.

“[Robinson Center] increases horizontal relationships, and allows for a continued healing and evolution of [residents’] relationship with Notre Dame,” Miller said.

South Bend resident Marva Williams said the Center’s volunteers work hard to keep the Center on track.

“Everyone does a beautiful job. They really give the youth something to look forward to.”

South Bend Mayor Steven Luecke said he “loved the spirit of [the Center] and the volunteers are the lifeblood of the community.”

“I am grateful for the many relationships that have been developed here at Robinson Center,” Luecke said. “There are some strains between the community and University, but Robinson Center has allowed people to come together to implement their vision.”

Notre Dame junior and Robinson Center volunteer Shelly Williams was honored with the Fr. Don McNeill, CSC Award for her volunteer work as a tutor and after-school program aid.

“There is something special about a child when he or she is able to understand the material being presented to them,” Shelly Williams said. “Everyone at the Robinson Center is unique and incredible in their own way. I’m simply blessed with the ability to walk into the Robinson [Center] and help children learn.”

Shelly Williams also said she sees the center as a place where the community and University merge into one.

“The Robinson Center is crucial to the communication between the South Bend community and Notre Dame community because it is a place of fresh ideas, a place where the community can voice [its] concerns, and the University can help provide solutions,” she said.

Luecke said he appreciated the event’s large turnout and looks forward to the Center’s future.

“[The Robinson Community Learning Center] anchors the Northeast Neighborhood as a place of grace, blessing, community and family,” he said.