New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. talks to Dominican Sister Maryann Lawlor, Springs Learning Center, director, center, and Julia McNamara, president of Albertus Magnus College. (Photo by Mary Chalupsky)
NEW HAVEN – The Springs Learning Center celebrated its 10th anniversary with a luncheon at Albertus Magnus College on March 18 – exactly 10 years after the adult literacy center opened humbly at St. Rose of Lima Parish.
Sponsored by the Dominican Sisters of Peace, the center has gone on, with help from some 200 volunteer tutors, to provide instruction in English as a second language (ESL) to more than 700 adult learners, most of whom live in the Fair Haven section of New Haven and represent about 30 countries.
Not only is the center flourishing, but students have continued on to become citizens, open businesses and attend institutions of higher learning – including one former student who currently attends Harvard University.
"It’s been a humbling mission," said an emotional Sister Maryann Lawlor, a Dominican Sister of Peace, who has served as director of the center since its founding. "I’m very proud of what has been accomplished and the people we’ve served."
The center presented awards for 10 years of service to 14 volunteers and staff, including Dominican Sisters Mary Ellen Boyle and Barbara DeCrosta, who have been part of the administrative team with Sister Maryann since the center opened.
"What you do is an extension of Catholic social justice teaching," said New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who attended the celebration to thank the sisters for their work. "At times like this, we are reminded of the values that made us a great nation and a great people."
Also expressing gratitude for the "hard work" of the sisters was Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Peter A. Rosazza, who recalled the decision by the late Father William Burbank to offer two floors of the rectory at the parish for the start-up of the center.
According to Sister Maryann, education is one of the primary ministries of the Dominican Sisters, who have served the New Haven community for more than 100 years. Among the achievements are the founding of Albertus Magnus College in 1925 and the opening of St. Mary’s Academy (later St. Mary’s High School) in 1901. St. Mary’s closed in 1991.
In 1994, the sisters established a successful literacy ministry in Columbus, Ohio, and used that experience to help meet New Haven’s growing literacy needs by opening the center.
Currently, about 45-55 adults volunteer there each year. After receiving training and materials from the center, volunteers commit to providing one-on-one tutoring to an individual learner for one hour a week for a year.
The center plans to continue the celebration of its anniversary with a gathering in June for students and tutors at St. Rose of Lima Parish.
Springs Learning Center is funded by a combination of donated services, corporate and civic donations, individual gifts and grants from foundations and other organizations.
The center’s primary goals are to provide individual tutoring in basic literacy skills, build job readiness and develop self-esteem for adult learners. In addition to offering ESL, the program includes instruction in reading, writing and other basic education areas that help adult learners gain needed life skills.
Information about the center may be found at www.springslearning.org.