Providing an Even Start

  • Even Start Coordinator Pearl Tokar knows first-hand the power of the national literacy program that recently celebrated its 30th anniversary in Rush-Henrietta.

    She was one of the first students enrolled after coming to the Rochester area from Hungary in 1991. She appreciated the structure of the classes and the fact that her 2-year-old daughter was in the preschool program at the same time. After completing the program, Pearl joined Even Start as a teacher in the preschool classes. In 2002, Pearl succeeded the director, Kay Lyons, who had led the program from its early beginnings.

    In 1991, Rush-Henrietta was awarded a $300,000 federal grant to establish an Even Start program. The national literacy program was focused on helping parents without a high school education or who were learning English as a second language. It provided free preschool for  children while their parents were taking literacy classes. The original grant was for one year, with an option to renew it for three years.

    Thirty years later, the program is still going strong! What started in March 1992 with a few families has since helped more than 1,500 adults and 3,000 children. Now housed in the Good Shepherd building, it is the only program of its kind in Monroe County.

    Although the initial Even Start funding ended in 1995, the program has been maintained through a combination of grants and tuition fees. Originally located in the Webster building, it has also been at Vollmer when it was the Vollmer Learning Center. It provides English language instruction for adults, and preschool services for children. 

    At the same time Even Start began, Rush-Henrietta received another grant to establish a family and parenting center. The R-H Family Center was created to provide parent education support for young families. It too is still going strong. The two programs work together well, and serve as an unbeatable force for the good of the Rush-Henrietta community.

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