The Center was founded in the spring of 1978 by Dr. Graciela Beecher, a Cuban refugee. Dr. Beecher had been the founder and director of a school in Cuba, but she left the country at the time Fidel Castro assumed power in 1959. She fled Cuba by herself with very few belongings. Settling in Fort Wayne, Dr. Beecher taught Spanish classes at Saint Francis College and eventually became the Foreign Language Department Head. During this time, Dr. Beecher envisioned a center that would assist refugees in Fort Wayne who were coming from around the world and help them settle in their new country.
In 1978, Dr. Beecher began the Center and hired five people to provide translation services and teach English-as-a-Second Language to immigrants. As time passed, the Center began offering English and math classes to all Fort Wayne-area adults and youth, not just immigrants. As a result, more and more people came to the Center for classes. As more people came to the Center, more programs were offered.
Since the beginning of the Educational Opportunity Center, many programs have been funded by various foundations. This financial support allowed the Center staff to provide services to the community and Fort Wayne Community Schools. In addition to the English-as-a-Second Language classes, the Center has had a desegregation program, a bilingual vocational program, a radio program on WBNI, several film projects, summer youth programs through CETA and JobWorks, a dropout prevention program that focused on truants, a bilingual newsletter in collaboration with Ivy Tech State College, a project to write bilingual educational books for the area elementary schools, art classes, foreign language classes (Spanish, Polish, German), music and dance classes, and cultural awareness programs.
The current EOC staff serves 2,000 people each year, at no cost to clients, with the funds provided by local foundations and a TRIO grant from the U.S. Department of Education. (For more on TRIO, click here.)
Services made possible by the TRIO grant include:
- financial aid filing assistance
- loan information and assistance
- scholarship searches
- college admissions and course selection assistance
- career interest and ability testing
- college prep (SAT/ACT, essay writing, research papers)
- college campus visits
Additional funding from area foundations has allowed the EOC to offer more services, such as:
- computer classes (keyboarding, basic word processing, Power Point, Excel)
- language classes (Spanish, French, English-as-a-Second Language)
- tutoring and mentoring for elementary students
- GED preparation classes