Students publish history of Olivet Boys and Girls Club of Reading

Penn State Berks students spent the spring semester researching and writing about the history of the first three decades of the Olivet Boys and Girls Club of Reading. Their work culminated in the recent publication of a book titled A History of the First Three Decades of the Olivet Boys & Girls Club in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Dr. Laurie Grobman, Professor of English and Women?s Studies and Coordinator of the Penn State Berks Center for Service Learning and Community-Based Research, led approximately 50 students through the project. The students were enrolled in American Studies, English, and Professional Writing courses taught by Grobman and a Communication Arts and Sciences course taught by Dr. Jill Burk, Instructor in Communications Arts and Sciences.

The students conducted research and completed essays individually and in pairs. Participants were assisted by the Center?s service learning leaders: Kaleigh Day, a junior Business major; Austin Will, a sophomore; and Anni Perez, a senior Science major.

The Olivet organization, now a chapter of Boys and Girls of America, was founded in Reading in 1898. The book recounts club history during the first 30 years, as well as biographies of its founders and early members, and topics such as the Olivet marathon, the Olivet pool, the Mothers Club, sports, and educational activities.

The main source of research was the detailed Olivet historical archives, a large but still incomplete collection of articles, obituaries, letters, and photographs, which were stored on campus while the students worked on the project. Other sources included presentations by current Olivet leaders, visits to the Berks History Center,, and the Reading Eagle archives on

Grobman stated this project serves the community by providing a new level of understanding about the organization, the thousands of boys (and girls beginning in 1990) that it has served, and the complex nature of poverty. Although there were many stories about the Olivet organization, this research both confirmed those stories, as well as added many new ones. For example, it was well known that Stewart ?Spike? Leon Moyer, an Olivet member in 1919 who worked at the club for much of his adult life, was a war hero; it was not known that Spike?s unit helped liberate Dachau, and he documented the atrocities that occurred there.

The project also provides real-world research and writing experience for students. ?Students? written work is a legacy they will leave for others who want to know about Reading?s history,? explains Grobman.

As an English professor, Grobman is using this local history project as a venue for teaching rhetoric and language. ?I focus on narrative power, who controls history through language, and the ethical decisions that writers of history make. Most of the children served by Olivet were invisible in history?until now.?

Richard DeGroote, 21st Century Project Director at Olivet Boys and Girls Club of Reading, was the main point of contact for the project. ?As an organization that has served Reading and Berks County for 116 years, it is important to preserve your history. In order to know where you're going, you have to know where you've been,? DeGroote said.

Junior Applied Psychology major Afiyo Agbadan Awouya completed the project for an English course. She stated although it was challenging at times to find complete information, the research was ultimately rewarding. She was interested in learning more about Olivet founder William McCormick, his goals and vision for the boys, and early years of the club.

?I realized that the vision and the good will of an individual can make a difference in many people's lives,? Awouya said.

Awouya believes this project to be important to the community because it will help others gain a better understanding of the club?s history as well as recruit new members, supporters, and donors. ?The more people know about their excellent work among children in their community such as education, entertainment, and guidance for children, the more they will be willing to help out.?

DeGroote said it is Olivet?s leadership that is responsible for the success of the organization. ?The mission today is consistent with the mission of William McCormick in 1898, and that is a tribute to our leadership up to Jeff Palmer. He was charged with maintaining and passing the torch for the future of the organization. As he retires from the club, the flame burns bright,? DeGroote said.

The project will continue in the fall 2014 semester: Some English students will research and write about Olivet in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, and other English students will write oral histories of Olivet alumni. Students in English and Women?s Studies courses will research and write articles on women and girls in the organization?s history.

The Penn State Berks Center for Service Learning and Community-Based Research was launched by Grobman in the fall of 2010. Berks is the first campus outside of University Park to launch the initiative.

For more information about this project or the Center for Service Learning and Community-Based Research, contact Grobman, Coordinator, at [email protected].