The story behind the Carole Robertson Center for Learning. 

The Beginning: Parents and the Community

The Carole Robertson Center for Learning was incorporated in 1976 by families and other community residents who knew that after-school and summer programming was a vital part of their children’s development. That year, a popular and needed after-school program was threatened with being shut down after its sponsoring school closed, leaving the already underserved West Side neighborhoods with few options.

Community leaders and families were inspired by the light that came from one of our nation’s darkest moments, the continued energy and spirit of the Civil Right Movement, and channeled that inspiration into the formation of the Carole Robertson Center to bring equitable opportunities and experiences to youth in the community.

Drawing Hope From Four Little Girls

Early in the morning of Sunday, September 15th 1963, a bomb went off at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

This act of terror against the prominent Black church took the lives of four young girls. It was the latest, and not the last, in an endless string of incidents that robbed opportunity from the lives of the young.

The girls were Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley. We remember and say their names.

It was important to the founders that the name of our new organization represented something greater than themselves, reflecting a commitment to their children’s potential and community. Mrs. Alpha A. Robertson gave permission to use the name of her late daughter Carole. We’ve honored that name ever since, and have been blessed by a long-standing relationship with the Robertson family, who like us, believe for social justice and equity are the pillars society

Inspired by Carole, and by Addie and Cynthia and Denise, we work to create opportunity that was stolen from them. We honor them by promoting equity and fighting injustice. They inspire us every day to serve the community. Our work honors their memory.

Addie Mae Collins
Addie Mae Collins
Carole Robertson
Carole Robertson
Cynthia Wesley
Cynthia Wesley
Denise McNair
Denise McNair
Carole Robertson

Maria Whelan: Standing Shoulder-to-Shoulder From The Beginning

One of the main driving forces behind the effort to found the center was Maria Whelan, who took up the fight with passion, dedication, and love. She advocated, championed, and recognized that children and their families were at the forefront, always. This helped create the mission and the purpose of the Center.

Maria recognized the strength of the community, and worked to channel it and build with it. From the beginning, this was a community effort, and every generation of leaders since Maria has worked to continually fulfill her vision of univised purpose and shared power.

Motivated by the vision of the community and the passion of Maria, we know we rise as one.

Inspired by the Past. Dedicated to the Future.

The horrors of Birmingham and the quiet tragedies of systemic inequities are a constant reminder that to thrive, we need to rise as a community. We know that the past is never past, and the future is never guaranteed. That’s why we never stop working.

Our mission is more than a motto. It’s why we do what we do. For families. By families. With families.

For Carole. For the future. For all of us.



The Carole Robertson Center for Learning is incorporated.


The first Rededication Ceremony is held, memorializing the four girls who died in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.


The Center opens an 80-child early childhood education program in Little Village.


The Family Child Care Home Network begins offering home-based care for children ages birth through 5.


The Center introduced two family resource centers, tripling in size and adding center-based services for children under age three.


The Center launches the Parent-Child Home Based Program.


The Center launches an agency-wide dual-language initiative in English and Spanish.


The Center launches the preschool micro-center partnership with Legacy Charter School.


The Center launches the Building Academic and Social Emotional Supports into Kindergarten BASES-K initiative.


The Center launches the after-school enrichment program in partnership with KIPP Ascend Primary.


The Center launches the preschool micro-center partnership with KIPP Ascend Primary.

Contribute to the Greater Good

We invite you to follow the footsteps of our ancestors. Make a contribution toward our community and to our youth for the greater good.

Make a Donation

Since 1976, the Carole Robertson Center for Learning has been dedicated to educating, enriching, and empowering children and families through comprehensive child and family development programs.