Nearly 13 years ago, University of Central Florida professor Timothy Blair hosted his first Saturday Reading Camp for underserved children in the Parramore neighborhood of downtown Orlando.

By the time the College of Education professor retires later this year, Blair will have influenced the lives of more than 2,500 students in Orlando’s poorest neighborhood through his free weekly tutoring program.

And for that, the City of Orlando has declared Monday, March 25, as Dr. Timothy Blair Day. Blair will be recognized during Monday’s City Council meeting.

“The Reading Camp Program has been the most meaningful, beneficial venture I have had in my 38-year career in higher education,” said Blair. “For everything that the students and parents have gained, I have gained tenfold. Saturday is the best day of the week for me.”

Blair created the Saturday Reading Camp as a way for his undergraduate and graduate students to apply the strategies they learned in the classroom to a real-world environment. Each week, the students in his reading education classes provide individualized reading lessons and write lesson plans.

“I wanted to do a better job of preparing our teachers,” said Blair. “This program exposes them to diversity and helps to debunk a lot of the myths that some of our UCF teachers have about working in low-income schools. It’s a great training ground, and it shows them that all children can learn.”

The camp began at the Jackson Community Center and has since expanded to the Callahan Center. For 11 consecutive Saturday mornings in the fall and spring, children from kindergarten through sixth grade receive reading lessons led by UCF students. Consecutively, Blair runs a Parent Education Program with the children’s parents and relatives, in which he teaches hands-on strategies for teaching their children reading at home.

A Summer Reading Camp is also held daily in June.

In addition to working with Orlando’s Department of Families, Parks and Recreation, Blair has received funding and supplies from Scholastic , Starbucks, private donors and local schools. At the end of each session, Scholastic provides participants with a backpack full of new books to start their own home libraries, so that they can continue their studies after the program is over.

“This has been a wonderful partnership between UCF, a big metropolitan school, and Orlando, a big metropolitan city,” said Blair. “It allows us to take university courses out of the ivory tower and into the community.”

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