A study conducted before the construction of the Picknelly Adult and Family Education Center showed that more than 10,000 people in greater Holyoke could benefit from some level of adult basic education services.
According to Jeffrey Hayden, vice president of Business and Community Services for Holyoke Community College, the center has served more than 6,000 people in its first two years.
"This facility has been a smashing success," Hayden said. "We're extremely grateful and extremely proud."
Hayden gave an overview of the center at a celebration Wednesday to thank donors who contributed to the Embrace Education Campaign, which raised more than $500,000 to buy equipment and expand programming at the center, known as PAFEC, which is located at the Holyoke Transportation Center on Maple Street in downtown Holyoke.
At the center, HCC and its partners in the Juntos Collaborative, offer adult basic education services, GED instruction, computer classes, childcare and more. "We're celebrating the successful conclusion of a half-million campaign to equip the Picknelly Adult and Family Education Center with all the good stuff you see here," said HCC President Bill Messner.
The idea to combine an adult education facility with a bus station was the brainchild of the late Peter Picknelly Sr., founder of Peter Pan Bus Lines.
"If Peter Sr. were alive today, he would be very very very proud," said Robert Schwarz, executive vice president of Peter Pan Bus Lines, which owns the transportation center. "His vision is complete."
Schwarz said Picknelly was an avid reader who was troubled by illiteracy in the community and decided to do something about it. "Transportation centers are nice," Schwarz said, recalling Picknelly's vision, "but there needs to be more. The more is what you see here."
Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse talked about how the opening of PAFEC has become a symbol and inspiration for a rejuvenated downtown Holyoke.
"There's never a day when someone doesn't compliment us on the facility," he said, "how it looks on the outside and everything going on on the inside."
Students Jackie Wojcicki, 32, and Veronica Wright, talked about their experiences at the center and how it has improved their lives. Wright said she takes free computer classes in the Gill Technology Center at PAFEC every Wednesday. "Wednesday is my favorite day of the week," she said.
Wojcicki, who is Deaf, talked through an interpreter about how her first language is American Sign Language, and how she has struggled to pass all the subject areas of her GED test, but she is not giving up. She dropped out of high school after her son was born. "My education didn't seem that important to me then," she said.
Being a mother has made her into a stronger woman and inspired her to continue her education. "it's very important for me to go back to school and get my GED," she said.
She said she was grateful to everyone at HCC's Adult Learning Center, at PAFEC, for helping her along. "The staff, the tutors, the teachers have all inspired me," she said, "and I thank them all for their support."
Even though the Embrace Education Campaign has officially concluded, Erica Broman, executive director of the HCC Foundation, said donations are still being accepted. "Your contributions have made this facility come alive and allowed us to expand the programming available," she said. "Thanks to all of you in this room."
Photos: (Left) GED student Jackie Wojcicki talks about her experiences at HCC's Adult Learning Center, which is located on the fourth floor of the PAFEC building in downtown Holyoke. (Right) Veronica Wright extols the benefits of taking free computer classes at the Gill Technology Center, on the first floor of PAFEC.