Many first-time visitors to the Thrive financial success center at Holyoke Community College have a mistaken impression of the services it provides.
"Are you going to give me money?" is a question Crystal Colon, the coordinator, has heard more than once.
"I wish I could give you money," she tells them. "But what I can do is show you how to manage your money. You can sit with me and we can talk about what your needs are."
Through free money skills classes, training workshops and related services, Thrive provides lessons that, in the long run, are more valuable than cash: how to create and maintain a budget, balance a checkbook, understand credit scores, file tax returns, and connect with community resources, to name a few.
"We help them with those little, minor things, like sending a fax or sending in a form, maybe getting a referral for child care because they need it to continue school," said Colon. "We're there for them. We're there for the little things and the big things. We don't do financial aid, but we certainly know who to send them to."
"The key is financial stability," she said. "That really is something we want to teach everyone."
Since it opened in February, Thrive@HCC -- a joint venture of HCC, the United Way of Pioneer Valley and PeoplesBank -- has served more than 350 people on the HCC campus, about 80 percent of them students and the rest community members.
On Tuesday, Nov. 10, the three groups celebrated the grand opening of their second Thrive center -- Thrive@Picknelly Center -- at PAFEC, HCC's Picknelly Family and Adult Education Center at 206 Maple St., Holyoke.
"The Thrive center is here certainly to serve HCC students," said HCC president Bill Messner, "but it's here to serve the broader community as well, and while we've been doing some of that uptown on campus, in fact, we can do an even better job doing that downtown."
Dora Robinson, president of the United Way of Pioneer Valley, said Thrive's mission of helping people gain financial stability and independence is consistent with the United Way's shift toward offering a "hand up, not a hand-out."
"If we can teach people how to manage their finances, how to gain additional financial support, how to access services, how to manage their credit scores, it's a win for all of us," she said. "It's a win for individuals; it's a win for the community; it's a win for the region."
Holyoke mayor Alex Morse said having a Thrive center in downtown Holyoke will provide critical access to Holyoke residents who need financial services and resources the most.
"We get people in my office all the time who are interested in starting a business or owning a home," said Morse, "and none of that is possible without having the basic knowledge and literacy about how to take care of your financial situation at home. If we teach a parent how to manage their finances that knowledge will in turn be handed down to the next generation, and that's why this is so important to us."
Tom Senecal, chief operating officer of PeoplesBank, talked about the bank's first president, William Skinner, who founded the bank 130 years ago to "bring the tools of financial success to those who had not had access to them before."
"While each of us may define success differently I think we can agree not everyone starts at the same place on the road to achieving it," said Senecal. "Some need a little help taking their first steps onto the path. To me, that's what the Thrive center ultimately does. It provides the tools, connections and education a person needs to navigate his or her way to a successful future."
PHOTOS by CHRIS YURKO: (Left) Dora Robinson, president of United Way of Pioneer Valley, speaks at the grand opening of the new Thrive financial success center in downtown Holyoke. (Right) HCC president Bill Messner shakes hands with Holyoke mayor Alex Morse at the grand opening celebration of Thrive@Picknelly Center. (Thumbnail) Thrive coordinator, Crystal Colon, talks about the services Thrive provides.