In Spanish, "juntos" means "together." It is the name chosen by a group of programs that share the same goal: providing adults in Holyoke with high-quality adult education free of cost to the learners. The Juntos partners include the public school system's Holyoke Adult Learning Opportunity Center (HALO), the ABE-to-College Transition and Mentor Program at Holyoke Community College, and four community organizations—the Community Education Project (CEP), the Community Adolescent Resource and Education (Care) Center, the New England Farmworkers Council, and the Massachusetts Career Development Institute (MCDI). Together they offer coordinated, comprehensive courses in adult basic education, adult secondary education, literacy, workforce development, and family literacy.
The Juntos collaborative serves many adults who are low-income, struggle with speaking English, and "think they can't make it." Yet with the help of Juntos's adult education courses and services such as counseling, mentoring, college and vocational transition assistance, and daycare, these adults are succeeding and finding ways to make their dreams come true.
Betty Falcón's education journey in Holyoke began in 1991, when she enrolled at CEP to improve her English. She continued her education at Holyoke Community College, served as a mentor in the Mentor Program there, and transferred to Westfield State College, where she earned a bachelor's degree in sociology. Betty is now back at Holyoke Community College—not as a student, but as the coordinator of the Mentor Program.
Frances Bernier began learning English at CEP at age 18, soon after arriving from Puerto Rico. There she met another student, Tony, whom she would later marry. After completing two cycles of community-based English courses, she enrolled briefly at Holyoke Community College, then left in order to have her children. When she was ready to return to class, Frances enrolled in the Office Systems Management program offered by MCDI-Holyoke. During her time in the program, Frances served as an office intern at both CEP and Enlace de Familias/Holyoke Family Network, a nearby family center. When Even Start, a new family literacy program, opened in Holyoke, Frances was recruited by the program supervisor to work as the program's administrative assistant, a job that she loves.
Alex Bejarano is currently majoring in music at Holyoke Community College. He earned his high school diploma in Colombia and then took EL classes at HALO and CEP after arriving in this country. Alex then entered CEP's college transition program, where he received the assistance he needed to score well enough on HCC's placement tests to begin taking credit courses. According to Alex, his experience with Juntos helped give him "direction in life. I wanted to go to college, and they helped me. Now I'm studying music, and that's my American dream." He continues to benefit from the partnership by receiving assistance with reading and writing from the Mentor Program, and he also serves as a mentor to adult students making the transition from studying in the community to studying at the college.
Minerva Ramos, who received her GED diploma in another state before moving to Holyoke, also serves as a mentor at Holyoke Community College. At first she lacked confidence about being a mentor, but with the encouragement of Juntos and community college staff, she took up the challenge. She serves as a role model for the students she mentors because, like them, she once was an adult basic education learner: "People from other countries are scared to learn English. They fear that they're too old. I'm there to assure them that they can [be successful]. I feel that what I got from the college, I'm now giving to the community."
Mentoring also has helped Minerva grow personally and gain more confidence. In fact, recently she led a campaign to lengthen the hours of bus service to and from the community college. She and the other mentors researched the need and presented their plan to the college and the bus service. After winning the support of both, the mentors developed an outreach campaign to alert the other students to the change in hours.
These are just a few examples of how Juntos has helped improve the prospects of many Holyoke residents. Through partnerships, Juntos has created a community environment that fosters lifelong learning. The transition from adult education to higher education and employment is no longer a hurdle adults must overcome alone. They have Juntos to guide them.