WEST PALM BEACH – Estella Pyfrom retired from the School District of Palm Beach County in 2001. But she returned to work again and this second stint ended in 2009.
The reality is there is no real retirement for this former school guidance counselor.
It was not long before she withdrew her retirement funds and investment money, spending $500,000, she said, to buy a bus and equip it with 17 computers.
Project Ascension was born.
“There’s a reason the Lord has kept me mentally and physically fit,” Pyfrom, 76, said in an interview this week. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence.”
To do her part to make her community tech-savvy and to promote education among those who need it most.
“I know about the digital divide,” Pyfrom said. “I want to bridge that gap. I know how difficult it is to be in low income and not have resources that you need. I felt compelled to do something.”
In the four years since she started taking her mobile classroom to the
community, the West Palm Beach resident calculates she has provided classes in subjects such as computer, GED, college and FCAT preparation to more than 2,000 people.
They range in age from 3 years old to
senior citizens who are only now starting to learn about computers.
She added that she has put another $400,000 into her nonprofit project which she renamed Estella’s Brilliant Bus this January at the suggestion of the Palm Beach State College’s Small Business Development Center.
The bus makes four stops a week at places such as community centers, schools and daycare centers but that changes depending on when her services are requested.
Pyfrom said it is expensive to operate the bus. She has to pay monthly costs for storage and fuel, among other expenses, and she is also hoping to expand.
She said she contacted the center for advice on the right track with her project and to explain her plans for growth.
Sharon Geltner, certified business analyst with the center, is to helping her reach her goals.
“She wants more buses. She needs more people, more money to expand her reach,” said Geltner.
She is hoping a rash of attention from both the local and national media will make it easier for
Pyfrom to attract big donors such as corporations.
In January, NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams reported on Estella’s Brilliant Bus. Cable News Network featured Pyfrom as a CNN Hero. JET magazine told her story this month.
The NBC broadcast generated calls from all over the world, she said. Anderson Cooper’s show on ABC, Anderson Live, has called and so has the Steve Harvey Show. They want her to be a guest.
“I feel honored,” Pyfrom said. “Over the years, I’ve worked really hard to make things happen for underprivileged children. Every day it’s something new. I’m not sure that it’s set in. The extent of the media coverage is bigger than I imagined.”
Patrick Morris, her most ardent volunteer, said Pyfrom is fully deserving of the attention.
“She’s done so much and has always pushed others into the limelight,” said Morris, who drives the bus and provides instruction to students once they are on board.
Morris nominated Pyfrom as a CNN Hero two years ago but when the network first called she shrugged it off, being publicity shy. CNN producers pressed her to agree.
“So, here we are today,” said Morris. “When you know someone who’s done a lot, you nominate them. It feels good.”
The exposure is starting to pay off.
Delray Beach-based Office Depot has donated computers and other supplies and money for a total of $20,000. Company officials recently spent a day on the bus for a first-hand look at the service.
Pyfrom also caught the attention of tennis superstar sisters Venus and Serena Williams through the BallenIsles Country Club. They held a charity match in her honor in 2011 and raised $9,000 for Estella’s Brilliant Bus.
Derrick Roberson Jr., an NFL free agent in Broward County, partnered with her for one of his
annual “Work Hard, Play” events held in Fort Lauderdale. He wants to add her educational component to his Derrick Roberson Jr. Foundation.
“I think it’s just awesome,” said Clarice Davis, who recently joined Pyfrom’s venture as a volunteer.
“If everyone could take a little bit from her, just think how much better off our students would be,” Davis said.