(L-R) George Payne, president and CEO of Culbertson Company, Inc., attorney James Cox with MichieHamlett, Hal Hurka, vice president of the board of directors for the CATEC Foundation and foundation member Paula Pagonakis.

A $500,000 gift from an anonymous donor could give Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center students the opportunity to realize goals that they may have felt were just out of reach.

The CATEC Foundation Board — a non-profit organization that supports center — announced Monday that CATEC plans to apply the donation toward awarding need-based scholarships to students.

“The word needs to be spread through the community of businesses, educators and board members that CATEC has the ability to provide solutions [to issues] that prevent people from being able to pursue a career in the trades,” said Foundation Board member Paula Pagonakis.

While the amount of awards given each year will vary depending on need and the number of applicants, current high school students, students who have just graduated and adult education students will be eligible for financial awards.

“Sometimes our students are in competitions and they win the award of being able to go to a conference in their trade, but they can’t afford to pay the fee,” Pagonakis said, adding that transportation and child care are often obstacles.

The gifts also could also help adult education students who are seeking internships or apprenticeships, as well as to help those without work find employment.

“Raising awareness of the technical trades may get them to thinking, ‘This is an opportunity for me to get into a new career where I can have success,’” Pagonakis said.

Hal Hurka, a CATEC graduate and Foundation Board member, praised the gift.

“A lot of people who could benefit from vocational, technical training might not have the ways and means,” Hurka said. “There are ways in which this donation will help that out, ways that could help significantly change a person’s life and not just to buy a couple of tools.”

Pagonakis said the gifts wouldn’t be a “one-time hit.”

“A lot of times scholarships are available for the first year, but they aren’t in successive years,” Pagonakis said. “This is to make a significant impact in an individual’s life.”

Pagonakis added that the donor wanted to help an institution that isn’t already supported by numerous scholarships, like four-year colleges. “They don’t want to throw money at something and, the next year, the student still has a struggle.”

CATEC is in the process of implementing a new strategic plan that will modernize programming and align the school more closely with Piedmont Virginia Community College.

While this gift is not related to the strategic plan, Hurka said that, with the new employee the school plans to hire to execute the strategic plan, it’s likely that this will not be the last large financial contribution CATEC receives.

“I think that this is going to be the start of many helping hands from the community,” Hurka said.

Hurka said he’s proud to be associated with the school, because it provided him with the skills he needed to run a business, and that it’s a community asset.

“Unfortunately, the community doesn’t realize what a gem they have here,” Hurka said, citing that many college-bound students return home after the first year. “Some of them have the aptitude to get this vocational training and do very well and make good money.”