The New Year marks a new role for Rita Mancera as Executive Director of Puente. Kerry Lobel transitioned into the role of Senior Adviser on December 31.
“I’m thrilled for Kerry, for me, for Puente and for the community. We’ve been preparing for this for more than a year,” Mancera says.
Mancera’s to-do list is as long as you might expect for someone who has poured her heart into Puente since 2006, and she’s already managing programs and cultivating donors. Looking ahead to the new year, she knows that budgets and priorities will fluctuate over time. But to Mancera, the true measure of Puente’s success will always be clear.
“This may sound naïve, but I want to make sure we improve people’s lives. The question I will always ask myself is: are we doing that?
The answer is a resounding yes. Puente’s role in the community has always been grounded in practical solutions, from the earliest days of Rev. Wendy Taylor’s ministry of “bicycles, blankets and beans” for farm workers.
Carol Young-Holt, a longtime member of the Puente Board of Directors, remembers the days when locals had little help from San Mateo County at all. “When I came to the community in 1989, the only San Mateo County Services available were when someone called Child Protective Services or when the occasional itinerant Public Health Nurses came for Well Baby checkups. I was pretty shocked.”
Mancera was with North Street when it merged with Puente. When Lobel took over leadership of the organization in 2006, Mancera helped bring many of the original goals of the South Coast Collaborative to fruition especially in the areas of parent engagement and community building.
Today’s Puente serves a wide range of residents with services that address both the necessities of life and the greater well-being of workers and families. Hundreds of locals have enrolled in health insurance programs through Puente, many of whom are coming to Puente for their first doctor’s appointments – ever.
Mentors from the University of California, Santa Cruz are cultivating college dreams in struggling students at Pescadero Middle and High School. Female drivers are passing their DMV tests and earning their licenses with Puente’s help.
Zumba classes have expanded to three nights a week, and inspired a spinoff fitness walking group for local women. Mancera helped bring Zumba to Puente, and used to be one of the instructors. An emerging culture of health “is so palpable now,” enthuses Mancera. “The food choices people make, the conversations people have. At school events, we would bring tamales and enchiladas. We still eat those, but now people bring fruit and salad, too. We must continue promoting healthy habits and connecting all members of our community to our locally grown products.”
Mancera is convinced that over time, some of Puente’s more “tentative solutions” will likely evolve into long-term solutions, responding to issues like the need for a permanent childcare center staffed by qualified local caregivers. Thanks to a grant from the Heising Simons Foundation, Puente is training local parents and childcare providers in how to interact with children, read to them, and cultivate curiosity and language development. The program is already producing results, according to Mancera.
Other long-term solutions on the horizon include somewhere for adults to continue their professional development beyond ESL classes. As a first step, Cañada College will offer a class in career explorations at Puente next month. Mancera also wants to make dreams come true for parents of high school students–engaging them in field trips such as those their youth attend. In this way, the preparation for college becomes a family endeavor.
Mancera has already watched an entire generation of local elementary school students grow into confident teenagers through the Puente Youth Leadership and Development Program. She can’t wait to watch the youngest graduate from college following the lead of the first generations. In the long term, her dearest wish is to see some return as local leaders within community organizations, like Puente and the La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District. Mancera may just be getting started as Executive Director, but she’s already looking to a time when someone raised in Pescadero can complete the circle. “We must continue offering summer academic, enrichment and job opportunities to our local youth to accomplish that and from my past experience, Pescadero is the place where the saying: ‘it takes a village’ is so palpable,” Mancera says.
“I would like to see more of our youth in key positions at Puente. A few are already an essential part of our team. Someday I’m going to be looking for someone to take over the organization,” she says with a smile.
Rita also looks forward to increase the programming that allows more community members to know each other and support each other. “I see our community building efforts growing this year. Puente has a very creative and hardworking staff team that understands the importance of positive social interactions”.
The way Puente makes a difference is because of the support of many individuals and organizations that volunteer their time or provide financial resources. Your ongoing support changes lives, forever.