To understand Puente’s heart, you must first meet Gabriel Echeverria. He was the first local nursery worker the Rev. Wendy Taylor befriended. He helped Rev. Taylor connect with other male farm workers in the community, and in so doing, was the first to personify the “bridge” between Anglos and Mexicans that Puente was intended to create. And later on, when Puente inaugurated its Board of Directors, Echeverria was the very first sitting board member. (He is still on the board).
It all began one day in 1997. Rev. Taylor, the new part-time pastor of Pescadero Community Church, was sitting on the steps of the church when she saw Echeverria ride by on his bicycle. She called out to him in perfect Spanish, and he was so surprised that he nearly fell off his bike.
“She said. Stop! Hello! She asked what my name was. She said, ‘I’m Wendy – it’s really nice to meet you,’” recalls Echeverria. “She said, ‘I’m going to be sitting here for a while. I hope to see you again soon.’”
Rev. Taylor was as good as her word. She was on the steps the following day, and the day after that. Eventually, she asked Echeverria if he would help her meet other Mexican field and nursery workers in Pescadero.
So he spread the word that there was a lady pastor in the area. He laughs when he recalls that had to work to convince people that Rev. Taylor, a blond-haired gringa, really did speak perfect Spanish.
That is when Puente changed Echeverria’s life. Rev. Taylor founded Puente Ministry in 1998, with Echeverria a firm ally. He helped build the bike program; he distributed food and clothing to workers who were hard to locate; and he helped set the tone at La Sala, where he still plays guitar and sings with Miguel, a local friend.
“She brought music into my life. I asked for a guitar and she found me one,” he says.
At the same time, Echeverria, an ebullient and gregarious 67-year-old with a quick smile and worn leather cowboy boots, helped set Puente’s tone on the Board of Directors. He takes attendance at La Sala twice a week; a job that he jokes makes him feel “important.” He also keeps an inventory of supplies.
Today, Echeverria is well on his way to earning his elementary school certificate through Plaza Comunitaria, a program Puente offers in concert with the National Institute for Adult Education in Mexico. He has been studying for four years with a tutor at Puente, and he has gained basic Spanish literacy skills.
“For me it’s about being able to speak. It’s empowering,” he says.
Echeverria remembers a time, not so long ago, where he was afraid to talk to anyone in town.
“Before Wendy I didn’t speak to people. It was just go to work, go home,” he says.
Now he speaks with authority. Now more than ever, he is Puente’s bridge to the community.