Safety Net Services Manager Lorena Vargas de Mendez started work as a Safety Net assistant with North Street Community Resource Center. Today she oversees Puente’s free health insurance enrollment program as well as other forms of family assistance, like emergency rental and utility assistance.
When I arrived in Pescadero 20 years ago, health coverage services didn’t exist. I had to go to San Mateo to sign up for medical programs. We didn’t have transportation. When I was pregnant, I had to go to Stanford to receive medical services. I would have to take three buses to get to Stanford. One appointment took me all day and I had to carry my lunch.
Now we have transportation for people who need to get over the hill and don’t have a car. Still, most of the community members we serve work in plant nurseries and fields. They have 8-to-10-hour jobs and they are earning minimum wage. If you need to take care of an issue over the hill it will take you all day. Most of them don’t bother because they fear losing their income or even their job.
At North Street Community Resource Center, we used to be in a small portable trailer, just one location for safety net services and counseling services. When we merged with Puente, we were able to provide more and better services.
The transition began with office support and translation services; sending faxes. Then the health insurance coverage program. Soon there was a parenting education program for children aged 0-5.
When Puente merged with North Street we just had funds from private donors for emergency assistance. Now we have county funds, as well. The fact that Puente is growing has allowed us to be recognized by the county as a core agency.
Our health insurance assistance program has grown to the point of serving 150 households. We did not have many program participants when we started, but these days most of my time is spent on that. I am so grateful to have a community center that provides all these services.