From the time of its founding in 1998 by Reverend Wendy Taylor, Puente has served as home for interns from a variety of denominations.
Abby Mohaupt landed at Puente in 2012 at the initiative of Rev. Rob Martin at First Presbyterian Church in Palo Alto. Martin secured temporary funding for two pastoral interns to come work for the church. The unusual part of the arrangement: they would also spend part of their week supporting a local nonprofit. Puente is one such nonprofit, and Mohaupt, who had just graduated from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, got the job.
Mohaupt became Puente’s first Faith Community Liaison, which involves reaching out to churches, synagogues and other faith groups and involving them in Puente’s work. It turns out that, even though Puente is a secular organization, many congregations feel a kinship with its mission to serve migrant farm workers, underprivileged families, and youth.
Abby’s outreach has resulted in new relationships with congregations as far afield as Clovis, where members of the United Japanese Christian Church recently came together to donate a whole minivan worth of sleeping bags, coasts, stocking stuffers, and other essentials this Christmas.
“It’s a congregation that’s full of immigrants. They could really relate to the immigrant experience and have had conversations around food and farming,” says Mohaupt.
A lasting bond
Puente seeks to leverage that kind of enthusiasm into long-term relationships with congregants themselves. Executive Director Kerry Lobel loves it when local congregants personally take the time to come and volunteer with Puente. It’s a somewhat new kind of relationship for Puente, and a welcome one.
“I don’t think we were really equipped before. We knew how to deal with “donated items,” but were not always able to sustain deep relationships with congregants,” says Lobel. “To get people to be here, working with us shoulder to shoulder, is powerful..”
Staffing Puente’s Christmas Posada would not have been possible without the generous efforts of 45 faith-based volunteers, most of whom are members of First Presbyterian Church. Thanks to Mohaupt, Puente has reclaimed connections with 10 congregations throughout California. At least two more will start working with Puente this spring.
Puente has come full circle since it started out as Puente Ministry, an extension of Rev. Wendy Taylor’s work at Pescadero Community Church. That was 15 years ago. Rev. Taylor tied many local congregations to Puente’s mission. Mohaupt has pulled them back in.
“I love my job,” she says. “I get to talk with people about how their faith may call them to care about people who are farm workers, who are often poor, and who may not have access to healthy food. I get to connect people of faith to actions of justice.”
First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto has been living those words for years; the church’s progressive values date back to its advocacy work with migrant farmers in the 1960s, according to Rev. Martin.
The church has been close to Kerry Lobel and to Puente for five years. Rev. Martin has personally painted walls and cleaned rooms on behalf of Puente staff and clients. He and his congregants have done backpack drives, and purchased clothes and bicycles. They have raised money to offset winter electrical bills for Puente clients who can’t afford to pay. This Christmas, they made a large financial contribution for stockings and gifts.
“There are so many faith communities that simply write checks to organizations, but have no relationship to the groups they’re supporting,” says Rev. Martin. “We felt we needed to have a much deeper relational presence with Puente. It’s about having a deep and abiding relationship, not just with the organization, but with the people the organization is serving.”
To learn more about Puente faith-based outreach or to volunteer, contact Abby Mohaupt at email@example.com or (650) 879-1691