Together we will move forward. Building a strong and inclusive community on the South Coast

Rocio has been living in Pescadero for nearly fifteen years. She comes from a small town in Mexico very similar to Pescadero — a rural community where people know each other. Rocio is a mother to young children and a wife and regularly participates in Puente Programs — including ESL classes. Rocio is an active member of the Pescadero community and a great example of someone committed to creating change.

It is powerful to experience the evolution of a diverse community arising. For years, the South Coast has been very bifurcated along many lines. When the Latino and Anglo communities come together and interact, we not only break down stereotypes, we come to realize that we care about very similar issues. We need an inclusive representation at the table when we discuss important issues that affect our community and that includes the voices of Latinos and Latinas that live on the South Coast. Their voices must be included moving forward.

The parent coop is a great example of community involvement and volunteers merging to bring an idea to fruition. The planning process happened with women from the community contributing their time to develop this amazing program. With their help and input, this program is still growing, forming, and evolving as a safe place for Latino and Anglo children, alike.

Participants in Puente programs are smart, capable, and have great ideas. When asked, they have a vision and they beautifully articulate that vision and pride in this community. Individuals like Rocio are what makes Puente unique. I met Rocio in one of our parenting programs — Abriendo Puertas. Her timid smile and willingness to participate caught my attention. As an organization, we have been committed to include participants in the development and implementation of our programs. We believe that by including participants, the programs become richer and culturally relevant.

A few years back I was thinking about starting a South Coast Family Engagement Committee, and naturally, I wanted to have members of the community to be a part of it. The minute I asked Rocio to participate, she agreed without hesitation. On the day of the meeting, she came with notebook and pen in hand. She was ready. Rocio always brings a perspective that helps shape the project into something that has relevance and meaning to the community. Her perspective is the perspective of a woman that understand the needs and complexities of her community.

Rocio’s soft manner and demeanor makes you want to listen and be a part of the change she is helping create. She has agreed countless times to be part of committees and has volunteered at many events. She does it all. Rocio also has incredible skills when it comes to outreach. When I asked Rocio why she always says yes to contribute not only her time, but also her passion, love, care, and experience to Puente, she simply replied, “Because I know that my help helps others and this is important because together we move forward.” She said, “Back in Mexico my mother was always helping friends and family.” Rocio believes her willingness to support others comes from watching her mother get involved.

Rocio’s answer did not surprise me. I have met many Mexican women, Latinas, in this community, that selflessly give their time to Puente and their community. They do this because they envision a stronger community made possible through their involvement.

At Puente, our donors and volunteers are a diverse group of people — Anglo, Asian, Latino, African American, wealthy, low-income, middle-class, youth, seniors, underserved and privileged. We value visible diversity and representation as a tool in our work towards social justice. This concept of visibility is something that we are currently carrying forward with intentionality. Representation of Latinos as contributors is a message that we need to share and reinforce. When children grow up seeing diverse individuals leading and helping each other, they grow up with role models that showcase different leadership styles. Rocio is shy, yet that does not stop her from sharing her opinions and contributing her ideas.

Our volunteer opportunities have a special affect, as well, providing opportunities where Latino and Anglo community members spend time together. We see this happening when we gather to make tamales, celebrate Día de Los Niños, and express our support for immigrant rights at community forums.

Latino participants learn that they have gifts to contribute and gain a stronger sense of belonging. Their journey from participants to volunteers is inspiring. Some become Board Members. Our volunteers include Zumba instructors as well as parents supporting other parents through Abriendo Puertas. Together, we are changing attitudes and behaviors with respect for people’s culture and particular set of skills. Volunteerism and altruism exists in our communities and it is strong, in spite of barriers such as language. To all our volunteers, “mil gracias por todo su esfuerzo y dedicación. Thank you for your work and dedication.”

Arlae Alston, Family Engagement Project Manager

Support Puente’s Coastside Gives campaign on Thursday, May 4, 2017. Your support will allow Puente to continue to provide support for our community-building initiatives, as well as provide more families on the south coast with vital services. This is a One Day fundraising campaign initiated by East Bay Gives taking the place of the very successful Silicon Valley Gives campaign that ended in 2016. Your donations to this campaign will be matched dollar for dollar, doubling your support to help Puente move its mission forward. You can schedule your donation in advance of May 4, 2017 at — it’s easy and secure!

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