For some, the men working in the fields around Pescadero are part of the scenery. But when Laura Franco sees them, she thinks of her family.
“I think: that could be my aunt, that could be my dad, my grandmother. I see the struggles that people go through and I know that’s what my family went through. It strikes at my heart,” she says.
Many people know Laura as a hardworking attorney who splits long workweeks between San Francisco and Palo Alto. They know she is powerful and passionate. Sometimes they know her as the vice president of Puente’s Board of Directors, a position she took on shortly after joining the Board last year. She is also a monthly Puente donor.
Some Pescadero students know her as the confident woman in the gray business suit who spoke to their grade about the importance of getting a college degree: if I could do it, she told them, you can do it, too.
To really know Laura is to know that she and her sister, Lisa, were the first of their family – on either side – to go to college. And that their parents were the ones who pushed them.
It is to know that her father, Manuel, grew up in Mexico, moved to Fort Bragg, and made his way in a new country with a third grade education – first as a logger, then as a self-taught carpenter. Laura’s mother Barbara had a high school education and did office work. But when it came time for their girls to go to college, there was never any question.
Manuel and Barbara weren’t able to help Laura and Lisa with questions of where to enroll, what to study or how to pay for it all. But the girls figured it out. Today, both sisters are attorneys. Laura attended University of California, Berkeley, as an undergraduate student, and received her Masters in Public Policy at Harvard, simultaneously with a law degree at Berkeley. Law School. She received full tuition scholarships; but no living stipend.
“For some reason God gave me parents with an open worldview. They understood the importance of an education. They didn’t shelter us,” Laura says.
The college recruiter
If it was possible for her father to imagine his daughters finishing college, why doesn’t it work that way for other families? That’s a question Laura asks herself when she meets some parents – both Latino and Anglo – who didn’t go to college and see no reason for their children to go, either.
“If I could figure it out and spread it around I would. It would do so much to break the cycle of poverty,” Laura says.
Of all of Puente’s youth-based work, Laura most strongly supports Puente’s efforts to bridge the gap between high school and college for students whose parents never got that far. She speaks to students at Pescadero and La Honda schools, and makes a point of chatting one-on-one with students and sometimes their parents as well.
“I tell the parents, ‘Just because you didn’t go to school doesn’t mean your kids won’t succeed. ‘And I tell the kids, ‘Just because your parents didn’t finish high school, doesn’t mean they aren’t smart.’
Laura shared the story of her father’s own lack of education and humble upbringing at Puente’s second annual Career Night, an event intended to showcase Latino professionals who were the first in their families to go to college.
She also encourages students to use their personal stories in their college essays and to take full advantage of the academic scholarships and financial aid available to them as minorities and as students from a rural community.
Most of all, she directs them toward Puente, which offers scholarships to youth employees and helps students obtain real-world internships, along with unprecedented access to academic programs at Stanford University.
Puente is also in the midst of an effort to put together an advisory group of attorneys who can help with legal questions from time to time that fall outside the rubric of immigration law: workers’ compensation, estate issues, employee protections.
Puente Executive Director Kerry Lobel says Laura has helped Puente hit all the right notes from the beginning. “Laura brings a unique perspective to the Puente board framed by her personal family experiences and her legal training. Her story means so much to young people and their parents.”
Laura has lived in La Honda for over ten years. Her affiliation with Puente dates back to 2007, when she answered the call to donate bicycles and clothing. She became a student tutor and also helped Puente participants study for their citizenship tests.
“It’s where my heart is,” she says.
To donate to Puente, contact Kerry Lobel at (650) 879-1691 x 144 or email@example.com
You can also donate online at https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/puente?code=Novemberbridge