Janet Murphy was a Puente volunteer on Day One, when Rev. Wendy Taylor founded an outreach effort to migrant farmworkers in Pescadero as an extension of the ministry at Pescadero Community Church.
That was over ten years ago. Puente has grown ten times over, and its programs touch nearly every aspect of the town’s cultural life – from schooling to nutrition.
But the center of Murphy’s world has never changed. It still revolves around ‘The Men Alone,’ as Rev. Taylor dubbed the workers who came to Pescadero without their families.
Murphy is the constant at La Sala, Puente’s longstanding gathering of mostly single men – farm and nursery workers — who hang out, eat a hot home-cooked meal, play cards and laugh together twice a week at the Community Church. It’s their living room, a respite from hard labor a daily life that can be both stressful and grim.
“They’re here without their families. Their living quarters aren’t the greatest, and in the wintertime you get hot food and a stove and it’s warm,” says Murphy. They get things they wouldn’t get otherwise. And they get camaraderie.” Every newcomer to La Sala gets a welcome bag filled with toiletries, a towel, hoodie, sleeping bag and more. Puente will rustle up blankets if they need those, too.
Some of ‘The Men Alone’ call Murphy ‘La Maestra,’ a nickname left over from when she used to teach ESL at the church (before Puente started a similar program). Other men from La Sala call out to her in the street, or simply nod and smile. Of all the joys she’s experienced at La Sala over the years, it gives her the most pleasure to have those close relationships.
“I spend almost as much time with Mexican people as I do with non–Mexicans. I have families I’ve been visiting with for 20 years,” she says.
Murphy speaks Spanish well enough to form those connections (she likes to say she’s not bilingual, but ‘comfortable’). That makes her a fairly rare commodity in Pescadero: someone who represents the ‘Bridge’ that Puente stands for.
“My only wish is that there were more bridges. And that people understand what Puente is doing and participate more,” she says.
Murphy was recognized in 2011 with its Ray A. Nelson Award, Puente’s highest volunteer effort.
Puente is looking for volunteers! To learn more, contact Rita Mancera at firstname.lastname@example.org or (650) 879-1691 x 102. If you would like to donate items for welcome bags for newcomers, contact Kerry Lobel at email@example.com or (650) 879-1691 x 144.