Larry Trujillo walks into the Puente office, and it’s like the sun has come out. “Hola, Puenteritos!” he calls over to a huddle of Puente youth. “Larry!” They pop their heads up and grin with enthusiasm.
It’s hard to discern the bigger surprise: that a retired professor could excite such a happy response from teenagers, or that Trujillo is a retired professor. Clad in skate shoes, jeans, and a loose Hawaiian button-down, he looks more like his alter ego, DJ Larry.
“I’m basically the town DJ. More kids know me by that than any other name. They’re surprised when I’m referred to as Dr. Larry Trujillo,” he says with a smile.
Trujillo has indeed DJ’ed just about every event in town, from quinceañeras and bar mitzvahs to the opening day of the Pescadero Farmer’s Market. His easy, charismatic manner – more a friend than an authority figure – is part of his charm and a key to his success with his target demographic: students.
Trujillo moved to Pescadero in the 1980s and along with his lifelong partner Dr. Velia Garcia, a fellow educator and former Puente board member who passed away in 2012, have focused a great deal of their efforts in the community to transforming the lives of struggling students in the local schools. Today, Trujillo is a board member and a sustaining donor of Puente.
For years, Garcia and Trujillo worked hand-in-hand to increase the number of Pescadero students, particularly Latinos, who went on to college after graduation. In the ‘90s, Garcia, the former chair of Latina/Latino Studies at San Francisco State University, brought the Step to College Program to the area. Trujillo, a lecturer in Community Studies at University of California Santa Cruz, had the idea to bring college-age mentors to Pescadero High.
“We started with seniors, but then we realized that not everyone was getting to the 12th grade. So we started dipping back – all the way to elementary school,” recalls Trujillo.
At its height, the program brought 60 tutor/mentors and classroom aides to Pescadero every week. And they saw results: once students got to know real college students, especially Latinos, they became more likely to apply to college themselves.
“Some of the kids had never known there was a university 30 miles away,” says Trujillo.
When Trujillo retired, the mentoring program was discontinued. But he revived it last year in partnership with Puente Academic Director Suzanne Abel. Puente and the local school district are now affiliated with Classroom Connection, a UCSC Merrill College academic course that provides the college mentor/tutors who volunteer in the Pescadero schools with a broad understanding of educational issues facing California.
“Suzanne and I both think this could be a model. The school system in California is broken, and marshalling the energies of Latino college-age mentors will result in more Latino and rural high school students applying to college,” says Trujillo.
“Larry is so brilliant and so generous,” said Kerry Lobel, Executive Director of Puente. “The partnership he has helped create with UCSC and SF State is profound. He’s trying to do something very different with a whole generation of young people. That’s something we don’t often see in education.”
Trujillo has been preaching the benefits of service-learning, which gives students the opportunity to immerse themselves in real-life work situations that benefit their communities, long before it got to be in vogue on most campuses. Trujillo himself is the perfect role model, having personally befriended, and touched the lives of, generations of young people on the South Coast.
And he is still friends with them today. Jorge Guzman, Puente Director of Prevention Services, says Trujillo has known him since he was a boy in elementary school. Trujillo was the “cool” guy Guzman looked up to.
“He mentored and trusted me with his equipment and would let me help him DJ the school dances. To see that someone trusted me with their special equipment… words cannot describe how I felt then and how I feel now as I look back on it,” says Guzman.
Eventually, Trujillo connected Guzman with a UCSC mentor. “I was able to daydream about what a college life would be and how I could also go to college. Never did I imagine myself pursing a college degree, let alone graduate school. He was pivotal in changing that,” adds Guzman, who attended Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont.
Trujillo continues to use his perch on the Puente Board of Directors to help young people bridge the difficult transition to adulthood. He donates money to the Youth Bridges Scholarship Program, visits the Puente offices most every week, and personally takes Puente youth on fun summer field trips to places like the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.
“Sometimes they need an adult to just kind of hang,” he says.
Trujillo’s favorite annual event is high school graduation – watching all those young people, many of whom he has known since infancy, receive their diplomas. And most years, a majority of graduates are former Puente youth.
“There’s no place you can give where your money will go more directly to serve the community than Puente,” says Trujillo.
Then he gets to DJ the graduation pool party.
To donate to Puente, please visit https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/puente.