Why we give to Puente: Brenda Christensen and Tom Barry

Brenda Christensen and Tom Barry

Two years ago, as a gesture for a friend’s 70th birthday party, Brenda Christensen wanted to spend a day of service volunteering with a nonprofit on the coast. Longtime volunteer Logan Payne suggested Puente. What happened next was a surprise.

When Christensen showed up at Puente with an armload of Spanish-English children’s books, she thought she might have to persuade some of the schoolchildren to read them.

“These children were ravenous for these books, even though there was a children’s computer nearby,” Christensen recalls. “Kerry Lobel, Executive Director of Puente, told me these are kids who live in a rural area, but in very high-density housing. The fact that they get to stretch out and read a book on the floor is a big deal for them.”

Christensen was impressed. “That was one of my first ‘aha’ moments. Puente is organized around the joy of learning, whether or not you speak English.”

Christensen and her husband, Tom Barry, returned soon after that first memorable day with bags she sewed to hold supplies for farm workers, and again to help with food distribution to families in Pescadero and La Honda.

Now the Woodside couple donates to Puente on a quarterly basis, as members of Puente Partners for Sustainability.

“I want people to know that’s important to do. If you think an organization’s well-run, you have to give not once a year, but consistently,” says Christensen, who “fell in love” with Puente’s vision, and Lobel’s style of leadership in particular.

“There are a million organizations out there, and a lot of them have one charismatic leader. But a great leader leaves leaders behind, and that’s what Kerry is like. You can see it on people’s faces, when the volunteers and staff feel they own the organization.”

Christensen would know. She grew up in modest rural surroundings not unlike Pescadero, and saw the world after joining the Girl Scouts. Later in life she was president of Girl Scouts of Silicon Valley, helping run an organization much bigger than Puente.

Puente’s commitment to giving boys and girls a leg up on their education and career training has always impressed Christensen. “They seem to thrive under that structure,” she says.

Adds Barry: “One always underestimates the generous benefits that come back to you when you get involved at Puente. Then you realize what you get back.”

To join Puente Partners for Sustainability, a group of monthly and quarterly donors, click here. To learn about volunteer opportunities at Puente, call (650) 879-1691 ext 102 or rmancera@mypuente.org.

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