Rita Mancera: Starting Puente’s youth program was “huge”


Program Director Rita Mancera came to Puente in 2006 as a volunteer. She had just moved to the area from Mexico with her American husband. She started working for Puente’s parent involvement program, paying home visits to parents of infants. She was later promoted to the role of Community Builder, then Program Director.

In 2006 we had one of the trailers at Pescadero Middle School and maybe seven people on staff. I really felt like it was a transition job for me – it wasn’t something to last for 7 years.

Then Kerry came on board and I remember that, even at the first meeting where they introduced her, I had a feeling: she has a plan. She has a big plan. That was when I decided to stay longer and see what was coming ahead with the merger.

I was pregnant in 2007 and I needed to take leave. That summer, Kerry had decided to start the youth program. Six local youth joined the program, but I couldn’t have known how huge this would become. Kerry said, “There are all these kids around. Maybe some of them would want to work with us.”

I came back from maternity leave and the youth who had started working with us over the summer were permanently employed!

I look back over the last six years and think about how we have grown along with these young people. It’s like we’re family. We are so close to them. We know their issues. We try to help them; we argue with them too.

People used to view the youth around here with distrust – like, who are these kids wearing black hoodies? The fact was they didn’t talk much to anyone around here, and a lot of people were intimidated by them.

At times, they were challenging and they were defiant. But the basic chance to work with adults – to have a job and earn their own money – that changed everything.

I wish we had pictures to show the transformation in most of them. Sometimes it was in the way they dressed, or the way they cut their hair. Suddenly they had longer conversations with us instead of just saying ‘hey.’

Some of them would have failed high school back then. Now most of our kids go to college, one way or another. Now parents want their kids to come work at Puente and the kids themselves ask – ‘When can I start working at Puente?’

I like to see them cash their checks. I like to see them earn their money, from the ones who buy their computers to the ones who suddenly buy a car. They have something I didn’t have when I was younger.