Pescadero’s High School graduation is the biggest community event of the year. It feels like a rock concert at the gym. But sitting in the bleachers back in 2009, something started to bother Carol Young-Holt. It was the fact that, as certain students were singled out and applauded for academic achievements, three-quarters of the graduating class sat there without hearing their names.
Young-Holt, a founding supporter of Puente, knew how many of those students had worked at Puente over the years, struggling to support their families with part-time jobs and also finish high school.
“Not all the kids at Pescadero High School are at the top of their class. There are kids for whom simply graduating is a huge achievement,” she says.
Many of those youth had been working since puberty and still managed to be the first in their families – often, recent immigrants – to obtain a diploma.
Young-Holt, a longtime Puente board member, founded the Puente Youth Bridges Scholarships to honor students who had done double duty, earning a salary at Puente while earning that degree. Eleven students in this year’s graduating class earned Puente scholarships, cumulatively worth $3,350. It’s the biggest crop of scholarships ever awarded since the scholarship was established in 2009 – a point of pride for Young-Holt, who raises the money from local residents who care about seeing kids succeed. Puente’s Board of Directors contributes to the scholarship fund each year, as do more than 40 community families, thanks to the efforts of the Development Committee.
Puente is the largest youth employer on the South Coast. Half the students at Pescadero High School work for Puente at some point. Puente currently has 20 part-time youth employees, according to Program Director Rita Mancera. That number balloons to 40 youth in summertime.
Students use Bridges Scholarship monies to pay for books and school fees in their first year of college. The longer they’ve worked for Puente, the more they earn in scholarship dollars – between $50 and $450.
Scholarship recipient Laura Rodriguez will be one of roughly 20 students graduating from Pescadero High on June 8. The 17-year-old has lived in Pescadero most of her life and has worked pretty much every job at Puente over the last four years, from coordinator of the Homework Club to teaching Spanish. She needed the work to help out her family and will use the money to pay for school supplies and tuition in her first semester at Sierra College, near Sacramento.
Looking back, she’s amazed that she did it all.
“I go to school in the morning, come home, go to work. Then I go back home, do my homework, help my siblings with their homework, feed them, get them ready for bed... and the next day it’s the same routine.”
Rodriguez has been working since she was 14. Her parents also work long hours. Going to college will be the first time she’s left Pescadero. She wants to study family counseling and business and finance, areas that piqued her interest after working at Puente.
“I kind of wanted to go out into the real world and experience different cultures and meet new people,” says Rodriguez. “I want to knew who I really am and what I really want in my life before I make major decisions.”
Mariela Lopez always knew she was going to college – even though her parents didn’t have the funds to send her there. Lopez, 19, just finished a challenging first year at Cal State Monterey Bay, where she studies social and behavioral sciences. She wants to be a criminal investigator.
Lopez has been working for Puente since her freshman year of high school, and she’s back in Pescadero to work in the Summer Youth Program. She didn’t have to work at all this year thanks to scholarships from Puente, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and others. She’s not sure about next year, though.
“I’ve never had loans and it kind of freaks me out,” confesses Lopez. “I came back here to Pescadero because I want to work and save my money, so I don’t have to get loans – I really don’t want to.”