Building Bridges

Building Bridges photo


Every week twelve volunteers from Puentes visit Pacific Union to work with young English learners as mentors and translators during instruction time. Director Jenn Bradley says volunteers, who are largely Latinx themselves, with majority having a background as English learners, all find a personal purpose to serve this community and population. Puentes mentors help to bridge the gap between English and Spanish through their support, guidance, and instruction one-on-one in the classroom. “The work that we do is more than just teaching English..we’re also helping children succeed and helping volunteers grow personally [and] academically…”, says Jenn.

Directors Jenn Bradley and John Soener say during their experience volunteering and directing they have seen their participants make remarkable progress. “The kids become more confident and comfortable, they start raising their hands more and asking more questions”, says Jenn. She said the difference extends beyond just what you see in the classroom and reflects an “immediate and tangible change” in their report card scores at the end of the year.

Much more, the program seems to have a similar effect on the volunteers working with Latinx youth. The directors told a story of a volunteer that did not know how to pronounce and a word in English and, at first, their participant was surprised. The volunteer then explained that he was still learning English also, and the child sweetly responded, "Don’t worry, I’ll help you too”. Puentes, meaning “bridges” in Spanish, has seen many examples like this that show the impact they make, on volunteers and participants, when they bring Latinx communities together in support of a similar cause.

Directors Jenn and John say the program has caused them to reflect on the significance of culture, along with the importance of providing resources where they may not exist for the Latinx community in Humboldt County. They say it has been very eye-opening to experience working with volunteers and participants from a different background than their own. Not of Latinx ancestry themselves, Jenn says they have learned more from the volunteers than anything else, “We see ourselves as facilitators of discussion and we really let the volunteers teach each other because they’re the ones with the experience to's more poignant for them as students that have lived these experiences [to teach]...I have learned a lot about what a leadership role means in different situations...when to step back and let everyone be a leader”.

Puentes is hoping that its program helps shift perspectives in the community about college students, and in general “give young people a better name”. “There are people at the university who care and want to insight change and growth…[and are] willing to sacrifice time to help change a child’s life, and that’s true for any program”, Jenn says. Puentes is planning to kickstart an after school homework club for Latinx kids in the Arcata area in effort of “being there regularly to help create relationships”.