Summer 2012 | A Puente de la Costa Sur tutor helps a young student at the group’s Homework Club in Pescadero. Photograph by Lars Howlett.
When Rita Mancera arrived in Pescadero, CA from Mexico in 2005, she was struck by the beauty she found there. “The place was breathtaking,” she said, remembering her first few months on the South Coast.
But Rita, who is now the executive director of community resource center Puente de la Costa Sur (Puente), quickly realized the extent to which the community lacked basic services. She saw roofs and windows in disrepair and families sharing the same small, one-bedroom house – mattresses lining the walls because rooms had to transform from living room by day to bedroom by night.
“One of my first thoughts was that I was familiar with this housing situation because I’d seen it in Mexico,” Rita said. “But I was surprised to see it because the economy is better here in the United States.”
While the South Coast is part of San Mateo County and sits just over the hill from Silicon Valley, the area is isolated. Pescadero and the other South Coast communities Puente serves — La Honda, Loma Mar, and San Gregorio — are complex. Million-dollar homes are coupled with a housing shortage that makes it difficult for many local residents to provide safe and comfortable places to live for their families.
Rita knows of families and individuals who have slept their cars because the closest shelter is more than 30 miles away. She also works with many low-income families who live in unsafe or unstable housing because there are few other options.
“People put up with a lot of things to have a roof over their heads,” said Rita. “Leaking roofs and windows, and broken appliances are common.”
Puente, which served 1,500 rural residents last year, is one of the area’s only local providers of essential services like health and wellness programs, rental and utilities financial assistance, and education and workforce development initiatives. On any given day, the Puente team is helping low-income families find safe and affordable housing, providing a hot meal twice a week, connecting students to internship opportunities and resources to pursue higher education, and welcoming families into their offices for medical check-ups and prescriptions assistance.
Puente doesn’t consider itself a charity, but rather an agent of change. Rita and her team are passionate about their work and together with the community, are building a healthy, sustainable, and inclusive home for all on the South Coast.
Rita lights up talking about the organization’s mission and the strong community it cultivates. The opportunity to bring people together and support their dreams has sustained her dedication to the work.
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative supports Puente in its work to provide the resources necessary to help homeless, housing insecure, and at-risk community members to have economic security.