El Puente de Esperanza


Peace Corps volunteers are encouraged to work on secondary projects in addition to their primary work assignment.  Mine (that is, Charlie) is with a non-profit organization called El Puente de Esperanza (The Bridge of Hope), which is a residence in the city of Querétaro for young people that allows them to attend high school or one of the universities here.  Most of them are part of the indigenous Otomí people who live in the southern part of Querétaro State.  El Puente pays their living costs and school fees.  All of these youth are from families with limited economic resources and whose communities are usually too small to offer any education beyond primary school. 

El Puente was founded 15 years ago by a former Peace Corps volunteer.  They rent a house in the downtown area that can accommodate about 23 residents, who live dormitory style.  The boys and girls, whose ages range from 15 to 21, live in the residence for several years as they progress through the educational system.  They generally appreciate the opportunity offered to them and are serious students.  One example of this is a young woman named Rocío Garcia Sánchez, or Chio to her friends, who entered El Puente in July 2008.  She has four siblings who live with their parents on a farm in southern Querétaro State where they raise cows, sheep, and turkeys.  Chio graduated from secondary school since coming to El Puente and is now a pre-med student at the Autonomous University of Querétaro.  She decided at an early age that she wanted to become a doctor after seeing traveling physicians visit a clinic in her home town.

El Puente is a small organization with no full-time staff.  The Director works there five half-days a week.  She is supported by what we used to call a Resident Assistant when I lived in a college dorm, in this case a young woman who was a beneficiary of the El Puente program a few years ago and is now trained as a nurse.  You can imagine that a house full of young people needs rules and a firm hand to keep order, and the Resident Assistant serves that purpose.  The group also has a Board of Directors whose President is very active in managing the operations of El Puente. 

My role is to support their fund raising and administrative needs.  For example, my first task was to strengthen their relationship with a foundation in the U.S. that had provided some intermittent support for El Puente in the past.  I contacted the director of the foundation by e-mail and inquired about the process that El Puente had to go through to get assistance on a more regular basis.  After a few exchanges with him, he explained the kind of information he needed to convince his own Board of Directors to provide ongoing help to El Puente.  When El Puente staff finally provided that information and signed a formal memorandum of understanding, the foundation agreed to finance the cost of dental care for the young residents as well as to support an upgrade of some of their aging computer equipment.

I’ve also been asked to help complete other grant requests, which El Puente regularly submits to cover its various needs.  Perhaps the most unusual task I’ve done so far was to collect bids from several local stores to justify the grant request for new mattresses.  There are about 24 beds in the house and the mattresses get a good amount of wear and tear after a few years of use.  El Puente found a grantor willing to fund the replacement, but it required competitive bid information as part of the submission.  I headed out to a couple of bedding stores in Querétaro to get the cost data and was pleasantly surprised by the cooperation that I received.  Perhaps it is a normal part of their business to give pricing information or maybe they were just surprised when a tall, skinny gringo came in to inquire about the cost of 24 orthopedic mattresses, but in any case the stores were very helpful!

El Puente is now planning a fundraiser as part of its 15th anniversary celebration.  They are organizing an event in October that would include a dinner, for which tickets will be sold, and a celebration of the organization’s accomplishments.  They plan to honor both community members who have supported El Puente over the years as well as graduates and the current students.  I told the Board president that I had attended similar events in Washington at which silent auctions were held as a further fundraising tool.  She liked the idea, although it not very common in Mexico.  I’m a member of the Planning Committee for the event and we are in the early stages of developing its various activities.

If you are interested in learning more about El Puente, contact me through this blog or at bendgold@gmail.com and I’ll send you a copy of its most recent newsletter.


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