Posted by Editor: FDBobko
JUNE 6, 2024
Arlie Allston, Program Director of Puente de la Costa Sur
Article by Stacy Trevenon

Ed introduced speaker Arlie Allston, Program Director of Puente de la Costa Sur since 2015 and became Puente’s Program Director in 2020. She received her Early Childhood Education degree from Cabrillo College and her master’s degree in human development with specialization in leadership, education and human services, from Pacific Oaks College. She has worked abroad in Managua, Nicaragua, at different orphanages, and for six years at Early Head Start in Santa Cruz County.

Arlie is currently filling in for Puente’s Executive Director who is on sabbatical. She spoke of Puente, which was founded in 1998 by Wendy Taylor. Arlie, who was hired by then-Puente Executive Director Kerry Lobel, recalled that Taylor, when visiting Pescadero one day, noticed a group of farmworkers, Mexican immigrants, who needed bikes to get to work at South Coast farms and ranches. So she collected donated bikes which she gave to the farmworkers, who had families in Mexico but were known as “single men” here. Since many didn’t have a warm meal every day, Taylor created “La Sala,” cooking and serving a family meal once a week for the workers so they could eat and socialize. That program continues on Thursday evenings at the local community church, with socialization over dominoes.

Puente’s goal, she said, is for the South Coast to embrace diversity, equity, wellness and prosperity for La Honda, Loma Mar, San Gregorio and Pescadero. She urged advocating within and outside the health department or immigration rights, emphasizing that “we want to be transparent.”  Those who work at Puente do so “because the community trusts us,” as Puente listens and engages with the community to “see what we can do together.”

“We believe that all of us” have power, and all bring strengths that, if put together, can change our community. They serve anyone who works or lives in the service area of La Honda, Loma Mar, San Gregorio and Pescadero; and want to focus is on creating equitable opportunities for farm workers, low-income households, children 0-5, local school district students and parents, and first-generation college students. But they don’t shun people who don’t fall into this category. Immigration status does not matter. 

Allies for change are participants in the community; donors, staff, and partners include  San Mateo County, Sonrisas and more. Asked to share a pertinent story, Arlie noted one participant who, denied a service, came in angry at one of Puente’s people who supported financial assistance. The employee started to cry, which reminded her that the anger was not toward us, but came out of the systematic problem the participant was dealing with. So Arlie said, “I’m sure you’re really upset, and yelling is not going to work,” and the participant calmed down. It helps to take a deep breath, and understand that even though anger may be directed at you, it is not about you. We’re able to separate that, she said, so we’re able to see the issues. They got the participant the paperwork he needed. But when you don’t have enough money, and have to choose food or rent, a lot of emotions happen. That’s why this is a good frame for us, she said, to understand that people come with trauma, which may not be about us.

Puente staff examined priorities for 2021-2025, at a time when they all had to stay home and use Zoom due to the pandemic. They asked locals, what can Puente do to serve the community, and decided that their priority was to increase social-economic security to develop educational opportunities for K-12, and enhance Puente’s organizational capacity. 

That meant disrupting poverty in the community,  and finding legal services and housing solutions (a big one, she said, given crowding in the area as many multiple families share one space). Right now, they have made an offer on land which already has some units, so their priority has shifted to preserving and maintaining those units. They continue advocating: Most local residents qualify for ACE or Medi-Cal and Puente is advocating for changes in qualification so that participants can not lose medical insurance if they make a little money. 

  Puente partners with Legal Centro and has created an informative flyer, to help people understand their rights as tenants and as workers. The information went out a few months ago, she said, and we’ve held trainings. If you have questions, we have lawyers to do consultations. 

A priority, Arlie said, is extension of educational opportunities. The strategic plan was to open a second parent-co-op for toddlers, but they were hampered by a shortage of teachers. But the program is going well. The parent club is one of their most expensive programs; all of our services are completely free for families. They provide diapers, wipes, food, breakfast, snack and lunch, and so it gets pricey.

They are also developing a program for families with children 2 to 5 years old. During the strategic planning they realized they have a lot for children zero to 3 or 5, and for older ones, but nothing in between. And they realized  that families were not familiar with the school system in this country. This school curriculum will support families to be better advocates for children in the school system. 

“We lost a few staff members, (so) we haven’t been able to launch it but we’re hoping that this fall we’ll be able to launch this program. We’ll start with a small group of parents and go from there,” Arlie said. “But it’s just to give them the tools to advocate for the children within the school district.”

For middle school students, that comes mainly through the summer program. They have a comprehensive six weeks where some kids get an internship, and then they host trainings, including how to write a resume. They bring Life Skills and little trainings, like how to write college letters. They do field trips during the summer.

For adults they offer ESL classes. And they note that it’s great to learn English but they also want to learn other skills: like art classes, working with local artists, or English as a second language. 

Their third priority is organizational development. They’ve created the Deadeye Justice, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Committee within the organization. They wanted to look into Best Practices: “Are we just, how are we equitable?” Arlie said. “We were looking into internal policies. Do we have a sabbatical policy? How are we doing salaries? Are they comparable to other organizations? We’ve done salary studies; our performance review process is different, we are much more engaged with staff … We create different committees with staff members … we want them to be helpful, we want to have feedback in how to do our jobs better.”

Arlie said they’re waiting for feedback to see how this went, and go from there. “We’ve done more leadership, we are much more engaged with staff, to make sure we really walk the talk. That’s what we do with the community, we listen to them, whatever feedback they give us. We change systems, and so we wanted to do the same internally with our staff.” 

Their board is a minority white board serving predominantly Mexican people so, wanting to understand their own biases, they did some trainings. They’re trying to get more board members from the community that look like their participants, so they’re doing their homework around that.

Arlie said they have data and numbers, and they want to understand the impact of the work they do in the community. “We want to look at people’s stories, like how did having a scholarship help you to go to college?” she said. “How do we really look at the impact (of) the work we are doing? Is it really moving something? We think so!”

She noted that they have the Community Development Department, Community Health Department, Community Mental Health Department, Education, and Community and Public Policy Department. And she sent a “laundry list” of services at Puente: “Under Community Development department, we do enrollment assistance for health insurance,  unemployment and disability, Social Security and retirement applications. For our Economic Security program, we do taxes, financial literacy for adults … assistance, and medical bill assistance. We have legal services for people with their birth certificate corrections. We’re finding that a lot of people have their names spelled wrong. Once one letter is wrong on your birth certificate, it’s a lot of trouble, so we do a lot of support, with the Mexican Embassy, document interpretation, navigation of core systems. Sometimes  people get tickets and they don’t know what to do with them, so we show them that this is the office; this is the process, we do it once and then, you know how to do it. We are also building self-sustainability, we don’t want to be always with them, we’ll show you and we expect you to continue to do that on your own.”

They do instruction around citizenship, green card renewal, black card renewals, and seasonal programs. “We call it backpack distribution, gift cards; we used to do gift cards and school supplies, but again, we’re always surveying the community to see, is this working for you? What would be best? 

“Maybe a gift card to Target is better … We distribute gift cards so people can actually choose what they need for the school year. Sometimes their old backpack is good enough, but they really need shoes. So with a gift card like that they can pick and choose.”

And that’s just a beginning. Arlie went on to note that “With a card distribution we signed up people but they also have to do training to make sure they understand how to buckle that on correctly, and to the car, and how to (make sure) the child is correctly seated, because there are some measurements. So we make sure they have that fist, and then we give them the car seat.” In wintertime, she said, they do the winter gift cards, usually a Safeway card, given the cost of food. 

In a writeup to me, Arlie went on: “For our education department, they have the Early Childhood program for children 3 to 5, “Mommy, Poppy and Me” or “Mommy, Daddy and I” for children zero to 12 months. We offer it once a year, where mammas, papas and caregivers come with babies to learn about developing language, a healthy bond with your baby, and parenting skills. It is really  sweet: the babies are there, crawling around, while the families are having conversations.

“What are the values that you want your baby to have? Have you talked about that? About parenting – are you on the same page? Puente has hosted both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking conversations, that turn out to be really sweet because they both start leaning the other’s language.

“We have Suenos Unidos, the parent co-op, it serves eight children 8 through 36 months. Then for our adult programs we have all ages; we have our ESL classes, we have offered Spanish classes too because our monolingual English speakers are like, ‘Hey, what about us? We also want to learn Spanish!’ and so we have offered those classes too. 

“And we support people acquiring their GED; tutoring, and if they need to pay a fee for their exams or things like that, we can also support with that.

“And for our youth program, 5 to 21, we offer tutoring, and that’s the YES program that happens in the summer; I talked a little about that; the ‘Idea’ program, that happens year-round, and I really like this program because children from middle high school attend an orientation with their parents to be able to register for this program, and the expectation is for them to meet with one of our people, our education assistants, sort of like a case manager. They meet once a week, and they look at, What are your classes? Are you doing your homework? I’m noticing your grades are low, let’s talk to your teacher.”

Asked about the size of her staff, she said 35; “We’re little but mighty.” 

She went on to note two “wonderful” including Paula, who “make sure their students are really following their tribe. And it doesn’t have to be that the college starts … We have learned that for some students, ‘That’s not for me, I want to go into trade school.’ So, if that’s what you want to do … But the good part is, you know young people tend to change their minds. Part of this program is like, hear that that’s what you want, we’ll make sure you have information for that, but also, let’s make sure you have all your credits, just in case you want to go to college. And sure enough, some of them have changed their minds. Sometimes they change their minds and it’s too late. This program really gives the tools and the information like, I support that, but let’s make sure you have enough credits for college, so you have two doors open.

“These ladies do different trainings, every three months, they … do field trips, some of the field trips they go visit universities. They do fun things, but also we’re trying to get excited about college, or trade school, or something after high school.”

Asked how many people Puente comes in contact with through their programs, she said that, since they are a tiny district, the most they have had is 20 students enrolled. She added, the most they have is 20 students enrolled in this program, around 1,500 individuals. They support college students as well, people with college applications, and they provide scholarships, full- and part-time, college or trade school.

For the community health department, they also do enrollment assistance: CalFresh, tokens for the Pescadero Farmers’ Market, tokens for people to buy vegetables. Knowing that people aren’t going to the dentist, they have a dental financial assistance program. They also have a very popular Zumba class that people seem to love; health education workshops, La Sala, and distributions of health items about every other month. They do resources and medical navigation with Sonrisas, a ‘great partner.’



PP Ed Daniels led the meeting this week filling in for Pres Liz who is still recovering. 

Pledge of Allegiance  Ralph Ely led the Pledge of Allegiance.

Inspirational Thought  Bella Bono gave the thought for the day, inspired by her dog who “looks like a coyote and acts like one:” “You can usually tell that a man is good if he has a dog who loves him.”

Visitors  Charise introduced Andrea Wolf, who is her “protegee for Life Skills” and whom she hopes will join the club some day. Andrea is new to the Coastside, having lived in Redwood City for 35 years, working in high tech. For 13 years she has worked as an HP rep with Puente, doing electronic health record systems and helping grow their ethnic environment. She and her husband, who works with the College of San Mateo and two kids live in Ocean Colony “and we LOVE the coast!” Charise called her “a great asset” to Life Skills. 

Jill Jacobson from the Boys and Girls Club.

Announcements  Ginger said that Rebyl Foods now has food and coffee (six days a week), wonderful organic salads with or without chicken breast, a chicken quinoa/ranch wrap, chicken pot pie, sweet pasties, capuchinos. We’ll be getting lunch from there next Thursday. 

Barbara Nielsen said that the Boys and Girls Club will hold workshops focusing on mental health, mindfulness, and a communication workshop for 18-24-year-olds. A child psychologist will come to discuss mindfulness. She will update us on these workshops.

Ginger spoke of Isaac Arudian from Lebanon, of Shoreline Station who has passed away, and whose service is tomorrow at noon at Skylawn. She said everyone in the community has had something done with his help. 

May Birthdays Rose Serdy reminded the club of two upcoming birthdays on May 29: “wonderful” Mitone and “illustrious and wonderful” Ginger. New Leaf had Magical Cookies and Rose had one for each. 

Happy News  Asked for happy or crappy news, Irwin said he and Nancy had just returned from the Rotary International convention in Singapore, which he described as a “real eye-opener” of both Singapore and of what Rotary does to make a better world. It reminded him of the film “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once;” you gotta be there, Irwin said, to experience the “unbelievable” power of Rotary.  He mentioned a physician named Joe Serra who went into the jungles of Africa to help “crawlers,” or children so crippled by birth defects that they cannot walk but must just pull themselves along. He passed around a photo of one such child, describing a doctor who went into the jungle to treat the kid’s tendon so he could just stand up. Kids were crawling two miles to get to Joe. If we can do a little of this around the world, Irwin said, the world will be a better place. He will say more about that after he is inaugurated as club president.

Charise McHugh said that in 16 years, she had received thank-you notes from local high school kids who had been interviewed via Life Skills.