Meet Nicole

For Nicole, PUENTE Learning Center’s free college program was a lifeline during the pandemic. A first-generation college student who was raised in a single-parent household, Nicole joined PUENTE’s college program as a senior in high school and with its help went on to attend East Los Angeles College. Then the pandemic broke out and everything changed. School went virtual and Nicole needed to care for her ailing grandmother. She was so overwhelmed she nearly dropped out of school.

But her PUENTE case manager stepped in and connected Nicole to campus resources and persuaded her to stay in school. That support, knowing someone was in her corner, was just what Nicole needed.

PUENTE Learning Center, located in the heart of Boyle Heights, a largely immigrant community in East Los Angeles, has been a community hub for 37 years, providing educational and career pathways for the predominantly Latino residents as they strive to live the American dream.

“The immigrant story is the story of this nation and there is no timeline for when that story should end,” Jerome Greening, PUENTE’s CEO, says.

PUENTE, Spanish for bridge, grabs the opportunities that may seem out of reach and makes them possible through various programs that, in addition to their college program, include a preschool, an elementary school, career guidance and preparation, and adult education and workforce development classes.

Each year, 2,000 children, teenagers, and adults come to PUENTE’s 45,000-square-foot community center. A critical piece of the learning curriculum for children – a third of whom speak Spanish as a primary language – is to help them achieve a solid foundation in English, which will prepare them to be more successful for middle school, high school, and then college, Greening says.

The pandemic, Greening adds, has exacerbated the educational and economic divide for many students of color and from lower-income households. Without help, impacted students like Nicole are more likely to postpone or abandon their higher education dreams and goals.

“Because of PUENTE, I stuck with the school. Without PUENTE, who knows, maybe I would have dropped out,” Nicole says. “Now, I feel much more confident in pursuing my education, because I have people backing me up.”

Article published by The Giving List LA.