By Leo Cabral
Counselor Maria Maness had been planning and fundraising for the Puente Program’s 30th anniversary celebration for months.
When Maness asked Riverside City College President Gregory Anderson for funding, she was tasked with finding her own sponsors while Anderson went through the process of getting funding for the event and said he would match whatever she raised.
“A couple weeks later she’s doubled it,” Anderson said. “A couple months later she tripled it. She got nearly four times as much from all the sponsors by her own perseverance and all the perseverance of all the folks who helped her plan this.”
“I’ve been doing this for a year and a half and there are folks who have been doing this for 25 years, 15 years,” Maness said. “(Coming) in I felt like I really wanted to give it justice as a newbie and to really have the heart behind it to represent what the program has done for the institution and the students (who) we serve.”
Puente alumni from the last three decades returned to RCC to celebrate not only the Puente Programs 30th anniversary, but the community and success that Puente has fostered.
“Puente, as an English teacher, was probably the best thing that ever happened to me,” said Linda Sherman, who was Puente’s English faculty from the program’s beginnings at RCC in 1989.
The Puente Program has given Latinx students at RCC the courage to find and raise their voices through its writing, counseling and mentoring system for the last three decades. It has helped students reach positions of leadership and constantly encourages Puentistas to give back to the community.
Gabriela Plascencia, Riverside City Councilmember and president of the Latino Network, attended the celebration. Plascencia graduated from North Vista High School and transferred to a university from RCC. She plans on getting involved with the program as a mentor.
“I’m a product of community college,” Plascencia said. “ I think access to these kind of programs are what’s really going to help our students exceed.
“These are our future leaders. So partnering them up with mentors and having access to these kinds of opportunities is life changing. Whatever I can do to support it, I’m all for it.”
To this day Puente continues to be a great influence on and off campus, in and out of the classroom environment. As many emphasized throughout the event, the program is more than an English class. Puente gives students a sense of confidence in themselves, a sense of belonging, tools for the future and a community of support. To some, it is like family.
“Anyone who is really interested in college, join. And who wants to make friends. These will forever be my friends,” second year Puentista Angel Ayala Mendez said.
“I also always plead with my students to try to see themselves in me so that they can also derive strength and inspiration (from me).” RCC Chancellor Wolde-Ab Isaac said during a speech. “Because if I can do it they can do it too. And I think that Puente in some way is an expression of that type of solidarity. Of us giving to each other.”