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PUENTE Learning Center
After more than thirty years of service to the Boyle Heights community, the board and staff at PUENTE Learning Center were eager to revitalize their educational programs to connect more deeply with the families and individuals they served. They were determined to return to the organization’s roots as the “People United to Enrich the Neighborhood Through Education,” or el puente, the community’s bridge to opportunity at every stage of life from early childhood to retirement.
When Andrea Bazán joined PUENTE as CEO in November 2015, she listened carefully to her board. Enrollment had been declining over the past several years, leadership turnover was high, and staff morale was falling as a result. The team decided it was time to focus on “nurturing their relationship with the community” as a way to transform and improve their services. To achieve this in a thoughtful way, they embarked on a one-year Strategic Planning project with ESC in February 2016.
Right away, Andrea wanted to set the right framework to build an effective strategic plan. She rallied her board and staff to complete a community assessment and competitive analysis with ESC consultants John Krakowski, Roxie Esterle, Richard Thaler and Hugh Leonard. While PUENTE remained an important resource in Boyle Heights, its prominence had waned. Getting the information they needed required intensive fieldwork. She explained, “It was a lot of work, but we were hungry for change,” and the ESC consultant team was ready to help. The consultants embarked on a massive data collection project that relied on in-depth interviews with funders, board members and other community organizations; surveys with students and parents; focus groups with staff; online research; and outreach in the community.
What the consultant team discovered was the overwhelmingly positive experiences of the families served by the organization. The main challenge was that over the years other nonprofits had sprouted up to serve the educational needs of the local community By 2016, with over 51 organizations in Boyle Heights providing similar services, PUENTE was no longer viewed as the leading education nonprofit in the area. Andrea admitted this was tough news for the board and staff to hear, but the team ultimately trusted the consultants’ “genuine feedback and support.” The board and staff moved quickly to create a strategic plan that would connect PUENTE in new, meaningful ways to the community. They relied on the consultants as thought partners. Together they established five key areas for improvement: community awareness; program development; sustainable revenue; infrastructure; and charter school expansion.
2017 marks the first year of implementing PUENTE’s three-year strategic plan. Andrea reports that the energy is high, and that they are already seeing positive gains across the organization. They have organized a new fundraising team focused on sustained revenue. They are preparing to upgrade their technological resources to once again become the leading agency for innovation and education in Boyle Heights. They have expanded the number of students in Grades 1-5, and now there is a dedicated program department to support this growth. Halfway through the current 2016-2017 program year, enrollment trends are set to exceed the previous year’s enrollment of 3,600 children, youth and adults.
Andrea is proud of the progress that she and the board and staff have made to serve the community, “This was exactly the opportunity we needed. When I arrived, we didn’t have a plan. Now we are ready to create a pipeline where anyone, no matter who you are, age 3 or age 80, can achieve success and pull through for their families.” She acknowledges there will be “growing pains,” but knows that she wants PUENTE to provide truly exceptional service in education for many generations to come. She and her board and staff have enlisted their ESC consultants as ongoing partners in this era of growth, and have re-contracted with ESC for a Board Development project. Andrea is grateful for the opportunity: “We are excited to work with our consultants in this next phase. With them, our vision is clear: Education is the bridge that empowers lives and builds thriving communities.”