ALAMOSA — La Puente Director Lance Cheslock recently updated the Alamosa city council on La Puente’s diverse programs and thanked the city for its continued support.
Cheslock stressed how important the city’s support has been to La Puente over the years and how the cooperation between La Puente and other local organizations and agencies has benefitted the San Luis Valley. He said grant funding has been awarded to the Valley because of that close cooperation between agencies.
He also stressed how important volunteers are to La Puente. For example, the 14 food banks in the San Luis Valley operate with 60 volunteers and only one paid staff member. Those food banks served 11,000 unduplicated individuals in the past year, or roughly 20-25 percent of the Valley’s population, Cheslock reported.
Seeing the need among college students, many of whom struggle with food insecurity, La Puente worked with Adams State University recently to open a food bank on the campus.
Cheslock shared that long-time PALS director Tim Dellett had moved to Kansas with his family, and Rev. Don Hanna, pastor of the Alamosa Presbyterian Church, has taken the leadership of that program, which serves youngsters identified through the department of human services as well as youth from the homeless shelter.
One of La Puente’s great successes, Cheslock shared, is its outreach program, which keeps people from becoming homeless. This program assists folks in all of the Valley’s six counties, with about 1,300 households benefitting from this homeless preventative assistance totaling about $500,000 each year. This program helps families with utility and rent assistance, for example, so they will not be evicted and become homeless.
Cheslock said that before La Puente began its outreach services to prevent homelessness, the shelter had 1,100-1,200 intakes a year, and because of the outreach programs that are helping families stay in their homes, the shelter has decreased intakes to about 650 a year.
Another success story is the Valley Educational Gardens Initiative (VEGI) program that works with the Alamosa school district to provide nutrition and gardening education at a garden plot at the school. Students recently made “stone soup” with some of the harvested vegetables.
La Puente’s enterprises, such as its thrift stores, provide another success story that supports the shelter as well as the local economy, Cheslock said. La Puente recently opened a thrift store in Center, for example, and the community was so supportive of the new business it basically gave La Puente its pick of the empty buildings in town. The new thrift store occupies a former hardware store. The Rainbow’s End in Alamosa had also been an abandoned building before La Puente placed its thrift store and boutique in that space. Milagros coffee shop is another successful enterprise of La Puente, and La Puente operates another thrift store in Monte Vista.
Cheslock said La Puente’s enterprises employ 16 full time equivalents and pull in $37,000 in sales tax to their respective communities each year.
He added that 80 percent of La Puente’s budget comes from outside individuals, foundations and other resources, and for every $1 someone gives La Puente, the organization can leverage $4 from non-San Luis Valley sources.
“We are really blessed to have those community partners that help us,” Cheslock said.
Most local donations are small, but they can leverage a greater benefit through other sources.
La Puente was one of the main coordinators of the second nonprofit collaboration summit this month, which drew 60 nonprofits together to talk about how they could work even more closely together. One of the outcomes of that daylong event, he said, was the idea to launch a resource center at Adams State that would serve the Valley’s nonprofit organizations.
“We have such a vibrant nonprofit community,” Cheslock said.
One way in which La Puente benefits the community, Cheslock explains, is through service tourism, with work groups coming to serve La Puente and staying in local motels and eating in local restaurants.
“This has been our best year ever for work groups,” Cheslock said.
La Puente hosted 45 work groups this year performing service projects from gleaning in the fields to building fences.
These groups provide more than service. They bring money to the area, Cheslock explained.
One group alone, comprising about 20 people, stayed at a local motel for several days, ate at restaurants like Hunans and the brew pub and rode Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad while they were here.
“Service tourism is important,” Cheslock said. “It’s year round. It’s Christmas, it’s spring break.”
Cheslock said the need remains great for La Puente’s services, with the number of homeless women being a disturbing trend. For example, the shelter recently assisted an 87-year-old woman with safe shelter. The shelter is also serving more meals than in the past, many to folks who are not staying at the shelter but come to receive meals.
Alamosa City Councilor Jan Vigil said, “We truly value what you do for the community.” He said there have been discussions recently, however, about problems people on the south side of town were associating with La Puente.
Cheslock said La Puente has a work session scheduled with the city on Nov. 6 and looks forward to discussing common values and how to move forward to be better neighbors. He said La Puente has some good neighbors stepping forward to help deal with issues.
Councilman Michael Stefano, who serves in the city ward where La Puente is located, thanked Cheslock and those working at La Puente for the hard work they are doing.
“We have a lot of people in need,” he said.
Councilman Ty Coleman added his thanks, specifically thanking Cheslock and his staff for the work they are doing for children who are in need of services through no fault of their own. He said he had been involved with the PALS group and seen firsthand how the volunteers and staff worked well with the youth.
Mayor Josef Lucero thanked Cheslock for coming to update the council.
“Communication fosters understanding among people,” he said.
Lucero mentioned a recent interaction with a woman on 10th Street where he was handing out campaign brochures. The woman’s car was full of belongings, and she told him she had no place to go and her car had broken down. He directed her to La Puente.
“She was so grateful,” he said. “Thank you for what you do in this community.”
Caption: Lance Cheslock, director of La Puente