Puentes is a Spanish word meaning “bridges.” Since 2007, Puentes has been building bridges connecting Latin American immigrants and their children to the greater New Orleans community. Our work is dedicated to overcoming economic, racial, and cultural divides and to providing Latin American families and communities with the resources, knowledge, and hands-on opportunities they need to thrive.
Puentes New Orleans, Inc. was founded as a non-profit community development organization in April 2007 by three Latino community leaders who realized that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina the New Orleans area Latino community was being systematically excluded from important city planning. More importantly, the Latino population in the metro area had ballooned since many of the workers that rebuilt the city stayed and made this area their home. With support and guidance from Providence Community Housing, the Hispanic Apostolate Community Services of Catholic Charities, Loyola University's Common Good, ASI Federal Credit Union, Enterprise Community Partners and Neighborworks America, Puentes began work aimed at empowering Latino families and individuals to become fully integrated participants of the Greater New Orleans area.
In the organization's early stages, Puentes intended to focus solely on developing the needed capacity to become a non-profit housing developer. Puentes needed to meet the housing needs of a Latino population that had grown from an estimated 90,000 in the seven-parish area to over 140,000. It was necessary to first focus on developing social capital, a unified Latino community-centered voice, and a pool of new Latino community leaders. Puentes succeeded in doing just this and established itself as a leading Latino organization in the New Orleans area.
Puentes has been at the forefront of organizing against, educating about, and challenging anti- immigrant laws at the State of Louisiana legislature. Within its first two years, Puentes had implemented a certified first-time homebuyer workshop; an education, training, and capacity
development program to tackle relations between law enforcement and the Latino community; implemented an eight-month voter registration campaign, and conducted various other educational programs on issues affecting the everyday lives of New Orleans area Latinos.
In the years that followed, Puentes had a program to help small businesses grow and gain capital, held several health fairs, and promoted STEM based college prep classes through its Escalera program in the public schools. Our Escalera STEM program is a national program that promotes economic mobility for youth. It has been very successful and several of our graduates have received full scholarships to private universities. In the last graduating cohort, our students received full scholarships to Tulane and Notre Dame Universities. Targeting low-income, first- generation Latino students, Escalera supports students both personally and academically as they explore career paths, prepare for college, and develop leadership and technology skills. Escalera is a product of our partnership with UnidosUS (formerly the National Council of La Raza), Puentes is the only affiliate of UnidosUS in Louisiana and in the Gulf South.
In 2018, we created LUNA (Latinos United in Action), a program led by the youth in which they organize, advocate, and rally for policy changes. Our youth action council focused on youth leadership development with a strong emphasis on youth-led advocacy, organizing and coalition building. The meetings are led by the youth and are driven by engagement in creative activism in which the youth can share their unique creative talents in a way that creates social change. Throughout the years, LUNA has engaged in joint ventures with NOMA which has given the youth a space to learn and mobilize on issues that remain important to them such as fair state college tuitions for the undocumented, proper representation for their communities in legislation, and fighting against unjust detention and incarceration. Creating an integrated and powerful Latino voice for the future is the essence of our organization, and what better way to do this than to show youth that this is possible.
In March 2020 we suspended our operations due to the new limitations of COVID-19, but decided that it was our responsibility to continue to serve our community within the appropriate limitations. So in January 2021, we resumed operations remotely and have slowly begun to connect with our community once again, reaching out to the youth in both of our Escalera and LUNA programs. We are excited about what the future holds for our organization and hope that you will be a part of it!
Equity & Inclusion
Puentes New Orleans is commited to bringing people of diverse backgrounds together and working collectively to ensure that race, national origin, and inherited economic status are not predictors of life outcome. We envision a world in which all working families are afforded equal opportunity to reside in quality affordable housing in safe neighborhoods with thriving economies, good schools, public transportation, and health care. To us, equity is not only a moral imperative but a community development strategy that will lead to stronger and more prosperous communities for everyone.