Grantee Spotlight: Puentes de Esperanza

April 18, 2024

Funded Partner Impact Story: Puentes de Esperanza

Puentes de Esperanza—Bridges of Hope—helps Spanish-speaking residents of Madison, St. Clair, and Clinton counties address their physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs on their journey to becoming a vibrant part of our shared communities. The agency’s work touches on every aspect of life: from helping a family get nursing care for a mother paralyzed in a horrific car accident, to teaching about the value of having a fireproof safe to ensure key documents are safe and accessible, to financial literacy training to translating timely public health information.

Puentes, as the agency is affectionately known, seeks to transform the lives of Latino children and families through community-based ministries. 

"Those seem like small skills to a lot of people,” Kristen Shinn, director of community support services, explained. “But those can and do create huge barriers to individuals and their families.”

Support from the Marillac Mission Fund has proved critical to bolstering the agency’s efforts to meet the growing needs and uptick in requests that have come its way as more Spanish speakers settle in southern Illinois and requests for service have evolved since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Taken together, their clients make up one of the largest communities of Spanish speakers in Illinois—second only to the Chicago area. 

"Very few resources trickle down-state,” Shinn said. “This is one of the only organizations in Southern Illinois doing the type of work that we do.”  

The agency collaborates with a wide array of partners and its staff are often on-site to help clients who come to events where a fluent, bilingual speaker with an understanding of trauma-informed best practices and cultural distinctions can be critical to meeting a client’s personal or family needs. Its formal programs include its Latino Special Services Program, Immigrant Family Resource Program, Illinois Welcoming Center, and educational and community outreach services and training.

Often entering complex and fluid situations, Puentes de Esperanza’s staff adapts their approaches and referrals to best meet the need in the short and long-term.

Puentes de Esperanza’s translators and case managers help clients access existing services, such as legal assistance or health care, bridging linguistic divides between English and Spanish and regional dialects. While it is the agency’s linguistic area of emphasis, Shinn noted that Spanish can be a client’s second or third language, and the person’s level of literacy across languages may vary. That means that there can be multiple gaps in language access to traverse for the client, a partnering service provider, and Puentes de Esperanza’s staff.

The work of Puentes de Esperanza began in 2001 as a ministry of the UCC Conference to meet the needs of the local Latino population in Southwestern Illinois. In 2004, Puentes was incorporated as a 501c3 subsidiary to Hoyleton Youth and Family Services (HYFS). 

The agency’s staff also help to educate other service providers on the best way to connect with those they aim to serve.

"We help individuals navigate,” Shinn explained. “It’s not just that you can communicate with them. Sometimes our team is helping a caseworker or investigator understand the cultural aspects of a situation. For example, you may go into a home, and the home, to the investigator, may look disheveled. But there may be a cultural piece tied to it.”

But more than that, Shinn said, Puentes de Esperanza’s chief work is to center each client’s humanity and membership as part of the community as a whole.

"Regardless of your political views, this is still a human being, an individual, and most of them are trying to do what’s best for their family, just as I believe any of us would want to do. And we’re here to help them do that.”