El Puente Ministry – Jefferson City, MO
By Sr. Peggy Bonnot
El Puente – Hispanic Ministry will celebrate 18 years of existence in September. We engage primarily with immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Honduras, Chile, Peru, and Ecuador. Support Services, specifically Health Care, occupies about 80% of our work. We help pregnant moms follow their prenatal plans, providing interpretation for them as they interact with the health care system. We help them with insurance applications and other social service assistance that is available to them through the community. We also provide health education and information in Spanish by a qualified health educator. Much of this work is done in their home. We also provide transportation to medical appointments and interpretation services at hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices for clients when requested by the individual, hospital, clinic or doctor’s office.
El Puente offers a ministry of presence and support to the communities in two parishes in our service area. We are present at the Spanish Masses, help to train ministers, work with the choir, and promote cultural experiences and celebrations. It was through attending these Spanish Masses that we first learned of the need for translation services in this area. We learned that most service providers were not bilingual. Since we could speak Spanish, even though it was at a limited ability in the beginning, people started asking for our help. So we explored all the resources in our area and started accompanying people to access the services they needed. We also help with immigration applications and court appointments when needed. There is an office of Refugee and Immigration in Jefferson City, which is part of Catholic Charities. We work closely with them on Immigration issues.
The biggest challenges in this ministry are the closed-minded attitudes of some people toward immigrants. It is very difficult to build up a sustaining donor base because of such attitudes. We are very dependent on grants, the generosity of the Congregation, and the diocese to keep our ministry going.
We have learned much from our ministry over the years. Our population is young, child-bearing age for the most part. Their children learn English quickly, but the parents struggle because of work schedules or the need to care for their other young children. Most of them work at least two jobs to be able to send money to their families back home. Most of them would prefer to be in their home countries, but because of the conditions at home they must leave or flee to support their families. They bring with them strong family values and a rich cultural heritage. Many of them have had to struggle to receive an education, leaving school at a young age to help their families. They come from countries where war, abuse, oppression and lack of income has scarred them.
Our hope, which is our Vision Statement, is that our Hispanic neighbors will thrive in church and society. Much of that hope is in the youth. They will be healthy, educated, and have leadership skills to bridge the gap between their parents and the future. Given a chance they will be very productive citizens and have a great influence on the future of our country.