Luis Garden Acosta and El Puente

Founder & President, El Puente

Luis Garden Acosta is being honored posthumously. His wife, Frances Lucerna, has answered these questions on behalf of Luis and El Puente. 

How old is your organization? Founded in 1982
What sector does El Puente work in? Nonprofit
How long had Luis Garden Acosta worked in this sector? For more than 40 years
How long had Luis Garden Acosta been with El Puente? He founded El Puente in 1982 and remained its CEO & President until January 2019.

If you have worked with CRE in some capacity, what impact did it have?
CRE played an integral role in El Puente’s evolution from its early years as a developing CBO through its growth into a recognized model for holistic youth and community development as well as a pioneer / leader in the struggle for equity, social justice, and self-determination.

Fran Barret was not only a fierce advocate for us but also a dear and valued friend on the journey. She believed in our mission and vision and was always there to advise and offer strategic guidance at critical junctures of our development. We were also privileged to work with so many wonderful staff over the years who embodied the mission and spirit of CRE and in many instances became not only partners but cherished members of our El Puente community.

What has been the most significant development in your sector over the last 40 years?
Over the years, there has been a shift from a clinical and “provider mentality” approach to one more focused on holistic human and community development. This has also given rise to the emphasis on organizational and leadership models that are more collaborative, collective, responsive, equitable, and aligned with community values, assets, and aspirations. Racial equity is profound and critical not only as a priority but mandate.

What is the single greatest challenge you face today in your sector?
The single greatest challenge is the sustainability and viability of community lead CBOs in the face of rampant gentrification and consolidation of youth / community service funding to / through city agencies who then prioritize funding to large (citywide), service-providing organizations.

What opportunities exist now for nonprofits to break through into success that did not exist 40 years ago?
There are more technical, training, and capacity-building resources, but these do not mitigate the overwhelming challenges.

How do you see shifting views on race, gender, sexuality, age, immigration status, educational achievement, wealth, poverty, and health affecting your organization in the future?
El Puente was founded on a commitment to and belief in the right of disenfranchised people of color to self-determination. Our holistic approach to indigenous leadership and community development has been, and will continue to be, the foundation and driving force of our work and movement.

What will nonprofits need to do to remain relevant and necessary to their clients over the next 40 years?
Leadership, culture, programs, and initiatives must represent and reflect the communities they serve. Nonprofits must advocate / fight to transform funding structures to be responsive to and supportive of the sustainability of community lead and anchored CBOs.

Where would you like to see your sector in 40 years?
A thriving field of indigenous lead organizations that are securely anchored in communities and that are leaders, facilitators, and incubators for equitable, viable, and creative strategies for the well-being of all.

Why did Luis Garden Acosta join this sector?
Luis was driven not only by a vision but a vocation to make the world more equitable and just for all people.

In what ways would others say he was a trailblazer?
Luis’ visions were expansive and not only focused on what needed to change locally, but how to create a model for global change. His focus and power were his ability to galvanize people around a vision that was rooted in their own capacity, power, and right to make lasting change.

What did he want your work culture to be like?
Rooted and inspired by love, compassion, and respect for all!

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