Doug Ernst

Napa Valley Register columnist Doug Ernst.

Napa professionals signed up this week to mentor two dozen Napa Valley College students enrolled in the Puente academic preparation program.

Open to all students, the program is designed to help educationally disadvantaged students who plan to enroll in four-year colleges, earn degrees and return to Napa as leaders and mentors.

“The Puente program allows mentors to do a generational jump,” said mentor Paul Martinez Everett, director of sales for Verve Napa Valley, a curated events and wine tour company.

“I got to mentor someone who was 19, and I gained an understanding of what’s going on with today’s generation.”

Mentor Tara Fahey, a forensic specialist with the Napa Police Department, said the program helps Napa.

“The community is getting educated, energetic students who become part of the local workforce, care about community projects, get more involved in neighborhoods and develop partnerships that help them grow their careers,” said Fahey, whose first Puente student has been hired by the city.

Maira Ayala, who works with Rep. Mike Thompson, was a Puente mentor for four years.

“Mentoring students was my way of giving back to a community that helped me,” said Ayala.

“I’m paying it forward by listening and reminding them that with hard work and dedication their dreams are absolutely attainable.”

Bill Hernandez, a Napa police officer, has mentored three students, and is starting his fourth this year.

“When at-risk college students get the support of the community, they are more likely to finish school and come back to help the community,” Hernandez said.

Napa’s chief of police, Steve Potter, also has mentored three Puente students and is taking on a new one this year.

“It’s an excellent opportunity to get involved with young adults in Napa and to act as a role model, mentor and coach to help them develop and make good things happen in life by going to college, knowing that they come back into the community and make it stronger,” said Potter.

Darlene Colaso, human resources director for the City of Napa, said she is looking forward to being a mentor.

“These Puente students represent our hope for the future,” said Colaso.

“They deserve positive role models to help them succeed and help shape them into successor role models for the next generation.”

Elba Gonzalez-Mares, who mentored Puente students for about four years, said mentors bridge the gap for students who need help navigating between work, family and college.

“Puente supports them and embraces who they are as individuals and members of the community,” she said.

“Its three components include English teachers, counselors and mentors from everywhere — law enforcement, the wine industry, engineering, nonprofit – who help young adults and can provide a bit of perspective for their parents who are going through this journey with their kids.”

The Puente program serves students in 64 community colleges and 36 high schools throughout California, helping more than 40,000 students.

To become a mentor, contact Christina Rivera at 256-7154 or crivera@napavalley.edu.

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Doug Ernst is the Napa Valley College public information officer. Reach him at DErnst@napavalley.edu or (707) 256-7112.