Our Founding Story
In the late 1970s, concerned that people were literally dying the elements with no place to go – two homeless people had died in the previous three years in Alamosa – Sister Angela decided to do something about it.
The Catholic Church had tried to provide shelter below the church but because the location only had on exit, the fire department deemed it fire trap and shut it down.
Sister Angela called Alamosa businessman Chet Choman and told him she needed to meet with him. Five people showed up in the initial meeting of what would become the La Puente board, though none of them knew it at the time. In addition to Chet and Angela, the group included Cece Guzman, Stella Lujan, and Sister Janel Crumb. Since they needed $25 to open a checking account, each of the five chipped in $5 to get things going.
After more than a year of meeting together with still no shelter established, Sister Angela called Chet up one day to tell him she had found a house for the shelter.
“The windows were broken, and we walked into the home and there was blood all over the floor. We were afraid we would turn a corner and find a body.” Chet recalled. “It was kind of a mess. All the pipes were broken.”
The blood, they learned, ironically came from someone who had no place to stay so he went into the vacant building, took off his shoes and cut his foot, subsequently leaving blood on the floor.
The group headed by sister Angela found the building belonged to La Puente Home, a boy’s home that had lost its funding, so the building was vacant. La Puente Home had a loan with SLV Federal Bank, so Sister Angela’s group went to the financial institution to see if they could assume the loan.
Did the group have 30 percent down payment? Did the group have a financial statement?
“Of course we didn’t,” Chet recalled. One of the many, many miracles that transpired over the next 40 years occurred when the group contacted attorney Rick Jacobs who had been involved in La Puente Home when it was a boy’s home. The new group asked if it could assume La Puente’s corporation and name, which Jacobs graciously agreed.
Sister Angela’s group La Puente, translated “the bridge,” would be an appropriate name for a homeless shelter.
The new La Puente Home board then went back to the bank, and SLV Federal Bank President Bob Foote allowed them to start making the monthly payments on the building, $300 a month.
A couple of days later when the new board was removing boards from the windows of the vacant building and wondering how they were going to fix the broken pipes, a man drove up in a van and asked if he could rent the place
The board members told the man what they were intending to do with the building and that it’s broken pipes must be fixed before anyone moved in. He said it was a plumber from Florida who had just moved to Alamosa with his eight children, and he offered to fix the pipes if he could stay in the house. He had a trunk full of plumbing supplies “That was our first guest,” Chet said.
That was in 1982, making La Puente one of the first rural homeless shelters in the nation. Since then literally, thousands of people have found food and shelter within its walls. Chet is the only remaining board member who still serves on La Puente’s board.
He said next to his 40-year marriage, this is his second-highest level of commitment. Sister Angela served as La Puente’s Home’s, first director. She said she needed $250 month to sustain her, and she could come up with half of that.
“We all committed to $25 a month,” Chet said, “That was the beginning of it.”
Chet was a pragmatist who would ask the obvious question, “How are we going to pay for this?” Sister Angela would respond, “God will provide.”
“She never said it from any pretention. It was always a statement of faith,” Chet said.
“Her comment was if we continue to get community support and it’s something the Lord wants us to be involved in, there will always be the support to be able to continue.”
Sister Angela served as La Puente director for several years.
La Puente’s board members were concerned that running a homeless shelter almost singlehandedly was burning out directors, so when a 29-year-old idealist recently returned from service work in Haiti showed up in June of 1989, they asked him if he would commit to two years. At $5 an hour, they were afraid that’s as long as he would stay.
Lance Cheslock never left. He and his wife raised their three children here, with the youngest just leaving to college.
Under this tenure, La Puente’s services have grown to more than beds and meals for the homeless. La Puente no has Outreach Services providing homeless prevention services such as rental and utility assistance; Adelante Family Resource Center, helping families in need thrive across the SLV; PALS Children’s Program, a licensed day care program for children combatting instability; the Food Bank Network, providing food for families through 15 food pantries spread across the Valley; and more programs.
La Puente has also opened businesses that provide jobs and whose profit support the programs of La Puente. These businesses include Milagros Coffee House, Rainbow’s End Thrift Stores in Alamosa, Monte Vista, and Center; and Hunt Avenue Boutique.
Chet commented Lance for his leadership in these endeavors and his leadership by example through selfless service. One example of Lance’s humility occurred when Lance attended a national homeless coalition gathering in Washington, D.C. While other attendees stayed at a hotel for $380 a night, Lance went to the local homeless shelter where he waited in line for five hours to get in, received one paper towel to dry up after his shower, had to hit the streets by 5 a.m. and suffered a bout with bed bugs.
“It’s remarkable, “Chet said. “You can’t replace someone like that.”
Lance would not see himself that way at all. “ I have always felt like I am more of a witness than a person doing things,” Lance said, “watching the need and watching these miracles happen all the time.
…the shelter rarely buys groceries but always has a meal for its guests, sometimes through some very creative cooking.
…there was no money to pay the staff and board discussed whether it should wait until the end of the month to let everyone go, and someone would come to the shelter and say “I heard about you guys do. I’ve got $1,000. Would that help?”
…a family was moving out of the shelter into their new house and right before lunch asked if they could take some dishes with them, because they didn’t have any, and not 15 minutes later a woman walked into the shelter with a box of items she said was clearing out of her house and wondered if the shelter could use – dishes.
…three weeks ago the garden truck broke down and the next day somebody drove up to the garden to ask what was going on there and within two days brought a new truck for the garden.
“It would happen time after time after time,” Chet said. “Whenever there was a need, that need would be fulfilled.”
He said, “It’s those types of experiences that continue to compel us to be involved.”
Lanced added, “Over and over again the little miracles that patched into that no one can take credit for, it’s just grace upon grace upon grace.” He added that in every budget there is this unwritten line item that’s called grace.
“Over and over again it’s found us.”