Portland, OR. The Latino Network is gearing up for its big annual gala, Noche Bella (Beautiful Night), which is set to take place on Sept. 25th at 7:00 p.m. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the event will be held virtually. The picture seen above was taken at an event prior to the pandemic. 

“We’re really excited to virtualize everything,” said Latino Network Communication Manager Martina Bialek. “We have an auction, and our auction items are coming through, and we’re just really trying to get people excited to attend, whether it is from the comfort of their homes or elsewhere.” 

Normally, the event draws around 600 people and raises approximately $400,000 for the organization to fund programs, operations and administrative work, according to Bialek. 

The pandemic has forced the Latino Network to alter many of its regular operations; however, the organization has been busy offering as much support as possible to the communities it serves. Everything shifted to virtual operations on March 13th, and since then, school coordinators have found innovative ways to continue to offer the education and support that the organization regularly provides to students and families. 

“We’re basically an education focused non-profit, so, just from the sense of our programming, we’ve had to absolutely change everything, from the way that we interact with our students to how we show up for families who are in need right now,” Bialek said. 

Latino Network program participants at a pre-pandemic event

One innovative way the organization has adapted its communications is through Facebook groups. “We created Facebook groups and invited parents and started doing Facebook Live nighttime reading for students,” Bialek said. 

In terms of community assistance, the Latino Network has been working on the Covid-19 Response Team, which provides economic assistance to families, and also helps get them on the referral list for the Oregon Worker Relief Fund. 

Through this program, the Latino Network has been able to help families cover their basic needs, such as food, utilities and rent. 

Latino Network staff and program participants hosting standing food drive

“It has been a little challenging because we’ve reached the $10 million mark through the Oregon Worker Relief Fund, and we’re waiting for the second installment to come, which means that through that window, we’re not getting any new applications,” Bialek said. 

Until the Latino Network is able to secure the additional funds from the state, the organization is keeping busy connecting families to any type of utility assistance they can get based on their circumstances. 

“Being a nonprofit, it’s like we’re pulling money from all of our unrestricted funds, and all of our fundraising money, and we’re just putting it all towards helping the families,” Bialek said. “But we’ve reached a point where that’s just not a possibility at this point. So we’re getting other utilities involved and we’re really making sure that they can offer any type of assistance that they can to our families.” 

Bialek applauded the work of the staff at the Latino Network through this time, saying, “They’ve just been going above and beyond to really put families at the forefront of everything.” 

Throughout the pandemic, the Latino Network has also had many opportunities to work with other organizations: “Being able to work with other like minded community based organizations has been wonderful because we’ve been able to really tagteam all of our needs, and we were able to really expand on them,” Bialek said. “For example, we’ve been working really closely with the ACLU of Oregon, and we’ve really been able to create a partnership that is definitely going to last for years to come.” 

Bialek said that those interested in supporting the Latino Network can make a donation or elevate the work being done by the organization. 

“I feel like there is a big wave of change in the country, and the fact that our Black hermanos and hermanas are able to elevate their needs and are able to fight for what they need is wonderful,” Bialek said. 

“We’re no strangers to police brutality either, we’re no strangers to racial targeting, we’re no strangers to discrimination or racism, and on top of that we have a pandemic that has completely devastated our community in ways that we’re only scratching the surface of right now. So any visibility we can get, any support we can get helps, whether it’s economic or just sharing something on Twitter—just making sure that our struggle is seen and heard.”

About the Latino Network: 

Latino Network was founded in 1996 by community leaders who grew concerned about the lack of adequate resources to meet the needs of the growing Latino community. Since that time, we have evolved to become an organization that also encompasses transformational programs aimed at educating and empowering Multnomah County Latinos. Low achievement scores, youth violence and high drop out rates undermine the Latino community’s potential. We address these issues by promoting early literacy, encouraging parent involvement, working with gang-involved and adjudicated youth and families, and providing academic support and activities to high school aged youth. We also build leadership capacity for youth and adults.