More than 100 community members tuned in for the first-ever virtual ¡Conéctate! gathering hosted by Eastern Oregon University on May 1. Due to the event being virtual, attendees from Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, Washington and more were able to access this resource. Now in its fourth year, ¡Conéctate! is an annual one-day conference designed to create a support system for Latinx-serving organizations and their communities in rural Oregon and address specialized needs. The gathering also provides a space for nonprofits, state agencies, advocates and philanthropic organizations to connect and build community through sharing stories of personal experiences. EOU’s Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion played a significant role in organizing this year’s one-of-a-kind virtual event.

The day began with four Latinx speakers, including an EOU alumnus and a current student, sharing their life stories. Many have discovered the importance of identity and community. Director of the Blue Mountain Community College Student Success Center Roman Olivera took advantage of a Zoom background to symbolize his life story. Not only do the gates represent how he feels confined during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they also represent where he would have ended up if he continued to live his life the way he did when he was younger. Storytellers saw value in being vulnerable and sharing even the sensitive parts of their stories. “Connecting with people and telling your story might help the next person,” Olivera said. “If we don’t tell our story, who will?” Attendees were surprised and thankful for the virtual experience. EOU Director of Career Services Justin Chin expressed his thankfulness for an opportunity to foster community during this time and hold a safe space to discuss the needs of the Latinx community. “The narratives of the panelists reveal threads of vulnerability, hope and community,” Chin said. During a short creativity break provided by the Pendleton Center for the Arts, attendees learned how to make Mother’s Day pop-up cards. The second half of the event was dedicated to discussing the needs of Latinx communities and identifying where community members could access resources.

During a work session with Executive Director of the Oregon Latino Health Coalition Olivia Quiroz and Program Coordinator Natalie Bonilla, participants identified housing and food insecurity as significant issues within Latinx communities. A poll taken during the event revealed that most attendees were concerned about employment and healthcare access for the Latinx community. Additionally, 56% of attendees did not know where they could get tested for COVID-19. Quiroz and Bonilla’s data from the Oregon Latino Health Coalition breaks down how the Latinx community is at higher risk during the COVID-19 pandemic health crisis. “Frontline workers of industries in food, retail, hospitality and healthcare are largely made up of the Latinx community,” Bonilla said. “Only 16% of this population has the ability to work from home.” With support from the Oregon Community Foundation Latino Partnership Program and the Oregon Latino Health Coalition, attendees received a variety of resources to help them navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. The event also inspired Maurizio Valerio of the Ford Family Foundation to support a “Cafecito por la mañana” or “morning coffee” session where community members can convene on a smaller scale to continue these conversations and discuss the support needed for Latinx communities.

¡Conéctate! is sponsored by the Oregon Community Foundation’s Latino Partnership Program, the Ford Family Foundation, Energy Trust of Oregon, Euvalcree, Eastern Oregon University, Blue Mountain Community College and Treasure Valley Community College. EOU’s Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion and the ¡Conéctate! Planning Committee are actively engaging with students and community members to provide support and resources during the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information, visit eou.edu/mc/conectate-2020.

Written by PR Intern Briana Rosenkranz.