The Latino Community Association marked Día de los Muertos this year by breaking in a new facility, where its leaders dream of expanding programming far beyond what the organization has seen so far. On Nov. 2, LCA marked the day, also known as Day of the Dead—the early-November celebration that honors peoples' dearly departed—with a community celebration and ribbon cutting at its new 5,700-square-foot empowerment center on Bend's east side. Sugar skulls, altars and brightly colored flags decorated the new facility, which houses a community room, offices, meeting rooms and a kitchen—something lacking in LCA's former homes.
LCA takes over the space on NE Twin Knolls Drive from fellow nonprofit Abilitree, which will continue to occupy some space in the building, said Oscar Gonzalez, empowerment programs manager for LCA. It's "a hundred times bigger" than LCA's most recent space on NE Division Street, he told the Source.
For Gonzalez, opening the new building with a celebration like Día de los Muertos is an exciting new chapter—one in which LCA can expand offerings such as its partnership with Immigration Counseling Service, a Portland area nonprofit law firm offering low-cost immigration legal services. Last December, LCA obtained accreditation from the Oregon Department of Justice, allowing LCA to work with ICS and offer expanded pathways to citizenship for Latinos in Central Oregon, Gonzalez said. He also sees the new building being able to house even more LCA English classes, health supports and computer literacy classes—all activities that have seen changes during the pandemic.
"Having to go from live classes, computer literacy, citizenship prep—it all went virtual," during the pandemic, Gonzalez said. That was a challenge, but it also had its silver lining.
"Before, some people were not comfy with tech—now they're Zooming. So that's one thing."
Still, he said, "There were so many more bad things that happened. Many families—frontline essential workers—had all kinds of issues with the kids. There were high schoolers quitting to support the family income. Younger kids going unsupervised, so 'the slide' was even more so." Outreach and re-engagement of students not yet back in school is an ongoing concern, Gonzalez said.
Moving forward, Gonzalez is certain the new space holds plenty of promise.
"We're going to be able to provide that much more and better service and expand our programming," Gonzalez said.
Other future plans include partnerships or classes from area colleges, murals and artwork on the walls—and ideally, someday, an even bigger Día de los Muertos event that includes other community partners, he said.