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The organization hopes to keep Chicas program students engaged during the coronavirus pandemic.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Adelante Mujeres, an organization helping empower Latinas in society, runs a Chicas program that works with more than 700 Latina students in Washington County. The program works to encourage and empower young girls in the community to lead healthy and successful lives.

This summer, while parents, students and educators scrambled to figure out how to manage distance-based learning, a nonprofit in Forest Grove has been helping Latino families and students navigate the coronavirus pandemic.

Adelante Mujeres, an organization helping empower Latinas in society, runs a program called Chicas that works with more than 700 Latina students in Washington County. The program serves the Forest Grove, Hillsboro and Beaverton school districts.

As for programming, students have access to sessions about leadership, healthy lifestyles and community service or activism. The organization says the program was available in 26 sites last year.

Chicas program coordinator Areceli Méndez says attendance was impacted towards the end of year because participants lacked a device to connect with the program online. Méndez hopes to have about 20 students participate per site again this year.

There will also be seven full-time facilitators to assist students involved in the program. Méndez says participants and facilitators will continue to meet once a week for an hour to 90 minutes using Zoom or Google Classroom, depending on what schools are using.

"We've also been fortunate enough to get school district emails to ease the communications between participants and facilitators," she added.

The organization is also focusing on mental health inside of its programming due to the limited opportunities for students to socialize.

"We realized that as long as we were getting our participants to log on to our sessions, that was a good sign," Méndez said. "We're focusing on how they are feeling and how they are dealing with all of this. It's important for our facilitators who lead these sessions to focus on keeping them engaged or offering sessions if they want to chat."

She added, "Building that community and making it consistent for the girls who need that space, whether it was just an hour or 30 minutes, they knew we were there for them."

PMG FILE PHOTO - Girls in the Chicas program participate in a summer STEM camp last year. The program provides educational opportunities for students across Washington County.

After speaking with students and their families, Méndez realized there was a serious need for devices to get students connected to the internet. The program coordinator then contacted districts to get more students in the Chicas program devices and hot spots.

"I know that school districts have worked very hard to deliver (WiFi) hotspots and laptops to students," Méndez said. "So, just kind of reminding them that there are minority communities that might not have access to these things is how we kind of started working even more with the school districts."

Eleven-year-old Maydelyn Jimenez says she's thankful for the program's facilitators for checking up on her when times are tough.

"(I'm) kind of worried," Jimenez said. "I know it is safe to not see each other, but it's still scary. It is sad I won't be seeing all my friends for a while. I just focus on my schoolwork, wash my hands and hang out in the backyard."

Jimenez is also worried someone she cares about will contract COVID-19. The Hispanic and Latino population has been hit especially hard during the COVID-19 crisis due working essential jobs and on-going health disparities.

Back in April, Washington County officials released data indicating that nearly half of the people who tested positive at that time in the county identified as Hispanic. The county's overall Hispanic population is 16.5%.

"Every time that (my parents) go to the grocery store, they take their hand sanitizer and wash all the fruit they buy," said Jimenez. "It is scary how much more careful we have to be. We always wash our fruit but now we must wash and disinfect everything before we put it away."

Whether it be students or parents, Adelante Mujeres wants to keep them connected — even if it's virtually.

"The toughest part is making sure our families are aware of what programming is going to change or has changed," said Méndez.

She added that reaching parents is always something Adelante Mujeres strives to do, but a lot of parents have lost jobs and have other issues to worry about during this time.

"We're making sure our families are OK as well, so they can have what they need," Méndez said. "Whether it be food or a hotspot, we want to be available for them."

Funding for Pamplin Media Group's reporting on the impact of distance-learning on Oregon's Latino students comes, in part, from the Google News Initiative.

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