Nonprofits step in as the trusted messengers for communities left behind

Make the Road Nevada FB video
Make the Road Nevada organizer Jose Macios during a recent Facebook Live video. The nonprofit group has been using the platform to share information with members and supporters.

When Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak told all non-essential businesses to shut down in an ongoing effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 through extreme social distancing, business owners across the valley scrambled to figure out whether they could stay open. For many small businesses on the east side, the hunt for credible information was especially stressful because the guidelines released by the state weren’t available in Spanish.

So people turned to Make the Road Nevada.

The nonprofit organization, like so many others across the state, has stepped up to the challenges created by the pandemic. From enormous undertakings such as the food distribution efforts spearheaded by organizations like Three Square and Catholic Charities, to person-to-person digital check-ins held on social media to keep people’s spirits up, nonprofits are providing immediate relief for a struggling community — and they’re hoping they will be part of the long-term recovery efforts.

Make the Road Nevada staff translated the state’s explanation of essential and non-essential businesses from English into Spanish. Just as they’d translated previous orders from and announcements related to the new coronavirus. Just as they continue to do to this day.

“As the governor puts things out, as elected officials put things out, they’re not in Spanish or other languages when the news goes out,” says LaLo Montoya, political director at Make the Road Nevada. “Any breaking news. Any important guidance. We’ve had to translate everything.”

Once the translation was done, they didn’t just passively make the information available. The nonprofit’s business organizer called various businesses and people in their network to make sure they understood the guidelines and the consequences for not following them. They helped restaurants launch delivery options that would keep them from shutting down completely.

Montoya says Make the Road’s approach to helping during the pandemic has been to listen to the people they’ve organized with and advocated for for years.

“We called through our list of supporters and members. We used Google forms and surveys to ask critical questions about what they need. … We’re reaching out to make sure they know we’re here.”

Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) has begun holding “weekly wellness checks” online on Fridays to allow people to connect with one another while practicing optimal social distancing at home. According to Executive Director Laura Martin, a COVID-19 patient participated in the first of these group wellness checks and was able to share their firsthand experience with the disease.

Both Make the Road and PLAN put together resource guides for people affected by the new coronavirus, and in them they made sure to elaborate on which community resources were accessible to undocumented immigrants and DACA recipients.

Similarly, Chispa Nevada — a League of Conservation Voters program focused on Latinx communities and climate justice — has used their platform to share resources their members and supporters need right now. That’s included everything from how to access food assistance programs to online resources for educating your children while school is shut down.

Chispa’s Rudy Zamora says the people most affected by climate issues are also the ones on the frontlines of society right now: “Communities of color. Low income workers. What we’re calling ‘essential workers.’ These are the communities we see day to day.”

Seeing information from people and organizations with credibility goes a long way, the community organizers agree. And all hope that, once the public health threat has been quelled and the economic bloodletting ceases, that their nonprofit groups can be part of the larger conversation of how Nevada can make itself better prepared for future crises. (After all, many of them have been advocating for stronger social safety net programs for years.)

Montoya says a recovery effort spearheaded only by corporate CEOS would be counterproductive and ultimately leave many Nevadans behind.

“We need trusted messengers,” said Montoya. “What I see now is: nonprofits are the trusted messengers. The state needs to uplift that and use that capacity that we’ve been building because we are on the ground every day talking to people. Hopefully that will get done.”

April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. April currently serves on the board of the Society of Professional Journalists Las Vegas pro chapter. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, two children and three mutts.