Handsome, happy eight year old boy smiling in wheelchairFamilies of children with special needs often struggle to find the assistance and care that they need to make their child, and themselves, comfortable. For many Latino families in America, especially those whose extended families are still in their native countries, finding help proves to be an even larger struggle.

Maria Mendoza, a Sunnyvale resident, has two sons: Abdiel, 19, who has an autism spectrum disorder, and Abner, 8, who is in a special needs class.

For nearly 40 years, Fiesta Educativa, a Calfornia-based non-profit organization has helped people like Mendoza by advocating for Latino and Spanish-speaking families and providing them with the resources that they need.

“It’s important because there are many parents who don’t know what to do with their children,” said Mendoza. “And many of them perhaps are discriminated against or don’t have sufficient help in schools or in the community. We need to learn to defend ourselves in these situations.”

Fiesta Educativa hosts an annual conference every year to foster a safe environment for these families to talk about their unique, yet similar, family and cultural experiences.

This year marked the organization’s 16th annual conference, which took place on Saturday, Sept. 24 at the Mayfair Community Center. Of the approximate 250 people in attendance, most were parents of children with learning, developmental, and/or health-related disabilities, which inhibit the child’s educational experience.

The conference took place all day, and was conducted in Spanish, as English in not the native tongue of the majority of attendees. The events that took place included workshops on mental health, Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, education laws, bullying, immigration issues, and treatment options, like Applied Behavior Analysis, which is often used to develop communication and life skills in children ages zero to 18 who have varying developmental disabilities.

Ana and Jose Fernandez, who are originally from Mexico, discovered the organization a couple years ago when they were seeking help for their son, Jonathan, who has a learning disability as well as sleep apnea, which often made him late to school.

“It’s been hard because we don’t have outside support and oftentimes we don’t know which door to knock on to get help,” Jose Fernandez said. “That’s what held us back for a long time.”

But now, the Fernandez family, as well as hundreds of others, are able to access the health resources they need, without halt.

Fiesta Educativa is based in Los Angeles, but offers assistance to Latino families throughout California. For more information, visit fiestaeducativa.org.