SAN ANTONIO – In April 2020, David Laidecker-Luna, president of Fiesta Youth, told KSAT his organization was only operating virtually and all fundraising events had to be postponed.
“As soon as everything shut down, we shut down and immediately went virtual. We met virtually and we have been meeting virtually for over a year now on every Tuesday night,” he said.
Fast forward 14 months, Laidecker and his staff are not only back on track but grateful for the way they were forced to pivot throughout the pandemic.
“I don’t think the world is going to be the same. In some ways, that’s going to be a challenging thing and in some ways it was also a good thing for us,” said Gideon Del Rio, a youth facilitator with Fiesta Youth.
Since the group began hosting meetings on Zoom, they’ve been able to reach people they never would’ve been able to connect with otherwise.
“We’re reaching youths that may not have permission to be here, who aren’t out to anybody, who are joining us, sitting in their closets, on their phone secretly just so they can connect with other LGBT people,” Del Rio said.
Fiesta Youth has also connected with people across the world, in places like Tokyo and London.
Fiesta Youth brought back in-person meetings with a Star Wars-themed meeting on May 4. Although the virtual aspect isn’t going anywhere, Del Rio said there is nothing quite like getting to see these kids face-to-face.
“Here they can chat among themselves just with their peers and a peer-to-peer group. They can spend more time with the volunteers. We have volunteers of many different genders, many different sexualities who have a lot of knowledge and experience to impart about what it’s like to grow up and be LGBT,” Del Rio explained.
The kids and volunteers got another sense of normalcy when they were finally able to put on their biggest fundraising event of the year, a masquerade ball during Fiesta. There is food, music, entertainment but most importantly a presentation of scholarship money to seven teens who regularly attend Fiesta Youth. This year they were able to give out a record amount of scholarship money -- $13,000.
“That’s something we did not plan but it happened because of our community coming together for Fiesta Youth and being able to see what we actually can do for the youth of this community if we just support each other,” Laidacker said.
The newest and largest contribution was a scholarship from the Hector Bove Foundation, created in honor of an active LGBTQ+ community member and advocate who died by suicide in July 2020. Laidacker said Bove’s family gave $2,500 to one applicant but also decided to give an extra $500 to each scholarship recipient.
“They said, ‘you know what, since this is the first year. We had a crazy year. I think Hector would have wanted us to do a little bit more,’” he said.
With that event in the books, the organization is now looking forward to a calendar year full of events to make up for lost time. To keep up with Fiesta Youth happenings visit their website.