Sterling pastor Edwin Andrade knows what it is like to be away from home for the holidays.
Andrade, born in Guatemala, recently moved from Los Angeles, Calif., to Sterling, to help start Nueva Rivera, Loudoun County's first Hispanic Presbyterian Church and with an affiliation to Riverside Presbyterian Church in Sterling.
Latin Americans celebrate Christmas a little bit differently than most Americans, Andrade said. It is common for Latin Americans to host large festivals during the Christmas season.
Riverside Presbyterian Church hosted "Navidad en el Barrio," or Christmas in the Neighborhood, at Potomac Falls High School Sunday.
"We are trying to bring the Hispanic community in Loudoun County together for the holidays," he said.
Riverside Presbyterian Church pastor Brian Clark and church members helped Andrade transform the Sterling school’s halls into an international holiday festival complete with a live nativity scene, carnival games and a petting zoo.
Clark said he hopes the event helps Latin American families establish roots with other families in the area.
"The Latin American community is very much a part of Loudoun County," he said. "We want these first generation families to establish friendships here and keep connections. We want them to feel connected to the community."
MERCEDES PEREZ moved from her home in Colombia to be closer to her daughter, Maria, who lives in Cascades. Both women are active members of the Riverside Presbyterian Church.
Maria Perez said she has a hard time finding events, like "Navidad en el Barrio," in the area.
"All of the good stuff happens in Maryland," she said. "I am happy, and honored, to be a part of something like this right here in Loudoun County."
Mercedes Perez said events like these help the Latin people relate to their culture.
"Especially the kids," she said. "They can learn so much from each other."
With more than 22 Latin American countries represented in Loudoun County, Andrade said the night celebrated Latin America as a whole.
"We all have so much in common," he said.
RIVERSIDE PRESBYTERIAN Church members like Mike Fries attended the festival to show their support for the Hispanic community.
"The population is becoming more and more diverse, but it seems as though the Latin American population is overlooked and forgotten," Fries said. "We want to reach out to them, let them know we are here for them as a community."
Fries said his church has put a lot of effort into the Nueva Rivera project.
For example, both churches help support day laborers in Loudoun and Herndon by offering them free lunch on Wednesdays.
Fries said events like these are important to show the Hispanic population they have a place to turn to no matter your socioeconomic status.
Amy Bessener, 15, and Tara Thompson, 16, volunteered to run the ring toss and "Pin the Tail on the Bull" Sunday night.
The Potomac Falls High School sophomores are active members of Riverside Presbyterian Church.
When Andrade asked the girls to volunteer on Sunday night, they saw it as an opportunity to interact with the Latin American families in the church and the county.
"I got to use some of the Spanish I learned in school," Thompson said. "I was using words like ‘gracias’ and 'de nada.’ I learned the word for ball."
Andrade said he hopes the event helps to bridge the Hispanic community to the rest of the county.
He hopes the festival will continue to grow year after year.
"This is a global neighborhood," he said.