NEW YORK - 39 years ago, Gil Bernardino founded Circulo de la Hispanidad, a nonprofit social service organization. It was a dream he had for years after moving to the United States.
"I’m a person that believes in social justice, and there for I left teaching and started the organization," said Bernardino.
Bernardino left Spain in 1974 and moved to Long Beach, Long Island. He had been a teacher, but when he arrived in New York he didn’t know English and had to learn it. He also went back to college and finished his teaching degree.
He taught in Long Beach and Brooklyn, but it was in Long Beach where he noticed Hispanic students were dropping out of school. He left his teaching career and pension behind to dedicate his life to helping others.
"I thought something was wrong so I discovered racism, discrimination, all these problems the Hispanic community faced. I didn’t like it," Bernardino says.
Frustrated with the lack of help and services for the Hispanic community Circulo de la Hispanidad was born.
It started with one program, three employees and a $65,000 grant from the Nassau County Youth Board. Today, the organization has more than 20 programs, and more than 20 employees, serving about 5,000 individuals in Nassau County.
Programs range from English as a Second Language and citizenship classes, to housing and food assistance. There are also programs dealing with domestic violence and HIV/ADIS and after school programs for children.
In 2009, he co-founded the Evergreen Charter School in Hempstead, which now has 600 students K-8th Grades. Bernardino expects to expand next fall adding 9th grade students.
On Saturday, Circulo de la Hispanidad will host its annual Hispanic heritage festival. It will be at the community center starting at 1 p.m. This year’s theme: Everything Cuba, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.