Rising from the Ashes
n a clear and a cool evening, a fire coming from the first floor of 54 West Park Avenue destroyed Círculo de la
Hispanidad’s office in Long Beach. The first floor was a newly established business that sold car parts and paints.
Practically everything we had in the office and all our documents from the birth of the organization in 1980 were lost.
The fire happened the night Círculo had a board meeting. Gil had just arrived around 7 pm where he met the Fiscal
Director, Jennie Linares, at the door of the office. What they witnessed was shocking. There were dark black fumes
rising from the doorway and all around the building. They panicked realizing that one of the employees was working
late that evening and she may have been trapped by the fire. Two people, one firefighter and a police officer passing by
helped. They went to the building next door and pulled Círculo’s employee from the alleyway where she had jumped,
saving her life. This was a miracle and everyone was overjoyed. Afterwards they continued to watch the fire consume
the building that had been Círculo’s home for nearly ten years. It was an incredible feeling of helplessness watching
one’s life’s work turn to ashes.
The first electrical typewriter, file cabinets, contracts, files, mementos from our history, furniture and many other
important items to help us function and send monthly claims to our grantors were lost. Gil had his briefcase with
him that included some important papers but almost everything else was ruined. Staff found some items that they
tried to save including papers and photos. Much was damaged from smoke and soot. Pat McCormack’s office at City
Hall was the space that we used to dry pictures and documents we tried to save. Pat allowed us to use his office until
we found a new one in a few months.
There were many moments of frustration, sadness and despair starting back up the organization after twelve years.
Círculo did not have fire insurance at that time and had to start from scratch. By passion and energy we were able
to bring back Círculo. Important to this rebuilding process was a person from United Way’s Board of Directors.
This person sent us a significant donation that helped us to move forward easily. This was vital to the agency and Gil
Bernardino is forever grateful to her for her generosity that helped rebuild the agency. After the fire, Círculo moved
its office a few doors down to 62 West Park Avenue and began the challenging task of reestablishing programs and
the infrastructure of the organization.
We started the soccer program in Long Beach in 1993. There were many children coming to the youth programs that
wanted to participate in soccer. We created the Long Beach Soccer Club for children that wanted to play travel and
intramural soccer. We had children participating from all ages and began to play as a club in The Long Island Junior
Soccer League. Before creating the Club, Gil used to take his two sons and other boys from Long Beach to play in
the Hewlett Soccer Club for some years.
Around this time we also started the Food Pantry with a grant from Long Island Cares and the Harry Chapin Food
Bank. We used a small closet in our Long Beach office to store canned goods which we distributed to individuals in
need. We continue to operate this program weekly out of our Long Beach office. Food pantry day has always been
a collaborative effort with staff from all program offices including our fiscal office helping to organize the food from
delivery to distribution. We do it as volunteers as there is no grant to implement this program and pay for staff that
operate it. We are grateful to Long Island Cares for this opportunity to help feed our community’s hungry individuals
Círculo obtained a legislative grant in the amount of $1,500,000 in 1993 that was approved for the 1994 fiscal year.
This was supported by Senator Dean Skelos. The purpose of the grant was to provide seed money to purchase a
building where Círculo could operate programs for the community. The original concept for the Center is not what
we know it to be today, but at this time, we wanted to purchase a building and renovate it to serve as a place where
community programs could operate. Although this was approved in the 1993 legislative session for the 1994 fiscal
year, Círculo could not access the funds. A contract could not be written on time because purchasing a building and
acquiring the necessary permits required time. Without a completed contract before the next legislative session, funds
could not be dispersed to Círculo.
Funding was allocated once again to Círculo in the 1994-1995 budget. Again, Senator Dean Skelos supported this
legislative effort. However, as in 1993, funds could not get allocated in the form of a contract. In addition, that fall
the governorship changed with the election of George Pataki. All monies allocated to contracts that were still pending
signature could not move forward. Círculo’s funding was in this category. Once again, we lost the ability to access