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Puerto Rican Club Boosts Community
By Pamela J. Johnson
October 13, 2001
When leukemia sufferer Javier Cruz asked officials at Asociación Borinqueña de la Florida Central for help, he was heartened by their response.
Members of the club, created by the Puerto Rican community in Orlando, eagerly began organizing a bone marrow registration drive for him.
"I thought they might say, 'But you're not from Orlando,' " said Cruz, 40, who was born in Puerto Rico but has lived in Jacksonville most of his adult life. Given 21Ú2 years to live, Cruz said a bone marrow match would save his life.
"It was a blessing they were so willing to help," said the photojournalist now on disability.
Harry Pecunia Jr. said charity fundraisers were the largest function of the little-known club that has thrived in Orlando for 24 years. Pecunia, who joined 23 years ago, is the group's longest-standing member.
The non-profit group became a focal point for local donations sent to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Members collect and distribute toys for underprivileged children during Christmas and Three Kings Day. They raise money to fight cerebral palsy and dispense college scholarships.
"Yes, we have done many things, but when you do something for someone, you don't have to shout it for all to hear," said club President Darío G. González, explaining why the organization has kept a low-profile. "We're humble people."'
The Asociación Borinqueña was founded in 1977 by a group of families who wanted to preserve and teach Puerto Rican traditions. Even the name of the group is rooted in tradition. The Taíno Indian word, Boriquén, is used to describe the people and island of Puerto Rico.
In the 15th century, when Christopher Columbus arrived on the island during his second voyage to the New World, Taíno Indians inhabited Boriquén, which means "the land of the brave lord." Newcomers eventually renamed the island Puerto Rico, but "La Borinqueña" is the official anthem of Puerto Rico.
Club members expect to celebrate the club's silver anniversary in September 2002 in their new headquarters.
Groundbreaking for the 16,000-square-foot building at Econlockhatchee Trail and Colonial Drive took place recently Pecunia said. The club purchased the land for $150,000 and estimates construction costs will be $1 million.
Some of the construction funds were raised when the group sold their old 2,000-square-foot-building on Valencia College Lane at Goldenrod Road for $240,000. The group plans to hold fundraisers and seek loans to cover the remaining costs.
While awaiting their new two-story building, the 120-member group meets at a Pine Hills church. There, they planned their recent 24th anniversary formal dance held at the clubhouse of the Sociedad Cubana in Orlando. Now, they'll turn their attention to Christmas fundraisers and activities, as well as organize the bone marrow drive for Cruz.
González said the presence of the organization in the community educates people about Puerto Ricans, who are the dominant Hispanic population in Central Florida, with a population of 162,555. More than half live in Orange County.
"We want to make sure that Puerto Ricans don't lose their sense of identity, especially those born and raised here,"' González said.
Pecunia said the organization plans to eventually expand to offer programs for senior citizens and single mothers. The new headquarters will give the club a tremendous boost, he said.
"It's been a slow process to develop our potential," Pecunia said. "But we are making an impact."