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El Sentinel

Puerto Rican Professional Group To Start Local Chapter

By Walter Pacheco | El Sentinel

November 23, 2002
Copyright © 2002 El Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

One of the largest Puerto Rican organizations in Florida plans to launch a Central Florida chapter before year's end.

The Puerto Rican Professional Association of South Florida (PROFESA) is set to start recruiting members for its Central Florida chapter by late December.

Local Puerto Rican activists and professionals said PROFESA would raise the bar within Central Florida's Puerto Rican professional community and promote a sense of unity.

"Our goal is to unite all Puerto Rican professionals so we can share ideas to further develop our community into a more professional and diverse place," said José Fernández, a Puerto Rican community activist and lawyer.

Fernández and a group of more than 15 professionals comprise the steering committee in charge of completing the rules and regulations before they are approved by the South Florida headquarters.

Their task: create a network of Puerto Rican professionals using cultural and political awareness.

"We are not about the parties and social gatherings. We are about developing our community and bringing something useful to orient professionals," said Greisha Sievens-Irizarry, a farm loan officer with the United States Department of Agriculture, in Tavares.

PROFESA was established in South Florida in 1999 and has nurtured a network of more than 2,000 Puerto Rican professionals in Florida.

The organization has taken on several causes to help the South Florida Puerto Rican community. PROFESA's 2000 golf tournament raised $1,000, which was donated to the Puerto Ricans for Community Service Fund and the Open Door Health Clinic, in Homestead, which offers medical services to uninsured and impoverished people.

PROFESA also partnered with Aspira, a program that helps close to 3,000 at-risk teenagers by promoting leadership skills and high school graduation.

Raúl Duany, PROFESA's founder and chairman, said that Central Florida's growing Puerto Rican population, which totals more than 162,000 and is more than half the Hispanic population in the region, was the reason for establishing the organization's first chapter outside of South Florida.

"Puerto Rican professionals in Central Florida say there is a void of professional organizations, and I believe the desire to fill that void is a measure of how well it will succeed," Duany said.

The Central Florida chapter will serve as a model for future chapters across the U.S., according to Duany.

Pedro Vázquez, a Puerto Rican accountant at the Peabody Hotel off International Drive, has lived in Orlando since 1986 and said that despite other organizations, like the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce that caters to entrepreneurs, no other group deals directly with Puerto Rican professionals.

"Now Puerto Rican professionals can establish the status they deserve in Central Florida. It brings credibility to professionals," Vázquez said.

But despite PROFESA's interest in uniting the community, other Puerto Rican groups said PROFESA might have the opposite effect.

"We already have the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida, la Asociación Borinqueña, and other groups. Why not join the Chamber of Commerce? It will only cause division. It's not necessary," said Raúl Ramos, the president of the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce.

As part of its organization efforts, PROFESA will hold a meeting at 10 a.m. Dec. 14 at the Orlando Public Library, 101 E. Central Blvd. For information, call 407-858-9539.

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