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Springfield Union-News

Isla Del Encanto Focuses On Culture Of Puerto Rico


January 16, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Springfield Union-News. All rights reserved. 

Used by Factiva with Permission.

Isla del Encanto recently brought the joy of a traditional Three Kings Day celebration to the Shriners Hospital for Children.

The activity was meticulously planned by the organization, complete with a program written in English and Spanish detailing how the religious holiday is celebrated in Puerto Rico and an appearance by the Three Kings.

Isla del Encanto's president, Bernie Baez of Springfield, was pleased with how the activity turned out.

Since its inception three years ago, the organization, whose name translates to Island of Enchantment, brings gifts to the in-patients at Shriners Hospital for Three Kings Day.

The activity, along with a pageant for local girls aged 15 to 21, is one of the major events Isla organizes throughout the year.

The fledgling organization works with youth to promote Puerto Rican tradition and culture.

"We saw the necessity to work with our youth and create a sense of responsibility in them," Baez said.

Rather than take on many activities, the organization would rather take on few projects for now, pay close attention to detail, and carry them out the best way possible, Baez said.

Isla's thoughts and energy now turn to its annual Seorita Isla del Encanto pageant, to be held Aug. 18 at the Springfield Marriott.

The pageant is for Springfield residents who are single and in school or working.

The organization works with contestants to prepare them for the pageant night, which showcases their poise, personality and artistic talents.

"It is not a beauty pageant, it is more about spreading your culture and how familiar you are with it. They must be role models for other girls," Baez said.

Isla holds the pageant at the Marriott "because we want to give the girls an elegant place to show off their talents," Baez said.

All the contestants receive gifts and prizes. The pageant's queen will receive cash, a trip to Puerto Rico, a tiara and other gifts.

Jennifer M. Rodriguez of Springfield was crowned pageant queen last August. While she has not yet scheduled her trip to Puerto Rico, she said she is looking forward to going.

Isla currently has a nine-member board of directors and many volunteers that Baez relies on.

Its activities and pageant are funded through sponsorships and donations.

Baez and others formed the organization after the Puerto Rican Heritage Association dissolved three years ago.

The association had sponsored the annual parade in Springfield, the Miss Puerto Rican Heritage Pageant, a flag raising at City Hall every November and the Three Kings Day event at the Shriners Hospital for Children.

Since the association did not have nonprofit status , its then president, Gumersindo Gomez, wanted to terminate the group and bring its activities under the umbrella of the Puerto Rican Veterans Association of Massachusetts, which he heads.

"We could not apply for grants, and we were at the mercy of the public. It was under those terms that it dissolved," Gomez said.

The veterans association has since sponsored the flag-raising ceremony, the Springfield Puerto Rican Day parade, and the parade's annual pageant.

Gomez thinks it is great that Baez's group has continued the Three Kings Day celebration at the Shriners Hospital, he said.

In the future, Baez would like to designate a day in which Isla del Encanto brings music and gifts to the elderly.

"It is my hope that everything we do is done the best way possible not just for the organization but for the community," Baez said.

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