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La Fuerza Unida: 25 Years And Time To Celebrate


November 9, 2003
Copyright ©2003
Newsday. All rights reserved.

Since La Fuerza Unida began 25 years ago to assist Hispanic and poor people in Glen Cove, Pascual Blanco has measured its success by the thousands of lives the nonprofit has touched.

Such as the young girl from the Dominican Republic, who was tutored by a volunteer at the agency, went on to study education in college and returned to head up its tutorial program.

Or the few men from El Salvador, who started out on the street trying to hustle a day's pay for a day's work, learned a trade and started their own small landscaping companies.

"Those are the byproducts of our effort," said Blanco, who in 1978 helped start La Fuerza Unida, which in English means "the united force."

"We look at the potential and positive things that a newcomer brings in order to build their skills, which in turn will be beneficial to our society here," Blanco, 61, said.

La Fuerza Unida will mark its 25th anniversary with a gala Thursday night at Chateau Briand in Carle Place. A portion of the proceeds from the event will help establish a scholarship in the name of co-founder Teodoro Pérez.

Blanco, who has lived in Glen Cove since coming to the United States in 1961 from Puerto Rico, was one of a group of concerned residents who started the organization to help Hispanic and low- and moderate-income people.

They started organizing in his home, applied for nonprofit status, "and then we began to knock on doors of funders," Blanco said.

They spent their first $2,000 donation from a Catholic foundation in part on a used typewriter. "We used to spend a lot of hours ... writing grant proposals," he said. "We were then able to get our first grant for operations and programs from Nassau County Youth Board."

The nonprofit opened its first office at 14 Glen St. in 1981 under the name La Fuerza Unida de Glen Cove. In 1995, it was renamed La Fuerza Unida Inc. when the agency expanded its reach to all of Long Island and Queens.

It has grown, and now offers programs that target neighborhood preservation, economic and community development, immigration and citizenship and education, among others.

El Salvador native Amilcar Valle, 19, works as a waiter and is perfecting his English in the agency's adult education program. "It's beautiful really," he said. "I'm learning a lot. I can feel it when I talk outside, at work. I know I can use now different words. "

In 1994, La Fuerza Unida opened a hiring center in response to complaints that immigrant day laborers were creating a nuisance by gathering on streets and contributing to overcrowded housing. The center, which began in a trailer on city land, moved to a renovated shop on Sea Cliff Avenue. It is run by a bilingual coordinator who acts as a liaison between the workers and the contractors, and English instruction and other programs are provided.

Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, who first worked as a pro bono lawyer for the group and supported its hiring center as Glen Cove mayor, will be among honorees at the gala.

"I think [Blanco and La Fuerza] have really touched a lot of people's lives ... and have made a lot of people's lives better," Suozzi said.

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