The Kiwanis Club of Little Havana, a staple in South Florida’s Hispanic community, on Wednesday celebrated its 40th anniversary.
Kiwanis has been dedicated to making a difference in the lives of the less fortunate every year, according to the club’s current and incoming presidents.
“The effect on the community is amazing,” said Jerry Fernandez, who becomes president in October. “The benefit is no matter what you give, you always get more in return. Everyone here enjoys the experience of giving more than anything else. We’re guys from this community. We want these people to have the contact to give them a leg up. Sometimes, it’s hard for people and we are here to lend a hand and try to help.”
Founded in 1975, Kiwanis began as a group of 25 young men who wanted to help the community during the influx of Hispanics to Miami. The club now has 170 members and coordinates many community services and fundraiser events. Kiwanis has helped more than a million families combined.
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Services provided include educational projects and a scholarship program; health projects such as the Youth Basketball League, which has been running for 39 years and is coached by club members; and community goodwill projects that include the distribution of 5,000 toys during the holidays. The fundraising events include Calle Ocho and Carnaval on the Mile.
Fernandez has been involved for 14 years. “We’re really going to incorporate the 40th anniversary into everything we’re doing this year,” he said. “We start on Oct. 2 with a gala and all our events are going to have the 40th anniversary theme.”
As the president, Fernandez will listen to the new ideas and projects, and figure out what the the focus of the club should be. Fernandez said he is going to be the guy to “steer the ship.”
Every club member is a volunteer. Tony Lorenzo, Kiwanis president for the past two years, has a job, four children and is a soccer coach.
“We make the time. We see the real difference we make in the kids and their emotions and smiles,” Lorenzo said. “That’s what keeps us going.”
The incoming president lauds Lorenzo. “He has been a great leader that everyone looks up to. The club is stronger now more than ever.”
Fernandez said community members often thank Kiwanis for helping them go to school.
“What keeps us together is our passion for the community,” Lorenzo said. “We have parents thanking us and we see the difference in the kids.”
The club’s largest events are going to be even larger this year. Calle Ocho began as a small block party called Open House 8. It is now a huge party that consists of 20 or more blocks. All proceeds from each event goes back to the community. For the 40th anniversary, the club is going to bring back former kings and queens to perform on stage and headline Calle Ocho.
Kiwanis is going to be a stronger force and fixture in Little Havana moving forward.
“The club is in a strong position right now. The future is looking extremely bright. We have a lot of big plans,” Fernandez said. “Our major events are looking as strong as ever. The club is in a great position to thrive.”