NEWINGTON - The local Portuguese-American community is rallying around its cultural home base following a devastating fire, and calling upon others to lend a hand.
A blaze tore through the Portuguese Club of Hartford on Dec. 23, spurring a movement to rebuild the North Mountain Road facility.
Harnessing the power of online crowd funding, the club has given focus to an outpouring of support it’s received. Donations can be made at gofundme.com/portugueseclubofhartford. Those who can contribute time and labor are also encouraged to reach out to the club.
“We’ve had an overwhelming response,” said Alex Lopes, public relations chairman. “We’ve gotten calls and emails from across the United States.”
The Portuguese Club of Hartford has served as a beacon for the Portuguese-American community since it was founded almost a century ago. Its first facility on Babcock Street in Hartford was a haven for immigrants arriving in the U.S., like other international clubs of its time. The clubhouse moved to Newington in the 1970s and underwent several renovations.
“The building is just a building,” pointed out Dan Reis, fundraising chairman. “The generation before us worked hard to build this for us and uphold the values and cultural significance it represents. Now it’s our turn to pay it forward to the next generation.”
The club has yet to settle its insurance claim and the extent of the fire damage has not been determined. Members are hoping to rebuild on the same property, but only time will tell. Right now the fundraising goal is $250,000.
“We see that as a fluid goal,” Reis said. “Our GoFundMe page is not meant to be our sole source of fundraising. It’s also not meant to be the method in which we’re going to rebuild the facility. It’s basically going to cover the difference between the insurance we receive and what the replacement cost is.”
Fundraising activities will include several dinner-dance events in early spring. Specific dates have not been confirmed, but the club will be updating supporters via Facebook.com/HartfordPortugueseClub.
“Right now we’re just taking one thing at a time, trying to get organized,” Lopes said.
The facility was home base for several organizations, including the Portuguese Folkloric Dance & Music Group of Hartford. It was essentially founded by the club 45 years ago and both groups share mutual members to this day.
The Portuguese Soccer Team of Hartford also called the club home. Players gathered there before and after games.
“We’re meeting with these groups’ leaders and captains to see how we can continue the season,” Lopes said.
Several others across the region have reached out in goodwill, offering to host club meetings inside their buildings.
Right now the board of directors is meeting weekly at Our Lady of Fatima, a Portuguese church in Hartford.
It’s too early to present a construction timeline. Reservations for 2018 parties have been canceled and deposits returned. Right now, members are just trying to move forward.
“It’s all hands on deck here,” Reis said. “My ultimate goal is to build something I can pass on to my kids and my grandkids, that represents our cultural values and bridges the gap between our Portuguese culture and American culture.”
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to help:
To donate money, visit gofundme.com/portugueseclubofhartford
To donate time/labor, email email@example.com