Two women are taking the lead of Leone Cubanos De Hudson, the West New York Lions Club. It’s an historic moment for the 50 year-old organization, which did not allow women members until the mid-1990s.
Marie Perez Nieto and Mirta Cairo were named to the two leading positions of the organization.
Nieto and Cairo will be sworn in on Sept. 14.
The West New York Leones Cubanos De Hudson Lions Club was founded in 1963 by a small group of Cuban exiles, some of whom had been members of the Lions Club in Cuba. When they arrived in the United States, they formed the Club de Leones Cubanos en el Exilio –Cuban Lions in Exile.
Despite the fact that the original Cuban organization had been founded by Dr. Ramiro Collazo, who had served as president of the International Lions Club just after World War II, the WNY club was not embraced by the International at first, partly because the WNY members insisted on keeping its Cuban name.
“They did not want to give us a charter because of our name,” Cairo said. “So we worked on our own. But we did so well, they eventually gave us the charter.”
The WNY club has excelled in a number of areas, including raising funds for needy causes. Eventually the club modified its name and was recognized by the International on March 23, 1979.
“Our club’s main goal is to help the blind and visually impaired.” Mirta Cairo
It is currently the largest Lions Club in the state, the fifth largest in the nation and the 11th largest in the world with members from West New York, Union City, and other parts of Hudson County.
The first group of women became members of the WNY Lions only about 15 years ago and they have recently been honored for their years of service.
Although started as a Cuban organization, the club has become diverse to reflect the changing ethnic diversity of the area. But female leadership is relatively new and this year for the first time in the club’s long history, two women hold the club’s top posts.
“Fifteen years ago, there were no women members,” she said. “This changed and we have taken a more active role in the organization. But this year, we hold the top two positions for the first time in the club’s history.”
Helping locally and around the world
Lions Club international was founded in 1917 and has about 40,000 members worldwide in about 180 countries.
The club originally started in Union City and moved to West New York. Vice president Mirta Cairo is from Union City. She and her husband were recently honored for their years of service.
Cairo said the club is involved in a number of charitable activities that include helping victims of natural disasters in places like Puerto Rico, Honduras, Florida, El Salvador, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Indonesia and places around the United States.
The organization provides scholarships to graduating students from West York, North Bergen and Union City, and also donates to the West New York Little League, local volunteer ambulance services, and local hospitals including Palisades General Medical Center, and Hoboken University Medical Center. The group helps local food pantries and does other community activities – and does a lot with several organizations involved with helping the blind including the Hogar Industrial del Ciego (a residence for the blind in Miami), New Jersey Camp for Blind Children (Camp Marcella) and other foundations including donations to the Eye Banks of New Jersey and Delaware.
They do regular funding drives for local schools such as the St. Joseph’s School for the Blind in Jersey City.
“Our club’s main goal is to help the blind and visually impaired,” Cairo said. “We hold events for St. Joseph’s School. But we also we donate to others, including to the local homeless shelter,” she said. “In fact, a member of the Lions board is also on the board of PERC, the local shelter in Union City.”
The club also has a youth program called The Leo Club that involves kids from area high schools with a number of Union City High School students involved. This is a force of volunteers who work hard inside the community for a number of local causes as well.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.