Gil Bernardino was born in Tapioles de Campos, a small farm town of 200 people, province of Zamora, Spain. He was born the third of six children. Gil and his siblings attended school during the day and worked in the fields in the afternoons and summers, helping his father harvest wheat and take care of the farm animals. Gil’s parents Baudilio and Piedad provided him with a humanistic foundation that sustained and nurtured his personality and life.
At the age 16 Gil was sent to Madrid to become a teacher. During those years, he lived with Gonzalo and his family. Gonzalo, a friend of his parents, introduced Gil to “El Hogar de Trabajo”, a Catholic workers progressive and pro-democratic institution lead by Jesuits that opposed Franco’s dictator regime of Spain. In The Hogar del Trabajo, Gil learned that being a real Catholic was more than just going to Mass on Sunday; it required a commitment to social justice and the poor. Here, Gil developed his socio-political, religious and humanistic ideology. Gil’s friend José Luis, a quadriplegic, also influenced him as well as Gil’s participation in the “Fraternidad Católica de Enfermos”, an organization dedicated to serving the handicapped.
While in Madrid Gil met Barbara, his first wife, a Long Beach, New York native. Several years later, due to a tragic family occurrence, they left Madrid and moved to Long Beach, in June 1974. Gil’s experience teaching GED in Spanish to Hispanic adults and his contact with the Hispanic Community gave him an understanding of the many problems affecting the immigrant community such as prejudice and racism, cruel exploitation of immigrants, very low minimum wages, very limited or no vacations, substandard housing conditions and the second class treatment of Hispanic students and their tragic educational failures. Gil’s frustrations with the disenfranchisement of immigrants and the Hispanic community in general lead to the birth of Círculo de la Hispanidad in 1980 with support from Barbara and his friend Pat McCormack. He left his teaching position in New York and started Circulo.
Círculo started with only one program, three employees and $65,000 grant from the Nassau County Youth Board. Today, Círculo has more than twenty programs, and operates out of offices in Long Beach and Hempstead. Programs and services including education, housing, domestic violence, HIV/AIDS and youth services among many others. Gil recognizes that the accomplishments of Círculo are due to the efforts of its Board of Directors, committed staff and countless supporters of the organization.
Gil realized a thirty year dream in 2007 when financing was secured through a loan to build a center in Hempstead. The 35,000 square foot facility was built as a LEED (Leadership in energy and environmental design) facility and achieved gold status from the U.S. Green Building Council. Círculo Center is the first nonprofit community based organization in New York State to have achieved Gold Status. The dream was realized thanks in part to the special dedication and contributions of Sarah Brewster.
As an advocate of education and the belief that through education is progress, Gil founded the Evergreen Charter School with Sarah Brewster in 2008. The school was granted a charter in 2009 and operates as a free public school for elementary children serving 300 children from kindergarten to fifth grade in the Village of Hempstead. Currently he is President of the Board of Trustees.
Gil continues to advocate for the underserved. Despite many challenges and hardships, the journey with Círculo and Evergreen from their birth and throughout their growth has been very rewarding. Gil is thankful to many friends and supporters who have helped him along the way, including his children and family.