During this annual event, the organization honors Hispanic women from all walks of life with their annual prestigious Elena Mederos Award, which was instituted in memory of Dr. Elena Mederos (1900-1981), who was considered to be one of the most prominent Cuban women of the twentieth century.
Mederos worked tirelessly for years, advocating for Hispanic women's rights here in the United States, as well as working in social services. She was also the first woman to establish and be the director of the Department of Social Services in Cuba before she fled the dictatorship of Fidel Castro.
"She began advocating for Hispanic Women's Suffrage in the United States during the days of the Cuban Exile at the beginning of the 20th century," said Siomara Sanchez-Guerra, national president of the NACAW.
This year's honorees include women from different heritages and all walks of life, who come from around Hudson County and other areas of New Jersey, as well as women from Miami, Florida and New York. Among the 2005 honorees are Dr. Ana Maria Polo, Francesa Pena, Clara Nibot, Civica Perez and Guadalupe Casillas.
"You don't have to be Cuban to be considered for this award, just as long as you have worked for the benefit of our community," said Sanchez-Guerra.
The Elena Mederos Award recognizes women in leadership roles who have contributed to the advancement of Hispanics in the United States.
Honorees past and present
Since the award's inception in 1994, past honorees have included Lidia Gil Ramos, who was the first recipient of the award and looked to Elena Mederos as her role model.
"Lidia Gil Ramos always worked with people who needed help, especially in the social service aspects, and Elena Mederos was her mentor in Cuba," said Sanchez-Guerra.
Others have included Spanish talk show icon Cristina Saralegui in 1998, local artist Dalia Condis in 2000, and in 2003, the late Queen of Salsa Celia Cruz. All these women worked tirelessly and gave back to their communities in extraordinary ways.
Women like Casillas-Rodriguez are no exception. Since 1999, Casillas has been working for the Office of the Public Defender, located in Secaucus, for the Department of "Law Guardian," as an attorney, protecting children in cases of abuse and negligence.
As part of her duties, Casillias-Rodriguez visits these children in the homes they have been raised in, and makes sure that they receive all the necessary services and benefits issued by the state.
"I am the voice of the children in front of the courts," said Casillas.
When possible, Casillas also tries to reunite these children with their families or find them permanent loving homes.
At one time, Casillas also ran her private practice in Union City for nine years, where she specialized in general civil cases.
"I always dedicated part of my practice to providing legal services for people who had less resources," said Casillas.
Casillas, who is a married mother of two, was a graduate of Emerson High School and of Seton Hall University and Law School.
One of the other women joining Casillas today as an honoree is Nibot. Since 1994, Nibot has funded and presided over the program "Fuerza de Trabajo Multicultural" ("The Power of Multicultural Work") as part of the American Cancer Society. She has visited numerous Hispanic communities, spreading the message of early prevention and detection as the best defense against cancer.
Previously from 1987 until about 1993, Nibot also funded and presided over the Committee for Minority Education of the American Cancer Society. In 1996 she was the only Hispanic woman to be designated by then-Gov. Christine Todd Whitman as a delegate for the Republican National Convention in San Diego, Calif. That same year, she was also named a member of the Bergenfield Ecology Committee, of which she was named president in 2001, as well as a member of the town's Social Services Committee.
Nibot has also received countless awards from the American Cancer Society for her dedication to cancer research, and from other organizations for her contributions, especially to the political education of Hispanics. In 2000 she was also reelected in Washington D.C. as president of the Republican Hispanic Organization of Bergen County.
"We find women that stand out in their dedication and work for the advancement and benefit of our people," Sanchez-Guerra.
Serving the Hispanic community
The NACAW, which was first established in 1977, is a tax exempt non-profit organization that provides a multitude of direct services for minority women. Membership extends from New York and Washington D.C. to as far out as Florida and California. Among many objectives, one of the organization's main goals is to increase awareness of education and career opportunities for women, as well as in the numerous opportunities provided by local, state, and federal agencies.
The NACAW also looks to assess the needs of the Cuban American and other Spanish speaking communities in the United States, and provide them with direct service.
The event, which will serve lunch, will take place today from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Ballroom of Schuetzen Park, 3167 Kennedy Blvd., North Bergen.
For more information on the NACAW, call (201) 223-0035 or e-mail NACAW79@aol.com.