Honoring Their Heritage: Filipino families create cultural endowment

The Philippine Cultural Center of Virginia preserves and celebrates Filipino heritage. In 2019, relatives and supporters of the center's founders created a permanent endowment at the Hampton Roads Community Foundation.

Cynthia Romero, MD, and Arlene Fontanares, MD, met decades ago as children learning folk dances through the Council of United Filipino Organizations of Tidewater (CUFOT). They saw their hard-working parents join other Filipino families to guarantee a bank loan to build the Philippine Cultural Center of Virginia.

As adults, the two Hampton Roads physicians now lead the council that oversees the cultural center their parents helped make possible.

In anticipation of the Virginia Beach center’s 20th anniversary in 2020, Romero and Fontanares spearheaded an effort to honor the founding families. They raised $40,000 from 23 descendants of the center’s first supporters and board members. In December 2019, they created a permanent endowment at the Hampton Roads Community Foundation. The new Philippine Cultural Center of Virginia Board of Trustees Foundation Fund will provide annual grants to benefit the center. Fontanares calls the center “a gathering place” for the estimated 33,000 Hampton Roads residents who share Filipino heritage.

Their parents’ vision and dedication inspired their children to give to the new fund. “We enjoyed the benefit of their hard work,” says Fontanares. The Virginia Beach obstetrician and gynecologist serves as CUFOT’s vice chair and is a donor to the fund.

Her parents Apolonio and Felicitas Fontanares were among the founders of the center that opened in 2000 in Virginia Beach. Like many of the donors’ parents, hers “worked two jobs to put us through college and graduate school. We second-generation kids supported this fund for our parents,” Fontanares says.

“Many of our parents and the other original board members are starting to pass away,” adds Romero, who heads Eastern Virginia Medical School’s M. Foscue Brock Institute for Community and Global Health. She chairs CUFOT and also is a donor to the fund. Her parents Crisanto and Dr. Aleli Romero were among the cultural center’s founders.

The center preserves and celebrates Filipino heritage in multiple ways. Its school of cultural arts teaches children Filipino history as well as traditional dances, music and martial arts. Older adults gather to reminisce and pass down their values, traditions and cuisine. Dozens of Filipino organizations, including the Filipino-American Veterans Association of Hampton Roads, use the center for meetings, celebrations, pageants and events like the annual Philippines Independence Day ceremony.

“We try to be of service and be the premier hub of anything related to Filipino Americans,” Romero says. She is grateful to have the center’s endowment managed by the community foundation.

“I have been observing what the foundation does and how it leans forward in addressing the needs of the community,” she says. “I couldn’t see the strength of the foundation being outdone by any other organization.”

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