The winner of the Invest in Others’ 2020 Volunteer of the Year Award is Brian Robinson, senior vice president at UBS Financial Services, for his volunteer work with The Florida Dream Center Inc., which fights against human trafficking, among other humanitarian efforts.
“Brian Robinson has worked tirelessly to help victims of human trafficking through the Florida Dream Center. From raising funds to establish new safe houses to personally leading trafficking rescues, Brian has demonstrated his commitment to making a difference in a hands-on way, which speaks to the heart of the Volunteer of the Year Award,” said Megan McAuley, executive director of the Invest in Others Charitable Foundation.
The foundation announced Robinson as the winner with a video presentation released Thursday. The live celebration of the group’s 14th annual awards in Boston was canceled earlier this year due to the pandemic. The winner of the final awards category will be released similarly tomorrow.
The two additional finalists in this category were Scott Cohen of Northwestern Mutual for Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times and Maureen Kerrigan of RBC Wealth Management – U.S. for Star Kids Scholarship Program.
Each of the finalists will receive $15,000 for their charities and Robinson will receive $45,000 for The Florida Dream Center.
Profiles written by Deborah Nason about the philanthropic efforts of Robinson, Cohen and Kerrigan follow.
Human trafficking is defined by the Department of Homeland Security as “the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act,” and it is everywhere in the U.S. and has victimized hundreds of thousands, according to Brian Robinson, senior vice president of wealth management at UBS in Tampa, Florida, He is a founding board member of the Florida Dream Center, which is a community service agency, and lead organizer of the group’s human trafficking outreach services for the past nine year.
“A predator could find a child to victimize within a day. Sex slaves are even kept in suburban homes and apartments. Many are homeless youth or youth who have experienced trauma,” he said.
Robinson and a team of volunteers have carried out more than 200 rescues in the last six years in the Tampa Bay area. They also coordinate and provide aftercare counseling, vocational training, job placement and legal assistance. The majority of their rescued victims are 8 to 28. Recently, about a third have been boys. “If it’s not in your backyard, someone in your neighborhood is consuming commercial sex. We’re fighting against a $1 billion industry,” he said.
Following the example of his parents, who volunteered with children, Scott Cohen, a financial adviser with Northwestern Mutual in Los Angeles, volunteered at age 21 as a camp counselor for Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times. Not only is he still a counselor 13 years later, he’s also the board president. The camp provides a joyful experience for 1,600 pediatric cancer patients and their siblings per year, during 15 week-long or weekend sessions. Three sessions take place in Spanish.
The camp instills independence and confidence in the kids and lets them experience normal childhood activities in a medically safe and adaptive environment, Cohen said. “There’s a misconception that it’s depressing … but the kids are healthy enough to be there. The vast majority of [them] will beat their disease and go on to adulthood. There’s nothing but positive reinforcement, and the kids get hope and inspiration from each other and from staff, who are often cancer survivors.”
Cohen loves the experience so much, he uses his vacation time every year to volunteer. “My passion comes from the feelings I get from the camp and witnessing the transformation of the kids. When I come back, I’m mentally refreshed,” he said.
Newport, Rhode Island, is known for its mansions, but the area is also home to many low-income families who are suffering. The Star Kids Scholarship Program exists to break the cycle of impoverishment, incarceration and substance abuse for those families’ children, providing comprehensive support and a dependable source of funding for kids in grades K through 12. The program provides scholarships for private schools, along with after-school programs, uniforms, tutoring, field trips, enrichment summer camps, mentors and access to social services.
Each child is the beneficiary of a sponsor, who commits to providing $4,000-plus per year for four years toward the child’s education. The result? A 90% high school graduation rate and a zero incarceration rate. There’s a significant impact on the children’s families, too. “When their kids are in after-school activities, not only are the kids not in the streets, but parents can work longer hours and continue their own education,” said Maureen Kerrigan, a financial adviser with RBC Wealth Management in Providence, and a board member and sponsor since 2009.
Sponsors are like a second set of parents, she said. “We get the kids’ report cards and meet them and their families. We feel like they’re part of our family.”
Deborah Nason is a freelance writer.