Sandra and Gino Brino’s love story began in front of room 201 at Southington High School, and that began a journey of faith, dedication and benevolence that has benefitted residents for more than three decades.
Now, the couple has been selected as the 2017 Southington UNICO Gold Medal recipients – the organization’s most prestigious honor. Awarded annually since 1945 to distinguished citizens in the Southington community, the Brinos will be recognized at a dinner ceremony on Wednesday, May 16, at the Aqua Turf Club.
Gino is a partner at Southington Family Dentistry in Plantsville. He graduated from the University of Connecticut as an honor scholar in biological sciences and received his dental degree from the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine in 1998.
In a UNICO press release, the couple said that their faith is “the most important thing to us” and helped establish Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford. In fact, Sandra took a hiatus from her career in 2002 to devote more time to her church community and organized many Southington Bible study groups.
“Christ is the head of our household and is really an integral part of our lives,” Sandra said in the release.
Also integral is the couple’s belief in volunteer work and civic responsibility. They are perhaps best known for their mentorship of the Cyber Knights—Southington’s nationally recognized FIRST Robotics Team 195.
“We wanted to ensure that our volunteer efforts were going to have an impact with regard to anything we got involved in,” Gino said in the release.
An impact has been made in the lives of the hundreds of students involved in the program since Sandra and Gino became the lead mentors in 2008. Sandra has the business expertise, and Gino brings the engineering skills. Together, they’ve taken the team to new heights, including the implementation of a board of directors and the establishment of the 501 (c) 3 organization.
The couple has devoted hours to the program, which begins in the first half of the school year with mentorship of the JV team, also known as VEX Robotics. From January through May, they enter the FIRST Robotics season, and Gino spends 40 to 45 hours per week “at the shop,” a dedicated space in town that houses the program. Sandra puts in 20 hours a week throughout the school year handling the administrative responsibilities.
Moreover, the couple must raise between $70,000 and $90,000 a year and garner the help of 30 adult volunteer mentors to help manage all components of the program.
“We said from the beginning, ‘if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right and run the program like a business,’” Sandra said in the release.
That business is thriving and continually merits national recognition and esteem. A two-page list cites all of the team’s awards and accomplishments. Sandra and Gino are most proud of the team’s 2015 FIRST Championship event, during which the team garnered an Engineering Inspiration Award. Only three other robotics teams in the world received that same distinction.
More recently, the couple has infused robotics fervor into younger students by helping fund elementary school teams. Gino mentors the Kelley Elementary School FIRST Lego League team.
Most rewarding, both Sandra and Gino note, is that many students over the years have told them that Robotics “completed changed their lives.”
Ostensibly, the mentors’ lives have also been changed as a result of their commitment to the program.
“Sandra and I believe in doing things that make an impact. It’s got to make an impact to a person or the world,” Gino said in the release.
Tickets for the dinner are available from any UNICO member, at the office of Fasulo & Albini at 16 Cornerstone Ct. in Plantsville, or by calling (860) 276-9787.
For more information about the event and past winners, visit www.southingtonunico.org.