SOUTHINGTON - Sandra and Gino Brino will be this year‚Äôs recipients of the Southington Unico Gold Medal, the Italian-American organization‚Äôs highest honor.
Awarded annually since 1945 to distinguished Southington residents, the medals will be presented at a dinner at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday, May 16, at the Aqua Turf Club in Plantsville.
Their love story began in front of Room 201 at Southington High School and has led them on a journey of faith, dedication and benevolence for more than three decades.
Married since May 30, 1987, the Brinos have two daughters, Valerie Moriarty and Cecilia Zimmerman, along with two sons-in-law, and are proud new grandparents to Eli.
Sandra Brino works part time at Cigna as a project manager and helps care for her grandson.
Gino Brino 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.
Both agree that their faith is ‚Äúthe most important thing to us‚ÄĚ and helped establish the 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 has organized many Southington Bible study groups.
‚ÄúChrist is the head of our household and is really an integral part of our lives,‚ÄĚ she said.
The couple also has a strong belief in volunteer work and civic responsibility. They may be best known for their mentorship of the Cyber Knights, Southington‚Äôs nationally recognized FIRST robotics team.
‚ÄúWe wanted to ensure that our volunteer efforts were going to have an impact with regard to anything we got involved in,‚ÄĚ explained Gino Brino.
Indeed, an impact has been made - especially in the lives of the hundreds of students involved in the program since the Brinos became the lead mentors in 2008. With each of their talents - her business expertise, his engineering skills - the Brinos have taken the team to new heights, including the implementation of a board of directors and the establishment of the organization as its own 501(c)3.
They joke with each other over the amount of time they‚Äôve dedicated to the program, which begins in the first half of the school year with mentorship of the JV team, also known as VEX Robotics.
During the FIRST Robotics season, from January through May, Gino Brino spends 40 to 45 hours per week at ‚Äúthe shop,‚ÄĚ a dedicated space that houses the program. His wife puts in 20 hours a week throughout the school year handling administrative responsibilities.
The couple must raise between $70,000 and $90,000 a year and enlist the help of 30 adult volunteer mentors to help manage all components of the program.
‚ÄúWe said from the beginning, ‚ÄėIf we‚Äôre going to do this, we‚Äôre going to do it right and run the program like a business,‚Äô‚ÄĚ said Sandra Brino.
The program is thriving and receives national recognition and esteem. A two-page list cites all of the team‚Äôs awards and accomplishments.
The Brinos are most proud of the team‚Äôs 2015 FIRST Championship event, during which the team won 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 Brino mentors the Kelley Elementary School FIRST Lego League team.
Most rewarding, both note, is that many students over the years have told them that robotics ‚Äúcompletely changed their lives.‚ÄĚ
The mentors‚Äô lives have also been changed as a result of their commitment to the program.
‚ÄúSandra and I believe in doing things that make an impact. It‚Äôs got to make an impact to a person or the world,‚ÄĚ said Gino Brino.
Tickets to the dinner and awards ceremony are available from any Unico member and at the office of Fasulo & Albini at 16 Cornerstone Court, Plantsville, or by calling 860-276-9787
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.