Russ Salerno is one of Pine Hills’ biggest advocates. Salerno works diligently to keep improving the community and to put focus on the good in the community, not just the bad.
One of the highlights of the Pine Hills community is the Walt Disney World Clubhouse of Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida.
“There are 800 members at that Club,” says Salerno, senior vice president for United Legacy Bank. “Think about what 800 kids would be doing today without their Club. There are a lot of kids in Pine Hills who have nowhere to go after school. There are kids who are on the bubble as to whether they will become an asset to society, and there are others who might not. The Boys & Girls Club in Pine Hills is a place to keep the good kids good, try to help the kids with problems and help those on the bubble to become Club members.”
Salerno knows what these kids are feeling. He was once a Pine Hills kid whose life could have gone astray very easily.
It was the late 1950s and Salerno – who lived in a single-parent home – started drifting. He got into a bit of trouble after his mom moved him from their Bridgeport, Conn., home. His principal at Memorial Junior High, Bill Frangus, took Salerno under his wing and got him involved in the downtown Orlando Boys Club.
“He was my first father figure in my life and by going to the Boys Club, it gave me a sense of security and that someone other than my mom cared,” Salerno says. “It gave me a place to go and hang out with kids who had some of the same interests that I had. I made new friends, which I still have today. If it were not for the Club back then, there is no telling where I would be today.”
Today, Salerno continues to give back. He has been on the BGCCF Board of Directors for the past 45 years trying to help other kids have a chance to survive and strive.
He also recently led the charge to raise $202,000 for an endowment in the name of Coach Fred Pennington that will be used to sponsor scholarships for students at Evans High School who live in the Pine Hills area.
“Kids today need to be involved, and the Boys & Girls Clubs are a way for them to stay off the streets,” he says. “I grew up in Pine Hills; it was a great place to grow up. There is no doubt Pine Hills has changed over the years. But one thing that is the same is that there are plenty of good kids with bright futures today in Pine Hills. Each one of us today can make a difference in these kids’ lives. We all need to get out of our comfort zones and get involved. These kids are our future.”