The non-profit organization Florida Youth Maritime, Inc. is helping disadvantaged, at-risk youth in the Jacksonville, Florida area by providing no-cost vocational training in the maritime industry. We sat down with founder Captain Robert Russo to learn more about why he started this program.
Tell me a little bit about yourself, and your background, how long have you been a captain?
I spent 21 years in the Coast Guard and became a boat captain in 1987. Being at sea has always been a passion of mine. I’ve been married for 54 years and my wife always jokes that she has to share me with my mistress, the sea!
Tell me more about your program.
We work with an organization called MAD DADS (Men Against Destruction Defending Against Drugs and Social Disorder), we basically try to keep kids from going down the wrong path. We typically work young people in their late teens and early twenties who don't have a bright future ahead of them. So we train them for free to join the Merchant Marines. So far we’ve trained about 165 young people and right now about 150 are employed with an average starting salary of $36,500. In addition to that, we require that all of our trainees get their GED.
How did you first start this program?
I’ve done this type of training since 2012 when I owned a tug boat company. During that time I realized I couldn’t find qualified people to work on my boat so I opened a school to train people and it was very successful. I sold the business and I’m retired now, but I wanted to keep training people; I opened up Florida Youth Maritime Training, Inc. in March of this year.
Why do you think it’s so important to help these kids?
We all talk about making the world a better place, but you actually have to do something about it. These kids come to us with a very bleak economic future, and as a result, they might make bad choices. I’ve found that if you give someone more economic opportunity they’re not going to steal nickles when they can make dollars.
Here’s a story for you, we trained a guy whose nickname was “Red Dukes”, he’s 6’4”, covered in tattoos, he had been arrested for murder and served time in jail on narcotics charges. But he went through our program and one day he came to be saying he had a problem. He wanted advice on where to buy a house because he didn’t want to raise his family in the same bad environment he grew up in. That’s not a bad problem to have! That’s the kind of impact we can have on these kids.
As a business owner yourself, what’s the one piece of advice you would give to someone thinking of starting their own business?
Well, I like to say walk the talk, if you believe in having a better society, and that we should all be equal, then you should do something about it. I’m retired now but I believe that sharing with the community makes it a better place.
Tell me how you found CoverWallet and what the customer experience has been like for you.
Well, because we have employees we needed Worker’s Compensation. So I was talking to a friend who mentioned CoverWallet. I called and got outstanding service at a great price.
If you live in the Jacksonville, Florida area and know someone who would be interested in participating in Captain Russo’s program, or if you would like to donate check out his website here.