2017 ESL Jefferson Award Winner: Sal Gerbino

March 30, 2018 01:33 PM

Each year, we ask our viewers to nominate people from our community for their volunteerism. The ESL Jefferson Awards are part of the national Jefferson Award Foundation which strives to build a culture of service in communities across the country. Founded in 1972 by well-known public servants including former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the Jefferson Awards are the country’s longest standing and most prestigious honor of its kind.

One winner of the local ESL Jefferson Awards is selected each year to attend the Jefferson Awards National Ceremony in Washington, D.C. Sal Gerbino spent 31 years with the Gates Police Department before going into “semi-retirement” with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department and even though he only works two days a week, he’s still a full-time volunteer for Special Olympics.

It’s his connection to law enforcement that got him involved with doing Law Enforcement Torch Runs leading up to the Special Olympics athletic competitions starting in 1985. Nowadays, sore knees prevent him from physically running in the events, but he is still “running” the events as the coordinator and he brings his whole family in to help!

"I claim three families, my biological family, my law enforcement family and my Special Olympics family," says Gerbino.

His photo albums are peppered with shots of his police officers friends, Special Olympics friends and people  from all branches of his family tree. They’re all intertwined.

One of his favorite pictures is when he carried the torch into the World Games in 2003. He had been asked by the New York State Special Olympics organization to escort an athlete who was a runner and would join him in the torch run through numerous European countries, going from Athens, Greece to Dublin, Ireland.

Kevin Brown would run with Sal and other officers in a team relay. "After 21 days, my running teammates from 10 different parts of the world conceded that we were not chaperoning the athlete -- the athlete was chaperoning us!"

Kevin Brown has basically been a family member ever since. "My children and wife actually consider him part of our extended family," says Gerbino.

Every February, the entire Gerbino family is at Ontario Beach Park with lots of crazy people jumping into the lake. Why? Because Sal created the Polar Plunge 17 years ago as a fundraiser to help the Special Olympics put on more events for the athletes.

"I can proudly say we are the largest by size and largest fundraising event and Polar Plunge in all of New York State. We are in the top 10 in the country, so we are pretty proud of that,” says Gerbino.

At this point, he’s helped raise more than $3 million from the Polar Plunge. Add to that a couple hundred thousand more from the Cops on Top events he runs at local Dunkin Donut Shops each summer. “Every penny that comes in goes directly to Special Olympics.”

Sal acknowledges that his torch-running days are over. He’s just as happy though running the fundraisers that keep the Special Olympics going and the athletes smiling.

Sal say, “It's heart warming and it just grabs you and grabs me still to this day.”

Gerbino says he owes this award to his parents for instilling the spirit of volunteerism in him at a young age. His father was a cop and his mother was a nurse — two very community service oriented people. Sal Gerbino is having a lot of fun passing that trait on to his kids and grandkids.



Rebecca Leclair

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