“Thirty years managing businesses and who in the world would have thunk I'd be back doing social work?”
But that's exactly the life Brian Opert's three business cards clearly prove he's doing. He is: a volunteer recruiter/trainer for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates); a board vice chair for Reconnect NOLA and a radio host on WGSO, where he talks to community leaders about viable ways to reduce crime in New Orleans.
Brian has a master’s degree from the University of Maryland School of Social Work and Community Planning. Early in his career he was appointed by the Massachusetts governor to be the director of the Low Rent Housing Program for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
From there he took a path that veered from the world of social work to that of commercial real estate development. He's been a licensed real estate broker and certified property manager for more than 30 years. Brian's also created and managed several businesses. The two most recent companies are Sterling Commercial Capital, a nationwide commercial mortgage banking firm, and Precast Building Solutions, a local firm that develops, designs and erects hurricane-proof pre-cast panels for houses along the Gulf Coast.
During the years he focused on his businesses he never really lost touch with his social work roots. He's been a passionate CASA volunteer for many years and finds the work compelling, engaging and rewarding.
Now, his passion has turned into a fulfilling job as he recruits and trains volunteers for the organization.
“To be a good CASA volunteer you have to be able to understand what life is like in foster care,” he says. “You also have to know how to talk to a kid. So many of these kids have been bounced around and they don't trust anyone. Mentoring is so important, it's showing a kid you care and will be around for more than two days. Saying, 'Let's play some hoops' and then actually doing it.”
Brian is also a founding member of Reconnect NOLA, a coalition organized to reduce youth violence. Members of the group include well-known radio and dance DJs, rap and bounce artists, community activists, first responders and others already involved with young people in the city.
ReConnect has hosted several successful events that connected youth to great entertainment, free food and much-needed resources. A picnic in August served more than 1,000 youths and a recent event in Central City presented 12 musical groups; 780 youths partied peacefully.
“Kids came from everywhere and from rival groups and what they all said in the end was one thing. They said, 'Thank you.' It was very profound.”
Brian moved to New Orleans right after Katrina with a goal to be a part of this great city's recovery. He's well on his way to achieving that goal.