Donovan Lee-Sin was initially the only voice heard protesting the cancellation of the Summer Youth Internship Program (SYIP) – a five-week opportunity offered to public high school students in Miami – when the pandemic threatened to take it away as businesses were shutting down last year.
The main decision-maker for SYIP, Lee-Sin led its creation years ago and convened its partners, which include The Children’s Trust, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, CareerSource South Florida and others. Continuing the program was not solely his effort, but his determination to keep it running provided 2,000 teen-agers with jobs this past summer.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is the ability to have had the influence where I know that 2,000 kids had jobs when it was easy for them not to,” he said. “It was additional income for families at a time when people were losing their jobs.”
"It’s been a blessing to be in a space of work where I can talk to policymakers, community leaders and my neighbors about how we can make where we live a better place.”
Lee-Sin, 46, stands up for social justice as chief public policy and engagement officer for The Children’s Trust. Alongside his team, he fosters a network of services that support families most in need through investments in youth enrichment programs, service partnerships and community engagement.
“I find my work rewarding, because while I can try to influence how policies are made, I can actually see how that works in our communities and in my own neighborhood. Understanding the process of recognizing who we are electing and what bills they’re proposing has a real influence in our everyday lives. We may not see it immediately, but we see it eventually,” he said.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, to a Cuban mother and Chinese father, Lee-Sin’s family moved to Miami in the late 1980s due to political conflict in the country. He was shocked at the differences in the culture. At the time, school uniforms – which were the standard in Jamaica – weren’t required, so everyone wore jeans. He also heard dialects and languages that were wholly unfamiliar, like Portuguese.
“But I will tell you I was embraced by this community and continue to be,” he said.
Hoping to fit in and make friends, Lee-Sin gravitated toward sports, playing soccer from middle school through college. He attended Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi, on an athletic scholarship and obtained an undergraduate degree in psychology and business administration. Two years playing professional soccer overseas followed, until a severe ankle injury abruptly put an end to his sports career. Lee-Sin said he never viewed the injury as a loss, because it placed him on the path to pursuing his dream of helping others.
Lee-Sin moved back to Miami and began working at Miami Children’s Hospital helping to provide services for children with developmental delays. He later took on planning and evaluation work at Knight Foundation, which provides grants in support of community building, journalism and the arts. Then a position at The Children’s Trust opened up. It would mark the beginning of a long relationship with the organization.
At the Trust, Lee-Sin spent a lot of time in evaluations but wanted to do more. He became involved in programs and on-the-ground, community-based efforts as a neighborhood and community services officer. Immersed in and satisfied with his work, he would have been the first person to say you were crazy if you thought he’d ever leave. But an offer to work as senior program officer for the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, whose namesake is the owner of the Atlanta Falcons and co-founder of Home Depot – found Lee-Sin relocating to the Peach State. There he oversaw five areas of grantmaking that included children and families, the arts, the environment, workforce readiness and others. But the siren call of Miami kept humming, and five years later he returned to the Magic City and The Children’s Trust. He has no plans of ever leaving again.
“The Trust is home,” said Lee-Sin. “It’s been a blessing to be in a space of work where I can talk to policymakers, community leaders and my neighbors about how we can make where we live a better place. This is where my passion is, so I’ll be here.”