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Men of the Year 2024

These dedicated individuals are having a positive impact throughout Central Florida and beyond.

Some men are introduced to the idea of community service at a young age, inspired by the examples set forth by their parents and mentors. Others come to it gradually, and as they get older they realize that they may need more than personal or career goals to feel truly fulfilled. Whatever path they happen to have taken, the individuals we have selected for our annual Men of the Year list have one trait in common: a desire to make a difference and to uplift those around them. We salute the many ways in which they help the less fortunate and are proud to recognize their contributions to Central Florida.


Men of the Year

Dr. William Fravel and Dr. Breck Brewer

Dr. Fravel, a graduate of Florida Southern College who received his dental and orthodontic training at the University of Louisville, opened his first orthodontic practice in Orlando in 1987, and four years later he added a second office in Ocoee, which later became his sole base of operation due to his affinity for the community. Dr. Brewer, a Central Florida native, earned his bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and went on to the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry. Following dental school, he was commissioned as a Captain in the U.S. Army and served four years as a general dentist, including a deployment to Iraq. After completing an orthodontic program in Texas, he served two tours as an orthodontist and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel before leaving active service and joining Dr. Fravel in practice. At Fravel Brewer Orthodontics, they both take great pride in transforming patients’ smiles on a daily basis and giving back to the community in numerous ways, particularly with the Smiles for a Lifetime program. They established a local chapter for the organization and have provided free orthodontic care to dozens of teens over the years, and both sit on the board of directors. They also support charitable causes like Habitat for Humanity, Second Harvest Food Bank and Christian Service center; co-sponsor the Chick-Fil-A 5K and Kids’ Run during the Ocoee Music Fest; hold a candy drive at Halloween to donate to troops; and sponsor many local schools by hosting field trips, speaking at career days and donating supplies to nurses’ offices. Dr. Brewer is also a founding member of a new philanthropic men’s group called the Winter Garden 100, which raises awareness and provides financial help for local charities. “A community is only as strong as the people who live in it and care about it,” Dr. Brewer says. “Service to community is something that my family has always taken very seriously. I have tried to carry that tradition with me along my travels with the Army and now here at home in Central Florida.” Dr. Fravel concurs, adding: “Community has always been at the forefront of my vision for this practice, both personally and professionally. Over the years, we have partnered with many great local companies for the betterment of West Orange County. … Not only have these partnerships helped fulfill a sense of purpose, but I have made some very meaningful relationships along the way.”


Claxton Copeland

Copeland learned early on from one of his mentors that the best way to lead is with compassion and integrity, and he tries to follow that advice as the CEO of Optimal Research Sites, an organization that conducts clinical trials with the goal of finding cures, developing treatments and advancing medical care. He believes in the power of education and awareness in creating long-term, significant change and strives to build strong relationships both professionally and personally. Outside of his career, he is committed to making a positive impact wherever possible and lends his skills to a number of causes through fundraising and advocacy. “Community service is incredibly important to me because I believe in giving back to the community that has supported me,” he says. “It’s fulfilling to know that our efforts at Optimal Research Sites can positively impact the lives of others, especially in areas like diabetes, arterial fibrillation and beyond. Through education and outreach, we aim to empower individuals to take control of their health and well-being.”


Bill Collins

Collins entered a new phase of his career in 2015 when he parlayed his three decades of experience in the commercial wholesale produce business into the role of chief operating officer at Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, his first foray into the nonprofit world. He oversees 14 different departments and budgets while furthering the overall vision of Second Harvest, which delivers more than 96 million pounds of food each year across seven counties through a network of 725 feeding partners. “I think with all of the awful things we see going in in the world, it’s important to remind myself and others that there is still a lot of good out there too,” Collins says. “This position allows me to do that on a daily basis.” He also leads efforts regarding storm preparation and response, not just for Second Harvest Central Florida but also as part of a statewide program. When he is not thinking about how to tackle the “stubborn problem of food insecurity in the community, both today and in the future,” Collins is a professional acoustic musician who performs throughout the region and enjoys playing hockey in his spare time. He and his wife of 37 years, Lisa, have three adult children—Max, Emily and Coda—and two dogs, Petunia and Maverick, who often help out as therapy dogs at Second Harvest.


Dr. Robert Hess

A native Floridian, Dr. Hess developed a passion for pets and wildlife as a boy and went on to attend veterinary school at the University of Florida. Several years after joining the staff at Winter Park Veterinary Hospital, he purchased the practice in 1983 with his wife Jean, and they’ve been dedicated ever since to providing top-notch treatment to beloved members of their clients’ families, including technological advancements not found at other clinics. His philosophy to always push the practice forward derives from advice he received from one of his mentors at UF, Dr. Michael Schaer, who stressed the importance of always learning and improving, even after years of experience. “That is what I have tried to do in practice, and to offer the best care available and work with clients to provide care for their pets,” he says. Dr. Hess also treats animals at several of Orlando’s theme parks, including Disney World and Universal Studios, and is proud of his longstanding relationship with The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland, where he provides intensive care for bald eagles, hawks, owls and other birds. Dr. Hess, who helps find rehabilitation facilities for a wide variety of injured animals in the community and tends to animals following destructive hurricanes, loves to inspire the next generation of veterinarians as well. He has established a scholarship for veterinary students at UF and regularly welcomes youngsters with an interest in the field to tour his office.


Chris Dixon

After witnessing a close relative lose a significant portion of her retirement savings as a result of the Great Recession, Dixon became inspired to help local families avoid the same mistakes. A graduate of Utah State University, he started a career in the financial services industry and, along with his brother Samuel, established Oxford Advisory Group to assist retirees or those close to retirement in developing sound, long-term investment strategies. His passion extends outside of his daily profession, as he teaches free courses throughout the state to educate the public, is a published author on the topic and hosts a weekly radio show with his brother called Reinventing Retirement. Dixon sits on the board for Advent Health, which is working on research for childhood cancer, and formed The Dixon Family Foundation with his brother to provide resources to nursing students focusing on NICU and cerebral palsy. He is also an active member of his church and teaches Sunday school. “The best advice I ever received was that you should start any business with a passion to save lives,” he says. “I know we have done that here with Oxford, and we continue to build on that with our work in the community. That keeps us driven and focused; it is easy to put in the dedication it takes when the results help so many lives. I know the positive impact we have had on families will last generations.”


Ron Wilensky, Adam Schwartz and Chris Hayes

All three of these men play a pivotal role in Dave’s House, a nonprofit that addresses homelessness by providing permanent supportive housing for adults dealing with serious mental illness stigma. Wilensky and his wife Lin were inspired to start the organization 15 years ago in Fairfax, Virginia, by the life of her brother, Dave Jeffreys, who lived with schizophrenia. Dave’s House later expanded to Florida and currently operates eight homes in the area as part of a program that also provides mental health care, life skills training and 24/7 crisis intervention in collaboration with Aspire Health Partners. Wilensky, an Orlando resident who has over 35 years of experience as a Fortune 500 business leader and C-suite executive, is a board member of the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. His philanthropy also extends to the Rotary Club of Dr. Phillips, Windermere Union Church and Aldersgate Emmaus, an ecumenical group dedicated to developing church leaders. He credits his father as an important mentor and explains why community service is so important to him. “I subscribe to the notion, ‘To whom much is given, much will be required,’ a Biblical reference that we have responsibility to share our gifts to help humankind, and that is not just about wealth. It’s about talents, knowledge, time and skills. I believe that we are made to love to help one another.”


Schwartz and Hayes have a similar outlook to community service and have emerged as committed board members of Dave’s House while balancing their busy professional and personal lives. The duo is spearheading future expansion of the nonprofit with a new, multi-unit housing model, and their leadership and business acumen are helping to push Dave’s House in an exciting new direction. Schwartz, a former hospitality executive who now works as an executive leadership coach, lives in Downtown Orlando with his wife Merav and three children, Oliver and twins Ainsley and Elliott. “It’s a privilege to be part of something larger than yourself with an impact far beyond your own daily life,” he says. “We’re not just creating homes for people in need; I feel everyone involved in this project is helping to promote a culture of empathy, collaboration and social responsibility within our community.” Hayes, a transactional real estate and business attorney, has three children with his wife Marina: Victory, Charleston and Harrison. “Stepping up to help and serve has been very rewarding, especially when you get to see major efforts pay off for the community segments you’re serving,” he says. “I’m especially grateful when I’ve successfully pushed my peers to contribute more of their time, treasure and talent through my example.”


Rabbi Yosef Konikov

Since receiving his rabbinical ordination with distinction from the Central Lubavitch Yeshiva of the United States in 1997, this Massachusetts native has served all over the world, including stops in Europe, Africa and Sydney, Australia, where he created an acclaimed multimedia experience about the Biblical Jewish Exodus from Egypt. It has since become a popular Passover entertainment module and is offered annually in many cities across the globe. Rabbi Konikov and his wife Chani founded the Chabad Center in South Orlando in 1999, which has enabled them to develop a long list of innovative programs benefiting local Jews and tourists alike. These offerings include a thriving Hebrew school, the popular Gan Israel Summer Camp, a private Jewish elementary school and the Jewish Learning Institute for adult education. They also promote activities related to women’s programming, teen programming, hospital visitation and prison chaplaincy. In addition, Rabbi Konikov is a founding member and senior executive of the Rabbinate of Central Florida, which facilitates Kosher supervision an other important Jewish communal needs. A scholar and published author, Rabbi Konikov was the subject in 2006 of what became a landmark court decision in Konikov vs. Orange County FL, as he successfully defended his right to practice religion by holding a Minyan prayer service in his home. He and his wife reside in South Orlando with their seven children.

Eric Jacobsen

Renowned as one of classical music’s most innovative conductors, Jacobsen combines fresh interpretations of the traditional canon with cutting-edge collaborations across musical genres. He is currently the music director of both the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, and continues to pioneer both orchestras’ programming and community engagement in new and exciting directions. Jacobsen and his wife, Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Aoife O’Donovan, are heavily involved in arts advocacy and giving back to the communities in which they live and perform. Jacobsen currently serves on the board for both the Creative City Project in Orlando and Teens with a Purpose in Norfolk, Virginia. He and O’Donovan are supporters of the United Arts Campaign in Orlando and regularly donate to the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, which goes to benefit education in the Northeast. He believes philanthropy has a dual purpose in contributing to meaningful causes while also forming bonds within the community, and whether thinking about his charitable work or his own career, he often refers back to advice he received from close friend and cellist Jan Vogler. “He said that when one door (or opportunity) doesn’t seem to be opening, don’t try to smash your head against it. Find another door—which may end up leading to the same place or a place even better than you initially thought. Life is all about creating opportunities and making the best of what you have.”


Mark NeJame

The founder and senior partner of NeJame Law, this highly respected attorney leads a firm that offers fierce representation in a number of practice areas, including personal injury, criminal defense and family law. NeJame is just as proud of his passion project, Runway to Hope, which he co-founded with his wife Josie with the goal of providing direct support to children and families in Central Florida who have been affected by pediatric cancer. Since NeJame’s mother worked as a lab technician for the first pediatric oncologist in Orlando, he grew up witnessing the impact that the disease can have on a family, and when his wife suggested they throw their support behind a cause, pediatric cancer was a natural fit. Runway to Hope assists families with basic necessities and the mounting expenses they face so they can focus on saving their child’s life, and since 2014 it has granted more than $750,000 and helped 500-plus families. The organization has also fostered collaboration and innovative programming among the three local children’s hospitals: AdventHealth for Children, Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Nemours Children’s Hospital. Runway to Hope’s signature event, the annual Spring Soiree, allows children between 2 and 18 who have battled pediatric cancer to walk down a runway escorted by a local or national celebrity, and is always a big hit in the community. “Giving back is one of the great spiritual laws of the universe,” NeJame says. “Our family motto is, ‘To those who much is given, much is expected.’ I can’t imagine a complete and fulfilled life that doesn’t involve giving back to others in some way that helps those in need.”