Felicia Benzo has been making a difference in the lives of Volusia County kids for 10 years.
In June 2010 Benzo established the CATALYST Global Youth Initiatives. The mentoring program she started with just a few children now serves up to 300 students in the Volusia County school system.
However, Benzo will be the first to admit, there’s room for growth. In fact, she spends most of her time recruiting adults to volunteer for one-on-one mentoring.
That passion brought her to Campbell Middle School in Daytona Beach where the school system’s FACT Fair offered parents a glimpse at the programs available to their kids.
“I’ll fill that before the end of the night,” Benzo said, gesturing to a clipboard with the names and contact information for people she’s already signed up.
“Help me help these children. That’s what this is about,” Benzo said. “We all can do it, we all have some time we can give.”
A little time is all she wants. Mentors are asked to meet for thirty minutes once a week with their students.
Benzo makes the rounds, going from booth to booth in the crowded gymnasium. She offers the same pitch, consistency and reliability will make a difference in the lives of all kids.
“That’s all they need," she said. "To know that somebody cares enough to come see them.”
CATALYST consists of three programs, CATALYST (Children and Adults Together Achieving Leadership, Inspiration, Success and Trust) Mentoring; D.R.E.A.M (Dynamic - Responsible - Educated - Achieving - Men), a group mentoring program for boys and CATALYST Summer Literacy & Leadership Academy.
Every Wednesday morning William Jackson arrives at school over an hour early. The Galaxy Middle School ESE teacher helps host the school’s D.R.E.A.M program. Each week 20 to 30 boys meet before class for fellowship, mentoring and group bonding.
“We want to provide a framework to learn how to behave appropriately and set goals for themselves,” Jackson said. “It’s an opportunity for me to kind of payback the mentors that I had when i was growing up. I grew up in a bad situation and I had a few coaches who took me under their wing.”
Jackson organizes group activities that emphasize discipline and accountability.
“I think it goes both ways. I get something intrinsically when I work with the kids and I see them do something well and it creates a sense of pride," Jackson said.
Raquel Talton’s son Raymond participated in one-on-one mentoring. She says the relationship helped him build confidence.
“It’s a relationship that has made a lasting impression on him and it’s one that he will take on for the rest of his life," she said.
Benzo is a powerhouse in the community.
“She sees things in these kids that they don’t see themselves,” Talton said. “She doesn’t just talk about it, she is about it.”
Benzo was nominated for the news 6 Getting Results Award by Donald D’Orto. D’Orto was a teacher at Southwestern Middle School in DeLand and volunteered for the school’s D.R.E.A.M program under Benzo’s leadership.
“I’m just really excited to be able to share Mrs. Felicia Benzo and all that she does,” D’Orto said. “This is somebody that is the real deal.”
D’Orto said that after watching her persistence year after year he knew she should be recognized. “She does it one student at a time. She builds and builds and builds.”
For more information on the CATALYST program and mentoring opportunities visit mentoringforgreatness.org.