Student's Nonprofit Aims to Support Youth
Shandra Benito's goal is to build youth confidence.
There’s a determination about Seattle University sophomore Shandra Benito that drives her. You see it in her everpresent desire to give back to those who face struggles much like her own.
A Seattle native, she was born hard of hearing, required hearing aids and attended a deaf and hard-of-hearing preschool. Then, as she entered kindergarten, the transition to a mainstream public school posed more daunting challenges.
“I really feel that the success of an organization lies not in its leader but in the dedication and passion of its entire staff.”
Shandra Benito, SU sophomore, creator of Reach Out
“I struggled to fit in,” Benito says. None of the other students used hearing devices like hers or knew sign language. “For the first time in life, I realized I was different.”
Then one day as she was about to enter middle school, a family friend had a chat with her. Benito told him of her fears about another new school.
“He said being hard of hearing sets you apart and makes you cool. He told me I should own it rather than be ashamed,” she says. “From then on, I had new confidence. If I saw anyone sitting alone in the lunch- room, I’d join them. That’s when I first realized mentorship with kids was what I wanted to do.”
That talk with a family friend not only boosted her confidence, but it also helped her recognize the value of the ripple effect, her way of describing how small efforts can empower other young people. That’s what inspired Benito in 2009 to create Reach Out. The nonprofit offers summer day camps for disabled, disadvantaged and homeless youth. Think summer camp with a twist—children up to age 13 go on field trips to museums and the science center, do arts and crafts and participate in activities that build social skills and self-esteem.
Benito credits the amazing work of her volunteers. “I really feel that the success of an organization lies not in its leader but in the dedication and passion of its entire staff,” she says.
Each camp is designed for the needs of an individual nonprofit. She meets with organization directors to determine how camp volunteers can best serve their young clients.
Among those agencies is First Place, a Seattle nonprofit that provides education and support for families in crisis. Joyce Scoggins, volunteer manager for First Place, says she’s impressed with Benito for start- ing Reach Out.
“I think her program will provide our students with confidence to know it’s OK to be who they want to be and that they can learn from each other,” says Scog- gins. “The kids will be learning besides having fun.”