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CIS programs helped Patrick Benson get on right track

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By Jesef Williams

Peggy Hogan has an old, chipped butter bean bowl that a family member passed down to her years ago. Although the dish is dull and cracked, she still uses it regularly.

She said it reminds her of her roots.

She remembers how that bowl didn't look the best, but always contained great food. One day she realized that the bowl was a good metaphor for life – it's what's on the inside that counts.

Hogan, who works as a volunteer coordinator for the S.C. Department of Education's Office of Community and Parent Services, was one of two guest speakers at Communities in Schools' volunteer recognition banquet Tuesday.

Charlene McGriff, chairwoman of the Lancaster County school board, was the other guest speaker at the event, held at the multipurpose room in the Bradley Arts and Sciences Building at the University of South Carolina at Lancaster.

Hogan said we must realize that everyone has something special on the inside. Sometimes it takes others to tap into that potential and help it blossom.

She urges people to volunteer a small portion of their time to help someone else succeed.

"Get out your old butter bean bowl and bring your best to the table," Hogan said. "Just one hour a week or month can change someone's life."

Volunteer of the Year

Communities in Schools, an entity that links community resources to help schools help students, has a host of service programs under its umbrella, including New Beginnings and YouthBuild.

The latter allows students who experienced difficulty in school to work toward their GED (general equivalency diploma) and learn a valuable trade at the same time.

Patrick Benson, 19, who was named Communities in Schools' Volunteer of the Year, can tell you all about the program.

Benson's school career was characterized by repeated discipline problems. Fighting was a mainstay for him. While Benson was in the eighth grade, he missed more than 60 days because of discipline issues.

"I stayed in trouble," Benson said. "I was cursing the teachers out, skipping school and didn't care what the teacher said."

Last year, Benson quit school while in the 11th grade.

After sitting around thinking about what to do, someone told him about New Beginnings, which provides alternative schooling for troubled youth.

From New Beginnings, he went on to YouthBuild, where he began working toward his GED.

In December, he took the exam, and passed every section, except for writing.

He went back and took the writing portion again in March – and passed.

"Now I have the GED I need for a better job and to get further in my education," said Benson, who plans to attend the University of South Carolina at Lancaster in the fall to study business and minor in accounting.

He's now giving back to the program that has helped him so much.

He has worked on two house construction programs, the second of which was built last week. He wrote a letter to the editor of The Lancaster News last year about the need to support veterans.

He helped build a float for the Christmas parade and also assists the Guardian ad Litem program with its toy drive.

In just a year, Benson's life has taken a 180-degree turn. He gives Communities in Schools much of the credit for their help.

After receiving his plaque Tuesday, he left the crowd with some sound advice.

"Keep your head up," Benson said. "Anything is possible if you put your mind to it."

Contact reporter Jesef Williams at jwilliams@thelancasternews.com or (803) 283-1152