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At the youthful age of 19, David Benton was shouldering a very demanding life.
He was a full-time student at Lakeland College, working a full-time job and starring as a defensive lineman on the Muskies' football team, en route to becoming one of the few players in Lakeland history to become an All-American. If that wasn't enough, David also became a father. Under pressures that might have made some young men crack, David made use of all the resources available to him at Lakeland College to turn his challenges into victories.
"Without Lakeland, I would have never gotten this far in my career," David said.
During his college years, David began to dream of what he would do to make a contribution to the next generation. "My vision has always been bigger than myself," he states. "It all started with wanting to change my family situation, and making sure I gave my child, Destiny Rose Benton, a better life than I was given."
At Lakeland, David began to think about and build the foundation of Empower Youth Services, a non-profit that works to assist at-risk youth. Today, David is the president of the organization that he both envisioned and founded.
Empower Youth serves young men ages 10 to 18 in Sheboygan County and surrounding areas by lowering the crime rate and the truancy rate, and by providing these teens with the skills they need to succeed through high school and into higher education settings. The goals of Empower Youth are to instill positive values in young men and to create stronger educational practices within families. David is on a personal mission to see these boys grow up to be men, who—like him—will know how to recognize and share their gifts as productive members of their communities.
Currently, Empower Youth provides very client-centered services to approximately 10 teens at a given time, through a program that meets every evening. Programs focus on study habits, life skills, self-esteem issues, goal-setting, anger management and other skills. David is very proud of testimonial letters he receives, like the one from the grandparents of a young man from Oostburg who wrote: "When [our grandson] first entered the program, he was non-communicative with us, prone to temper outbursts and depressed…Today [he] is a different person. He no longer displays angry outbursts. He is more willing to communicate. He also has verbalized his love and gratitude to us for being his guardians and taking good care of him. This program has been instrumental in facilitating the necessary changes for [our grandson's] growth and development. His transformation has been beautiful for us to witness. We deeply appreciate all the help he has been given by David Benton and Empower Youth, Inc."
David is hoping to take the organization to the next level by opening up a residential center where at-risk youth can actually live full-time and learn the necessary life skills that lead to success. The organization is county-funded, and is actively seeking support from local churches, foundations, and private donors.
At Lakeland, David majored in Criminal Justice and Non-Profit Management. His fondest memories include being named a football All-American, his involvement in the Beta Sigma Omega fraternity, and as he says, "coming to Lakeland as a boy, but seeing myself leave as a man." He credits the support system of the fraternity and the family atmosphere of Lakeland in general in helping to "keep me in line and on a path to get a degree." The three things he misses most about Lakeland? "Community, Family, and Betas."
When asked what advice he would give to new graduates, David replies, "Have a plan that includes short and long term goals. Stay true to yourself and never be afraid to tap into the resources that Lakeland has to offer. Lastly, remember it's life, and life has a way of throwing us a curve ball or two."
If you'd like to get in touch with David, you can reach him at email@example.com.