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YMCA program offers Thanksgiving meals

By MAYA SULLIVAN, Correspondent
Published: Saturday, November 19, 2011 at 10:14 p.m.

Rachel Benjamin spent several months in a YMCA youth shelter, so she knows the value of a helping hand.

So it was with a bright smile and genuine enthusiasm Saturday that Benjamin, now 19, helped hand out boxed Thanksgiving dinners to needy families. Benjamin and other current and former residents of the youth shelter program gave out 80 such dinners outside the North Sarasota Library.

For Benjamin, volunteering like she did Saturday is her way of thanking the community that helped her get her life back on track after being placed in the YMCA youth shelter six years ago. After the youth shelter, Benjamin lived at Bowman Ranch, a group home that later closed. She graduated from Lakewood Ranch High and is now a sophomore at State College of Florida, with plans to transfer to Florida State University in January.

Being placed in the youth shelter changed her life, Benjamin said.

"The opportunity makes you look at things differently," she said. "The only thing that stands in your way is you."

That is really the lesson behind the turkey giveaway. Dan Dannheiser, past chair of the Babe Weiller YMCA branch who started this project four years ago, wants the youth to give back to the community.

"It's the ability to empower yourself. We're trying to give these kids that ability," Dannheiser said.

By focusing on projects that help others, Dannheiser believes it will give them a sense of value and importance to be able to give back to the community regardless of the challenges they have faced in the past.

The YMCA youth shelter provides temporary housing and care for children from troubled families who voluntarily leave their home or are placed there by the parents or the courts.

For Benjamin, her stint at the shelter, albeit brief, was a life-changing experience.

"The staff at the youth shelter gave me a sense that there were no limits on what I could do," Benjamin said as she handed out another turkey dinner.

Original article can be found at HeraldTribune.com

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