sb_featureSamantha Benson received a Give Back Scholarship in 2008 as she was entering high school. She was born to a single mother who worked tirelessly to provide opportunities for Samantha.

“While 8th grade graduation is a very exciting time for most, I was nervous and apprehensive,” Samantha explained. “I knew my mother wanted me to attend Catholic high school, and that she would run herself into the ground with working two jobs if that is what she would have to do.”

Receiving the scholarship lifted a large burden from her mother, and as a result, allowed Samantha to focus on her studies as opposed to worrying about her mother’s financial stress.

“I’ve always been a grateful person, but the word “gratitude” now has a whole different meaning,” Samantha said. “I did not take for granted any of my high school experience. One of the things I remember Steve Cardamone, (Give Back Executive Director, Illinois Chapter) telling me when my mother and I met with him for the first time was to work hard, but don’t forget to “stop and smell the roses along the way.”

Samantha kept Steve’s words with her as she paved her own future, graduating as valedictorian of her high school, Mt. Assisi. She went on to study Psychology with a minor in Spanish at Loyola University Chicago, graduating with honors of magna cum laude. She is now pursuing a master’s degree in Social Work at Aurora University. Outside of school, she is employed full time at Hephzibah Children’s Association in their group home as a child care worker.

“The children I serve live in the group home usually because they have had several failed placements in foster care, which is often a result of the severe abuse they have experienced, and the behavioral and mental problems that come with it,” Samantha said. “There is a saying that goes, ‘If you love your job, you will never work a day in your life.’ I always thought that was impossible, but I have been blessed enough to be able to completely experience this.”

After she obtains her MSW and begins working full-time, Samantha plans to work part time at Hephzibah on the weekends. Growing up without a dependable father and a mother who worked relentlessly to provide for her, Samantha personally understands the importance of positive role models and hopes to continue to be there for these kids as her mother was for her.

“I help them be optimistic for a brighter future, and I am trying my best to teach them to stop and smell the roses once in a while, as there is blessing to be seen in all of the hard circumstances life throws at us,” Samantha said.