Schools unsung heroes lauded
By PAULETTE LASH RITCHIE
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 13, 2001
CITRUS HILLS -- Described as "the stars that make our schools shine," by Assistant Superintendent Linda Kelley, the school district's top 26 support people gathered Monday from the cafeterias, lunchrooms, classrooms, buses and administrative offices.
They came to the luncheon at Andre's of Citrus Hills to honor one of their own as the top support worker, one of the unsung heroes of the sprawling school district.
Benthusen, from Exceptional Student Education Services, took home the title of the Citrus County Education Foundation's 2001 Support Person of the Year.
He received a standing ovation and a host of gifts. He received a school-themed afghan, a gold star paperweight, a mantel clock, $100, $400 in in-service opportunities, a plaque and a cruise for two with Caribbean Cruise Lines.
Benthusen's comments were brief. He said he works for the students and he would accept the honor for all support people.
His job, he explained later, is to place and train students in non-paid work sites and work with the students' job coaches. He is responsible for making sure the district's services are not duplicating services students may be getting from outside agencies. He attends his students' Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings and he substitutes as a job coach when one is out.
Benthusen has about 25 students at work sites. Students working at Publix do stocking, bagging and some maintenance. Those at an area newspaper gain experience with the inserting machine, maintenance, the recycling truck, advertising and layout.
The two other work sites are the Citrus and Crystal River Health and Rehabilitation Centers, where the students work in food service and cleanup, laundry, maintenance, housekeeping or activities.
They aren't just being taught the jobs. "We're teaching them skills for work," Benthusen said. They learn to be on time, read and follow written instructions, follow verbal prompts and schedule bus transportation.
Benthusen explained that the students mature when they go out to work sites. "They grow up when they get out with adults," he said.
At the luncheon, Benthusen was reluctant to accept all the recognition for himself. His wife, Holli Benthusen, though, was more than happy to sing the praises of her husband.
"He deserves it. He's a very hard-working individual," she said. "He really cares about those kids."
The Citrus County Education Foundation 2001 Support Person of the Year Luncheon and Awards Ceremony was sponsored by Charles E. Davis Funeral Home, Florida Power Corp., Sprint, Suncoast Schools Credit Union and Villages of Citrus Hills Inc.
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