The CATALYST mentoring program continues to uphold its vision in our community by providing opportunities for our youth that are life-enhancing. This summer is no different.

Felicia Benzo has spearheaded a summer of experiential learning with the 2019 CATALYST Summer Literacy and Leadership Academy, which began June 10.

“The purpose of the academy is to enhance and develop literacy skills, reading, writing and speaking, and to help our youth find their purpose and to build a better world,” Benzo said. “It is important that they learn about leaders and how they overcome their challenges to be who they are today.”

The three academy sites are Southwestern Middle School in DeLand, Galaxy Middle in Deltona, and Campbell Middle in Daytona Beach.

“The CATALYST Academy at Southwestern Middle School, where I am currently serving as director, has been amazing this summer!” Sharon Brown said. “Our scholars have participated in academic-focused activities as well as leadership opportunities. The academy serves scholars from the fifth through the ninth grade.”

She continued, “Each week, our scholars read biographies and autobiographies of Americans who have made a significant positive impact in society. They learn of their humble beginnings, struggles and successes, in hopes to give them hope for a brighter future.”

Brown is a longtime educator in Volusia County and brings a wealth of experience and engagement to the program.

The academy is serving 120 students this summer, with a staff of 24: six high-school leaders, three directors and 15 college-team leaders from the University of Central Florida, Bethune-Cookman University, Full Sail University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Daytona State College.

Each student receives six free novels and learns about financial readiness, entrepreneurship, social impact, debate, and how to make an effective presentation.

Each week, students learn from speakers in a specialized field. They also take part in five tours, including a recent visit to Bethune-Cookman University and a trip to the Hard Rock Hotel in Daytona Beach.

All these opportunities were made possible by the current sponsors: AdventHealth, the DeLand Rotary Club, the DeLand Breakfast Rotary Club, and Judy Thompson.

The students have learned and will continue to learn at great length from volunteer speakers who have opened their minds to possibilities.

“I really enjoy being a part of the CATALYST summer program. I am learning karate, Spanish, and so many other fun things,” said Jameel Acree, a sixth-grade Southwestern student.

This program has expanded from an idea to a collaboration of like-minded individuals who want to make a true difference in the lives of children. However, it could not have been accomplished without the leadership and vision of Felicia Benzo.

If you are interested in learning ways in which you can assist, email to catalystflorida1@gmail.com or call 386-216-4289.

— Cameron, a longtime educator, lives in Orange City. Send email to cameronchronicleslive@gmail.com.