For this Distinguished Alumni Award winner, community is life.
On any given day, Jeffrey Benson Jr. plays several roles, including father, husband, businessman, student, and community leader. But what keeps his phone ringing, he says, is being a “connector of people.”
“I have the gift of wanting to help people, to see people in a better position than where they’re at,” says Benson. “I honor God for my ability to connect people, to pull together the resources needed to do the things that help.”
His efforts to help the residents of his hometown of Seaford, Delaware, have earned him Wilmington University’s 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award, given annually by the Alumni Association to recognize outstanding achievements among exceptional graduates.
“Sometimes you want to do things that are bigger than yourself,” Benson explains. “I’m not rich, but I have the passion to share resources. My reward is all the greater for helping others. And if you’re recognized for work that you’re passionate about, how can you not be humbled by that?”
A managing partner at Prominent Insurance Group, Benson is a two-time graduate of WilmU’s College of Business with an eye on a third degree. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Marketing in 2015 and an MBA in Organizational Leadership in 2019. Since May 2020, he’s been studying toward a Doctor of Business Administration as well.
Except for the four years he spent in Texas and Germany with the U.S. Air Force, he’s called Seaford home for his entire life, which has given him an incomparable perspective on how it’s changed. “Economically, it’s seen better times,” he says. “We have yet to recover from that. We have a lot of people in need. But I live in this area, and I’m proud of this area. We have a lot of people trying to make it work.”
Benson’s seat on the Seaford School District Board of Education and his participation in a range of statewide development initiatives, including the Vision Coalition of Delaware’s leadership team and the Delaware Racial Equity and Social Justice Collaborative, represent only the surface of his service.
Every other Thursday, he participates in mentoring local middle and high school students with lessons of leadership for young men in crisis. “When you’re working with youth, you see a reflection of yourself,” he says. “You remember that sometimes you just need to be pointed in the right direction.”
His tutoring group, called “The Gentlemen’s Club,” migrated to a videoconference format last spring. While Benson admits that the virtual sessions don’t have quite the same spark as in-person contact, he says they offer much-needed assistance to students who are struggling with remote learning.
He’s also one of the organizers of Seaford Community of Hope, a relief project that helps local families and their children to overcome adversity. Developed in 2019 with funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Children & Families First, and the Sussex County Health Coalition, the organization found no shortage of needs to address in the Year of COVID.
“We never stopped working,” says Benson. Seaford Community of Hope lent a hand in the Seaford School District’s food distribution efforts to residents throughout the year. It also offset rent payments and donated gift cards to the residents of a local low-income housing development, besides arranging a coronavirus testing event there.
“Jeffrey Benson is most deserving of the Distinguished Alumni Award,” says Dr. Tina Barksdale, WilmU’s vice president of student affairs, alumni relations, and development. “His successful career, his educational achievements, and his impact in the Seaford community — especially the work he has done to help children and families in need and directly affected by the pandemic — make him a standout alum and the ideal person to be honored with this award.”
“My first impression of Mr. Benson was of a focused student who was passionate about his studies and desired to learn even outside of the course curriculum,” recalls Adjunct Instructor Myron Sartell, whose finance courses Benson attended for his bachelor’s and MBA degrees. “Jeff was a polite and respectful student, and it comes as no surprise to me that he has been recognized for outstanding community service.”
Making the connections between those in need and those who have the resources to help can take a lot of time — one of the most valuable resources of all. Plus, there’s still all those other roles to play. When Benson’s schedule is full, he worries whether he’s doing enough to keep the students that The Gentlemen’s Club tutors on track. “I recognize that they need us,” he says, “which is hard because I recognize that I can usually do a little more.”