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Felicia Benzo is a Deltona resident who, in 2010, founded CATALYST Global Youth Initiatives, a mentoring and youth organization focusing on helping “at-risk” children.

“It is to inspire children in our county to greatness, whatever greatness means,” she told The Beacon. “Most of all, it means being the best version of themselves.”

Benzo said 2020 presented a number of challenges for CATALYST. COVID-19 forced the program’s one-on-one mentoring to move online, which meant that both adult mentors and their student mentees needed regular computer and internet access.

In 2021, Benzo said she hopes to use the methods learned in the past year to better educate students.

The next project for CATALYST will be the start of this year’s DREAM program. The acronym stands for Dynamic, Responsible, Educated, Achieving Males, and the program is designed for middle-school boys.

DREAM begins its work on Jan. 16, and anyone interested can contact her at 386-216-4289.

Benzo is also the education chair of the Volusia Remembers Coalition. She said the organization is doing important work in grappling with the local history of lynchings.

“We don’t want to cover things up and act like they didn’t happen or change the story, when the story is very clear,” Benzo said. “Volusia Remembers has been working very diligently at recognizing the problem. We do have these lynchings that occurred and these horrific events that occurred in Volusia County, and you have to address the history.”

According to the Equal Justice Initiative — a nonprofit organization dedicated to documenting the victims of racial hate crimes across the U.S. — there were five known lynchings in Volusia County.

As someone who regularly grapples with the ugliest of ugliness in local history, Benzo said seeing a new generation of activists gives her hope.

“This is what we challenged dogs and hoses and got beat up for,” she said. “We were looking for this time when the mantle gets passed. It brought tears to my eyes.”

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