MERIDIAN, Miss. (WTOK) - Each month, we shine the spotlight on one person who goes above and beyond in our Eleven Who Care segment. This month we meet a woman who has spent years helping those with disabilities through Special Olympics.
Shannon Benson holds a special love in her heart. And it's one that's grown since she first started volunteering in high school as an elective, where she was assigned to assist a little boy with cerebral palsy.
"He was in a wheelchair and unable to do a lot of things other elementary kids did, obviously," Benson says. "So I absolutely fell in love."
When she graduated high school, she knew her path. Benson started working at MIDD, alongside adults with disabilities, and from there began volunteering at Special Olympics. Now, 20 years later, she's more involved than ever, directing Area 5.
Tom Sikes nominated Benson for 11 Who Care after seeing her in action.
"Shannon Benson is full of passion and life and spirit," Sikes explains. "And not only for a short term, working with special needs children and Special Olympics, but for the long term."
"I've heard that time and time again; it takes a special person to work in that field or in that capacity," Benson says. "But I think that those kinds of comments come from someone who hasn't experienced it yet."
Benson says she gets far more out of the experience than any of the children do. That's something that's evident when all her hard work comes together.
"To see Shannon kind of step aside from her leadership and just being Shannon and just being one of those huggers at the end of the race, it's inspiring," Sikes says. "It makes you want to get involved."
"There's always a handful that will be running the track in the track and field event, and are smiling so big that their cheeks close their eyes and they cannot see where they are going," Benson says. "And I guarantee, you're going to leave there feeling like they volunteered their time for you."
You can check out the Area 5 Special Olympics Facebook page for more information on Special Olympics or how to get involved. It's also accepting donations. Allison Newell is the volunteer coordinator.
If you'd like to nominate someone for 11 Who Care, you may stop by the station to pick up an application or print one from the attached link.