Youth of the Year: Boys & Girls Club honor Ian Benoit

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PITTSFIELD — From the tiny tables of the preschool room to the well-used floors of the basketball courts, the brick and concrete building at 16 Melville St. has been a second home for Ian Benoit.

The 17-year-old Pittsfield High School junior has been an official Boys & Girls Club of the Berkshires member for the past 14 years, beginning his tenure in its Children's Center preschool. Next month, Boys & Girls Club CEO Joseph McGovern said he'll proudly introduce Benoit, during the organization's annual meeting, as the 2018 Youth of the Year.

"I've grown up here," said Benoit. "This honor is something I've actually dreamed of having."

"Ian represents our organization very well. He's an example of our mission," said McGovern, a 1987 Youth of the Year alumnus.

The recognition program at the Berkshire club has been running since 1959, he said. The program honors students who have a strong record of academic success, community service and leadership.

Born in Guatemala, Benoit was adopted as an infant by Lisa Benoit, who now serves as the assistant director of the Children's Center. Raising him on her own, she got Ian involved in every program possible so that he could build his skills and social experiences.

Over the years, Ian Benoit would come to participate in after-school programs, spend summers at the club's Camp Russell, make new friends at the club and grow up playing basketball with them.

"I've learned how to swim, cook and skate here," he said.

When he was in the fifth grade, Benoit also learned a hard life lesson in grieving, when experiencing the loss of his grandfather.

He credited his basketball coach, Dave Harte, for empathizing with him, telling him to not worry about playing in the game and instead listening to him and his feelings of loss.

"He got me out of my sorrow," said Benoit of his coach.

The local Youth of the Year credited another coach, the late Dave Zerbato, for also supporting him through times of struggle.

"My mom's a single mom. To have my coaches as my father figures, it's just nice to have people I can go to whenever I need someone to talk to," said Benoit. "I've learned there are a lot of tough turns and curves you can have in life. ... If you keep it in, it can hurt you more. So it's good to have certain people to talk to and trust."

Now that he's older, Benoit has taken on a part-time job as a gym and game room supervisor at the club, has become a part of the Keystone leadership program there, and strives to be a friend and mentor to the younger club members.

He said he sees a lot of his own self and his own upbringing in many of the youths he meets there.

"These kids have my heart, man. They're amazing," Benoit said. "As a kid growing up here, my main goal has been just to help at least one person. To help — it's an amazing feeling to say something encouraging and put that smile on that kid's face."

When he's not at the Boys & Girls Club or studying, Benoit is involved in the 1Berkshire Youth Leadership Program, as well as the PHS football, baseball and alpine ski teams.

"We in society today tend to look at a lot of negatives, but there are more positive things out there. Ian really represents those positives," McGovern said.

The CEO noted that as far as anyone can remember, it seems Benoit is the first Berkshire Youth of the Year who is not a high school senior. He was selected by a group of judges to receive the honor after submitting an application and being interviewed among three other youth finalists.

He will go on next week to compete in a state Boys & Girls Clubs of America Youth of the Year competition, and has a chance to proceed on to the New England regional and national competition. The honor comes with scholarship funds at each level.


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