Dorothy Benson: Spirit of Gainesville nominee
Published: Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, September 7, 2012 at 11:01 a.m.
Dorothy Benson works selflessly to improve the lives of people living in southwest Gainesville, particularly in the lower-income neighborhoods of 32607 in the Tower Road corridor. Since 2009, Dorothy and the non-profit she helped create and currently chairs, the Southwest Advocacy Group or SWAG, has created a family resource center, intergenerational park, and now are well on their way to bringing a health clinic to the underserved. Volunteering full-time to bring services to her neighbors, Dorothy has been a leader in advocacy and fundraising for the SWAG community.
Category: Community Service
About Dorothy Benson
Years in Gainesville: 23
Children: Brenna and Keyton Jr.
Dorothy and SWAG are focused on neighborhoods west of I-75, east of Tower Road, north of SW 20th/24th Ave., and south of W. University Ave, which are home to a range of very-low to moderate income individuals and families. Located outside the Gainesville city limits, the area has traditionally been underserved and disconnected from existing community services and resources. Dorothy and SWAG have worked tirelessly to build strong relationships with community partners, agencies and providers to bring a collaborative effort to answer this community’s needs.
SWAG collected data from area service providers and conducted a door-to-door survey to assess the needs and opportunities for the community. After analyzing the data and learning from the residents, Dorothy led SWAG to ask the County Commission for funding for a resource center and playground. SWAG was awarded $225,000; however, Dorothy did not stop there. SWAG’s vision also included bringing a health clinic to the community so Dorothy bravely returned to the commission to request that they purchase two buildings with the funding and was unanimously supported by the commissioners.
The resource center’s renovations were completed in June of 2012 and the intergenerational park, complete with a playground and fitness equipment for adults, was installed shortly after in July.
In October 2010, Dorothy began working with the Alachua County Health Department as a member of their Federally Qualified Health Center (“FQHC”) Board to bring attention to the health disparities in the SWAG area and to identify opportunities to fund the renovations and operations of a health clinic in SW Alachua County. In August of 2012, Dorothy and the Health Department were successful in again gaining the unanimous support from the County Commission in the form of $190,000 in renovation funding for our clinic building. In addition, SWAG and the Health Department are in the final competition for a Blue Cross/Blue Shield Foundation grant that would provide $100,000 every year for 3 years to cover operational costs. This clinic, when open, will serve any and all residents in Alachua County by appointment, providing much-needed access to healthcare to the western side of our county.
These three successes are the pillars of the work Dorothy has accomplished in the southwest. Between projects, Dorothy has also advocated for maintaining bus service for the residents, advocated for much-needed and now-planned sidewalks along SW 24th Avenue from Tower Road to the I-75 overpass, and serves as a resource for those in need. In just over three years, Dorothy’s advocacy and fundraising efforts have resulted in over a half a million dollars in prevention and opportunity-driven resources for our community. In addition, Dorothy and her husband, Keyton have donated generously to SWAG, often filling in the gaps to bring a project to fruition.
Dorothy is not only one of our most active and productive volunteers, she is also a dedicated, loving wife and mother of two. Only one woman, Dorothy combines her commitments to her family and to SWAG by including her family in her efforts. Her husband, Keyton, is her biggest supporter and has helped SWAG develop a partnership with Tower Hill Insurance Group, and her son, Keyton Jr., and daughter, Brenna, have assisted with donations and attended fundraising events. SWAG has become a member of their family.
As SWAG moves forward, Dorothy’s unrelenting enthusiasm, ingenuity, and support will no doubt continue to be an amazing asset to SWAG. She often spends 40+ hours each week working to accomplish SWAG’s goals and volunteers at the resource center regularly. She has become a colleague and a great friend to SWAG members, some as close as family. With over 200 members from diverse backgrounds, varying ethnicities and ages this is quite an achievement! We look forward to Dorothy continuing to serve our community, in the spirit of Gainesville.
To learn more about Dorothy’s accomplishments with the Southwest Advocacy Group, please visit their website at www.swadvocacygroup.org.
Submitted by Katie Fields
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