Pictured with Michael Benfante are educators Kelly Blum, Jen Kirk, Damon Mollenkopf, Jennifer Walpole, Kristie Cameron, and Ben Hartnell.
On Tuesday, January 15, Michael Benfante visited Westerville North High School to speak to students and the Warrior Way Leadership summit group. Benfante is a survivor of the September 11, 2001 attacks and the author of Reluctant Hero. ESL teacher Kristie Cameron and her students learned about Benfante’s story during work on a research project in September, and were amazed by his message. Cameron immediately began efforts, such as winning a $2,000 grant from the Westerville Education Foundation, to bring him to Westerville so the project could be even more meaningful and real for her students.
Benfante was at work on the 81st floor of the North Tower when the terrorist attack occurred. As he and his coworkers made their way down the stairs, they stopped on the 68th floor where a woman in a wheelchair needed help. Benfante and his colleague, John, carried her all the way down to safety.
Benfante’s message to his audience reached well beyond the story of his acts on September 11. He emphasized the need for people to connect, show compassion, and train themselves daily to make the right choices for small decisions. If people do the right things in little ways every day, he said, they will be ready to take action when something big happens. Benfante was careful to point out that he was far from alone in stepping up at a critical moment in history, as there were many people who selflessly sacrificed their own safety to protect others. He spoke with deep reverence for the firefighters and first responders he saw that day, many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice to try to save the lives of people trapped in the buildings. Westerville North students listened intently to the talk, and then asked thoughtful questions when there was time to interact with him.