Another Voice: Next Door Inc. honors the Bentons’ service

This is the text of Next Door Inc. Executive Director Janet Hamada’s announcement on June 20 of the Philanthropist of the Year Award, named on behalf of Bonnie Benton of Hood River.

I have an announcement regarding one of our members, and about what “Service Above Self” is all about.

For several years, The Next Door staff and board have discussed instituting a new award. We are now ready to honor our 2013 Philanthropists of the Year. Let me tell you about Don and Bonnie Benton.

Don Benton serves on the boards of Big Brothers Big Sisters, Hood River-Tsuruta Sister Cities, Hood River Lions, Hood River Adopt A Dog, Opportunity Connections and Hood River Rotary.

He is on the Mount Hood Town Hall Advisory Council, the Hood River Council of United Way of the Columbia Gorge, and the Hood River Police Department Police and Community Relations Team.

Don volunteers, too. He is a Big Brother to “a dynamite Little Brother,” a SMART reader at Mid Valley Elementary, a Chamber of Commerce Ambassador, and an ASPIRE mentor at Hood River Valley High School.

We don’t even try to keep track of the hours Don has given as a volunteer for The Next Door. Don is an active and involved member of Lions Club, Patriot Guard Riders, this Rotary Club and no fewer than four armed services organizations including the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

Don and Bonnie Benton make all their giving decisions together, and this award is for both of them. Three years ago, they decided together to establish a Donor Advised Fund with the Gorge Community Foundation. In addition to that fund, they award six scholarships each year.

We all know Don is generous, but there are some things I think you may not know. Don and Bonnie are not wealthy. They are still paying the mortgage on their modest home. They don’t have any trust fund income. They live on Don’s Navy pension and Social Security and Bonnie’s wages at Opportunity Connections. By living simply, they can help their community.

I wonder if you’ll be as surprised as I was that in the last three years, Don and Bonnie have donated over 25 percent of their income to nonprofits, almost all of them in our community. Over the five years they’ve supported The Next Door’s programs, they have given $18,702 in cash and over $1,500 worth of in-kind gifts (or a total of over $20,000).

They sponsored one of our offices, a classroom, and our employee break room, where Don can often be found enjoying a cup of coffee.

But back to Bonnie. Even though Bonnie could have used her education degree in more lucrative ways, for the past 22 years she chose to work with developmentally delayed women and men, and you should see how patiently she teaches, encourages and helps them. It is hard, messy, often dangerous work. Bonnie truly has a heart of gold.

Some weeks Bonnie puts in her 41 hours and then works another 20 hours so her coworkers can take vacation days. Like Don, she volunteers — for Adopt A Dog, The History Museum and the Lions Club. She served as Lions secretary and shows up for every fundraising event she possibly can. Bonnie has parked thousands of cars.

As you can tell, Bonnie is as much a community supporter as Don. And that’s why we named this award, which we hope to make annually, after her, the Bonnie Benton Philanthropist of the Year Award.

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