For Kevin Benson, receiving a statewide award for his work with children was meaningful to him in more than one way.
"It made me feel that I had accomplished something I needed to do," he said.
Benson, a teacher associate who works with the Rabiner Treatment Center, was honored on Oct. 17 with the Friend of Children Award, presented by the Coalition for Family and Children's Services in Iowa. The award is given to those who have made voluntary contributions to young people in the juvenile court and child welfare systems in Iowa.
In his position, Benson works directly with the boys at Rabiner in the classroom.
"I help over at Manson (Northwest Webster) High School," he said. "I help them get their work turned in, receive reports and communicate with the teacher on what we're working on with them."
Benson also regularly comes to the Rabiner campus to speak to classrooms and talk with the boys at the facility.
Rabiner's Chief Executive Officer Brad Klug said the students have responded well to Benson.
"Mr. Benson is a very down-to-earth person, and the kids can sense that," he said. "I think there's a mutual trust between them."
Benson's award was made even more meaningful to him because of his return to Rabiner after fighting back from a serious medical condition.
He had worked at Rabiner in various positions since 2005 when he was diagnosed with diabetic amyotrophy, which he described as a rare condition that left him unable to walk.
"It changed everything," he said. "I'd lost all movement in my right leg and most of my movement in my left leg. It robbed my body of all its nerve functions."
His illness forced him to resign from Rabiner, which Klug said affected everybody at the center.
"We were sad not just because he was leaving, but also because he was sick," he said. "He was family to us."
As he recovered, Benson said he was determined to one day come back to Rabiner.
"I knew that I enjoyed my work at Rabiner," he said. "I thought that maybe I could volunteer my time once I was well enough."
When Benson did return to Rabiner, he said he hadn't recovered completely at that point, but was getting closer.
"I noticed they needed some landscaping done, so I asked them if I could volunteer my time to do some mowing," he said. "Sometimes it took me awhile to get on the mower, but I always got myself on and off."
In August 2011, Benson was well enough to return to work as a teaching associate.
He said coming back to Rabiner helped take his mind off of his illness.
"It kept me from being home and doing nothing," he said. "I knew I was busy doing something that I wanted to do."
Benson said the most enjoyable part about working with the boys at Rabiner is seeing their progress.
"It's all about seeing how they're happy with what they've accomplished," he said. "You can always touch people if you talk from the heart."