Guy Benjamin, VIPD Officer and Avelino Samuel Honored by St. John Rotary Club

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Avelino Samuel, Guy H. Benjamin and Officer Steven Payne were honored by the St. John Rotary Club for their contributions to the community.

St. John educator Guy H. Benjamin, V.I. Police Department Officer Steven Payne and teacher Avelino Samuel were honored by the Rotary Club of St. John at Miss Lucy’s Saturday, October 22, for their contributions to the community.

Benjamin was recognized as a Paul Harris Fellow, the highest award given by Rotary. Anyone who donates $1,000 to Rotary International is eligible for this award, according to Geri Kotas, president of The Rotary Club of St. John. The Rotary donated $1,000 to Rotary International in Benjamin’s name, making him eligible to be honored as a Paul Harris Fellow.

Ofc. Payne and Samuel received Vocational Service Awards in recognition for their contributions to the St. John community. The Paul Harris Fellow award is given to honor someone in the community who emulates what the Rotary, a service club, stands for, according to Rotary vice-president John Fuller.

Rotarians abide by “The Four-Way Test” in their daily lives, according to Fuller. The Rotary test asks: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Guy Benjamin
Benjamin lives his life according to these points, said Fuller. “I can think of no one on this island who lives more as a rotarian and deserves this award,” Fuller said. Benjamin, who turned 92 on October 18, said he felt wonderful for being honored. “It makes me feel humble being honored so much,” he said. “We couldn’t get along without the love and fellowship of the community and I’ve tried to live up to this.”

Benjamin was chosen by the Rotary to receive this prestigious award because of his long-time positive influence on the community. “He’s what St. John is all about,” said Ronnie Lockhart, Rotary member and master of ceremonies for the evening. Senator at Large Craig Barshinger praised Benjamin for his contributions to the community. “You are a unifying and welcoming influence,” he said.

In a short speech, Benjamin discussed the importance of working together as a community. “I was raised by the community – they made me special,” he said. “It’s always nice to be honored by your friends, and you are all my friends.”

Officer Payne Awarded
Ofc. Payne received a Vocational Service Award in recognition for his work with youth on St. John. He is the coordinator of the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention Program (JDPP), which aims to keep children off the streets by providing meaningful activities for them to participate in, such as the well-known marching band program.

“We hope to eradicate delinquency in schools, the community and at home by providing meaningful and structured activities centered around music,” Ofc. Payne said.

The officer, who acknowledged that his job seems thankless at times, was happy to see the public recognize the importance of keeping young people out of the justice system.

“I’m so elated I could burst,” he said. “Kids are our most valuable asset.”

Ofc. Payne, a former schoolteacher, decided to go into law enforcement after witnessing the abuse a young female student suffered at the hands of her father. “I had to see that this doesn’t happen to another child,” he said.

The officer said he chose music as a tool to help children after he realized that during the first year he taught marching band, all of the children in the band graduated from high school. “From 2000 to 2003, 1,500 kids dropped out – they didn’t make it to the ninth grade,” he said. “I used music to bring kids together so they don’t spend idle time in the streets.”

Ofc. Payne said he realized the need for involvement after watching some of his students fall through the cracks and hearing people question what the government was going to do about crime. “Kids I have taught have been shot, killed, raped and molested, and I kept hearing people ask what the government was going to do about crime in the Virgin Islands,” he said.

Barshinger thanked Ofc. Payne for his positive influence on the community’s children. “What you’re doing is so heartwarming,” he said. “You’re driving home the point that change is not all done by one individual.”

Woodturner Samuel Honored
Samuel also received a Vocational Service Award in recognition for work with children on St. John. Samuel, a woodturner who teaches industrial arts in St. John schools, has featured works in art galleries throughout the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Delaware.

“I’ve always liked making things,” he said. Samuel said he enjoys teaching his craft to a younger generation. “Education allows you to be independent and intellectual,” he said. Samuel, who is in his 25th year teaching industrial arts, said he was surprised to be honored.

“I feel good,” he said of being honored by the Rotary club. “I was surprised – this was the last thing on my mind.” In a speech given upon receiving his award, Samuel acknowledged his parents’ role in his achievements. “Whatever I’ve achieved is a result of my mother and father,” he said. “I accept this award on behalf of them.”

Praise for Honorees Guests at the dinner were invited to speak after the awards were presented, and many had positive comments regarding the honorees.

“They are exemplary in what they do,” said Lockhart. “It’s fitting to honor them.” Steve Simon, a jazz musician who provided entertainment for the evening with Sally Smith, also praised the award recipients. “You are our heroes – you make me so proud to be a St. Johnian,” Simon said. “An evening like this is rooted in our love for the island.”