Defying the odds Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2010
Winner
Youth Award

Ben Carpenter is like many 15-year-olds. He loves playing X-Box and soccer and enjoys swimming, reading and computers. But unlike many 15-year-olds, Ben was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy types two and three. He could walk with the assistance of leg braces and a walker, but he now uses a wheelchair. That, however, hasn’t stopped him. Despite the challenges facing him at a young age, he was determined to defy them.

“As soon as people see my wheelchair, they automatically begin to doubt my abilities,” he says. “This pushes me to try harder at all things that I do.”

Ben is a straight-A student and a member of the Tampa Thunder power wheelchair soccer team, which is ranked eighth in the nation and third in the Southeast. He also serves as a patient ambassador for the Tampa Shriners Hospital for Children and has been a speaker for the hospital, Junior Achievement and the MDA trying to motivate people to rethink their preconceived notions about people in wheelchairs.

He was also selected as one of 27 students in Nestle’s 2007 Very Best in Youth awards. For the recognition, he was flown to Los Angeles, and on the flight home, he came up with the idea for his nonprofit organizations, Ben’s Mends and Ben’s Mends Hearts. Ben’s Mends takes in used and abused books, repairs them, and then donates them to other nonprofit organizations that help women, children and the elderly. To date, the organization has donated more than 3,000 books to different Tampa Bay facilities, such as the Tampa Shriners Hospital for Children, the Veterans Association Hospital and The Spring of Tampa Bay, a battered women’s and children’s shelter. Ben’s Mends Hearts is his second nonprofit, in which he and volunteers go into places such as Alzheimer’s care facilities and read to those who may not be able to or simply need a friend.

Ben has proven that anyone can succeed despite the challenges life presents them.

How to reach: Shriners Hospital, (813) 972-2250 or www.shrinershq.org/hospitals/tampa