Faces in the Crowd is a community spotlight, profiling people who are doing interesting and/or meaningful things in the Black Hills area.

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Faces in the Crowd: Jessica Benson

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RAPID CITY, S.D. -

In an age of cellphones, social media, and Snapchat, being a teen in the 2010s typically means spending a lot of time online. One Rapid City teen, Jessica Benson, is busy giving back.

Jessica’s love for community service began at a young age. As a shy 8-year-old, Jessica was encouraged by her mom to break out of her shell by entering a pageant. She didn't win that year, but she went on to hold many pageant titles, including Little Miss Rapid City, Junior Miss Sturgis, Miss Black Hills Gold Outstanding Teen, Miss Meade County Outstanding Teen, and Miss Rapid City Teen International.

She's been competing in pageants for nearly 10 years and says the experience gained is priceless. Jessica says making connections with people in the community, meeting new friends, and of course, the volunteer opportunities, are all benefits of competing in pageants.

Jessica is involved in several organizations, including: Teen UP - which helps teens in the community find their passion and leadership skills - Student Council, National Honor Society, Stevens High School Drumline, Black Hills Area Community Foundation, and her church.

But it's her passion for lifting up veterans, military members, and first responders that takes the cake, and it trickles down from family. She was inspired by loved ones who served.

That enthusiasm led her to organize a community-wide unity event with proceeds from a 9/11 anniversary sock drive. Jessica called it the Spirit of Heroism Banquet. Thanks to community support, 140 veterans, military members, and first responders came to the dinner in November, and three were awarded for their heroism. With such a successful dinner, Jessica plans on making it an annual event.

Jessica’s experience with founding the banquet was an eye-opening event. “I figured out they are the definition of what community service is ...  A lot of the people there didn't necessarily want to be honored with the award, because they didn't expect anything in return. They were just doing it because it's the right thing to do. That was really inspiring to me.”

She encourages all youth to get involved in their community, as she has gained many life skills with her experiences.

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