The legacy of Mark Benjamin lives on in Santa Monica — not just through the iconic buildings his company constructed around town, but also through people who continue striving to embody his generous spirit.
Less than two years after Benjamin and three others died in a plane crash at Santa Monica Airport, the local Human Relations Council is honoring him by celebrating four volunteers for their compassion, leadership and activism.
Leslie Abell, Barbara Neff, Blake Richetta and Nat Trives were recognized by the nonprofit community coalition during a reception Thursday evening at Santa Monica Bahai Center on Colorado Avenue.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to honor Mark Benjamin, who gave so much of his free time to the council and to the community,” HRC board chair Karen Gunn said. “We named this in his honor because of the good work he did.”
Abell has held numerous leadership roles for the Exceptional Children’s Foundation over the last 30-plus years. He has also donated legal services to the foundation, which supports thousands of children and adults with developmental disabilities and other special needs in Los Angeles County.
Neff has volunteered extensively with Chrysalis, a nonprofit group that aims to help disadvantaged people achieve economic self-sufficiency. A freelance writer, editor and communications consultant, she has taught interview skills to people looking to enter or re-enter the job market for nearly a decade and has mentored formerly homeless women.
Richetta has been volunteering at OPCC for five years, leading class discussions, teaching clients how to use computers and supporting drives for food and clothing. He has also volunteered with Upward Bound House, a local nonprofit group that aims to eliminate homelessness through housing, support services and advocacy.
Trives, a former mayor and police sergeant, has played key roles in numerous community organizations over the last seven decades, including educational institutions, business and faith groups and charities. He is known as “Mr. Santa Monica” because of his dedication, outreach and advocacy.
“They’re incredible people — extraordinary people doing extraordinary things,” Gunn said of this year’s honorees.
The event doubled as a tribute to Benjamin, who was a longtime HRC board member. The late Morley Buildings CEO provided meeting space for the group, donated regularly and contributed to its efforts.
“It was a tremendous loss for us — he was such a stalwart volunteer and supporter,” Gunn said. “He had a lot of different ideas for engagement, for bringing all voices to the table. He wanted to find ways for how we could learn about the people in the city.
“The reason for the award is to recognize people who are taking the same path.”
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