By KIMEKO MCCOY
It’s common to be a hard worker in the senior year of high school, but Pedro Menendez High School senior Ben Damus gives it a whole new meaning.
450th Youth Ambassador Ben Damus does it all. He is in Pedro Menendez High’s International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IB Program). He has been National Honor Society president sophomore, junior and senior year. He also participates in a mentorship program for children.
“I do a lot,” Damus said. “I’m really involved at school.”
On top of everything at school, Damus finds time to work as a cashier at Publix on the island.
To keep it all straight in his head, Damus tries his best to cover all of his bases and stay current in all of his programs.
“A lot of it is balanced between before school, right after school and in the evenings,” he said.
So when Nancy Birchall, Youth Ambassador coordinator, approached him about joining the organization back in 2011, Damus thought sure, why not?
Fortunately for him, the group’s meetings don’t normally conflict with his other duties.
“450th is nice because it’s in the evenings that we get to get together and do the tours and everything,” he said.
Upping his game
The high school senior said his experience with the ambassadors really helps him up his game at Publix as cashier.
Damus said it’s nice to be able to honestly and genuinely have knowledge about St. Augustine and its history to offer tourists at his job as they check.
“It’s really nice to be able to share that and our history with like a three-minute conversation.”
In addition to helping him out with his people skills at Publix, Damus says he’s learned a lot more about this city.
Although he grew up knowing the area, Damus was surprised to find there was still a lot he and his fellow ambassadors didn’t know.
“I grew up downtown. We would be there on the weekends or at night,” Damus said.
“So I was familiar with downtown but I hadn’t been to everything.”
With visits to places like the Old Jail and the Lightner Museum, Damus can now say he knows much more about the Nation’s Oldest City.
Getting publicly involved
With school, work and the ambassadors, Damus has managed to master the art of public speaking and proved it at the United Way of St. Johns County kick-off breakfast on Sept. 24.
Executive Director Melissa Nelson said Damus was well-spoken and really blew everyone away that morning.
Damus, who is an intern for the United Way, got involved with United Way through another group called Youth Leadership.
Youth Leadership is a group of representatives from each high school in the area that meet monthly with the Chamber of Commerce to have different themed days to learn about different things in the city, Damus said.
“He’s obviously a hard-worker,” Nelson said.
By doing the allocations process, Nelson said Damus really began to understand what it is that United Way does and gained a personal connection that allowed him to convey that through his public speaking skills.
“What he brought to us was the ability to really communicate how he felt personally impacted by the United Way’s work,” she said.
For Nelson, Damus never ceases to amaze.
“I’ve seen him out pushing (carts) out at the beach, hot summer day, just still smiling,” she said.
A bright future ahead
Like many of the ambassadors, Damus has his future mapped out.
“I want to design cars,” he said. “I’ve wanted to design cars all my life.”
That being the case, Damus is looking at majoring in industrial design at either Auburn University in Alabama or Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania.
Even in his spare time, Damus is all about cars.
Driving, road trips and anything else that allows him to get behind the wheel, Damus finds interesting.
In fact, the summer before last, Damus and a few friends would strap up some water rafting gear to the top of Damus’ vehicle and head out to the springs for a few days.
As for 450th festivities next year, Damus may be living the dream in college but that won’t stop him from coming home for the big celebration.
“Even if I’m just here for a day,” Damus said, “I think it’ll be an awesome experience.”
In the end, he hopes to return full circle and come back to where he started.
“You know, after college, I want to return back to St. Augustine and live here.”