NORTHAMPTON, MA – For some people, graduating from high school is a given, a stepping stone on a relatively straight-forward path to college and career. For Ben DeMarino, graduating from the Collaborative for Educational Services’ Alternative Learning Program (ALP) in 1993 was a major and pivotal accomplishment, allowing him to move beyond his learning challenges to fulfill his long-held dream of attaining a high school diploma. On June 16th at 5:30 pm, a memorial to Ben was unveiled at the Collaborative’s special education program, HEC Academy, at 128 Pleasant Street in Northampton.
School had always been a struggle for Ben prior to his enrollment at the Collaborative’s ALP. The small-school environment and positive incentive system of the Collaborative’s program provided the right support for Ben, and he flourished academically. He intently studied subjects he was interested in, and was willing to revisit concepts that had previously been challenging for him. “Ben was an unforgettable individual whose determination was inspirational; his memory inspires me still,” says Dr. Elana Aitken, Clinical Director for the Collaborative’s special education and alternative learning programs. Dr. Aitken developed and coordinated the Collaborative’s Alternative Learning Programs, and worked with Ben when he attended the alternative learning program. After graduating from the program, Ben moved to Memphis, as he had always been intrigued by the city. Though he was a hard and serious worker, he found time to pursue his passion of scuba diving. He died unexpectedly, while training for his diving test, in 2002.
Shortly after his death, Ben’s family created a scholarship fund as a way to honor his courage and determination, as well as what Aitken describes as “his own unique way of being Ben.” Over the past 10 years, many Collaborative students have received financial support through the fund to help them manifest their own dreams. Ben DeMarino scholarships continues to allow these young people to further their education by financing community college courses, or gain skills (such as driving) that enabled them to become more independent and self-sufficient.
Ben had an unusually strong capacity to focus on what was important to him and will be remembered for his tenacious drive in pursuing his dreams. He also had a passion for attempting the improbable. A highly spirited person throughout his life, Ben loved laughter and having fun. Both the memorial and the scholarship are intended to honor his spirit.