May 12, 2017

Former ‘A Promise to Keep’ mentor starts program in Iowa

Deviney Benson, a 2012 graduate of Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis, where she was a member of the A Promise to Keep chastity program, delivers a keynote address to the current A Promise to Keep mentors during a luncheon in their honor at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis. Benson was so impacted by the program that she helped start it in the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa, where she now lives. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Deviney Benson, a 2012 graduate of Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis, where she was a member of the A Promise to Keep chastity program, delivers a keynote address to the current A Promise to Keep mentors during a luncheon in their honor at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis. Benson was so impacted by the program that she helped start it in the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa, where she now lives. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Deviney Benson looked at the roughly 170 high school students who sat where she sat just five years prior.

“Looking out at all of you, I’m feeling really sentimental because this is like looking back into my past and my journey in A Promise to Keep,” said Benson, 23.

She stood before the crowd as the keynote speaker for the annual A Promise to Keep (APTK) chastity program luncheon on April 20 at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis.

(Related story: ‘A Promise to Keep’ mentors offer testimonies at luncheon)

For more than 20 years, the APTK program has helped more than 10,000 archdiocesan teenagers not just keep their promises to live chaste lives, but it’s been helping those same teens mentor more than 100,000 junior high students to do the same.

Benson was an APTK mentor at Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis, where she graduated in 2012. She continued on to graduate from Simpson College just south of Des Moines, Iowa, with a major in biology and a minor in Spanish. She now works as a physical therapy rehabilitation technician for Mercy Clinic in Des Moines, and also serves as a technician at the organization’s family practice and urgent care facility.

Her life was so impacted by APTK that she helped implement the program in the Diocese of Des Moines. She spoke to the archdiocesan youth mentors about the influence the program had on her life, and why she sought to launch it in the Des Moines Diocese.

“The life that A Promise to Keep has given me has been a beautiful, empowering and confident one,” she told the youth mentors at the luncheon.

Her experience with the program started when she was in middle school at St. Malachy School in Brownsburg.

“Little middle-school-me was worried about high school,” she said. “I wanted to be cool and accepted. Based on what I saw on TV, I was going to have to change a lot in order to achieve that, and that honestly upset me a lot.

“When I walked into the classroom for A Promise to Keep, based again on my perception of life on TV, I was expecting to see nerdy [high school mentors] that didn’t really have high school figured out.”

Instead, said Benson, she saw “beautiful, confident, fun and strong men and women. This was a huge eye-opener for me.

“As they spoke about how they lived, what they were involved in and their high school experiences, I realized that they had everything I wanted, and that I could have all of it and still be the person that I wanted to be. The fact that the people in front of me were living the lives that they preached made it seem incredibly possible for me to do the same.”

Benson went on to become involved in APTK at Cardinal Ritter, going out to mentor middle school youths just like the mentors who had so impressed her.

Through her involvement in the program, Benson said she “became the most confident version of myself. People knew that I was saving myself for marriage, that I was against drugs and alcohol, and that I was advocating for A Promise to Keep, and accepted me in my entirety.”

Then she entered into her first romantic relationship. That experience impacted her, too, but not in a good way.

“I was so caught up in the feelings and everything that comes in a relationship, that I left part of myself behind,” she told the youths. “Although I stayed true to the promise to save myself for marriage, I wasn’t being the person that I promised myself I would be. I let myself believe the lie that being physical in the relationship would create a stronger relationship, when in fact, like A Promise to Keep told me, I felt the complete opposite.”

As her boyfriend challenged her more, Benson shared that “emotional damage was caused.”

“At the end of this relationship, I found myself talking to a therapist about my lack of faith, motivation, negative perception of the world and my struggle with depression. …

“I pushed people away and really didn’t like the person I was. … It took a long time to overcome the damage that that [relationship] did to me, and to be honest, I still have dreams about this sometimes. This is the effect of a toxic relationship and of ignoring your morals and core beliefs.”

It took months, she said, but eventually she reverted back to her former self—only better.

“I became even stronger in A Promise to Keep because I realized what a life without it would be like—empty, painful and [without] direction.”

In college, Benson witnessed many young women leading such empty lives.

“The girls that I met who talked about having sex openly were girls that were generally unhappy,” she shared. “And I’ve seen and heard the same thing happening to guys in relationships like this.”

On the other hand, Benson said, “There were other girls that I met and became friends with just because they were happy, carried themselves with confidence, treated others with kindness and were just fun.”

After being friends with these women for a few months, Benson learned that they, like her, “were all saving [themselves] for marriage and living lives like I had been taught through A Promise to Keep. … I spotted these girls and became friends with them just because of their personalities, confidence and positive outlooks, and had no idea that they were living like me. … It showed me that those who make the sacrifice to save themselves for marriage know a happiness, truth and self-love that can’t be achieved anywhere else.”

She noticed the same thing with certain men.

“The guys that held themselves with the most confidence and the kindest guys I met were those that held these values,” she said. “This really does show the beauty in living life the way God intended you to.”

Both during and after college, Benson sought to start APTK in the Diocese of Des Moines. After four years of approaching various ministries and schools, she sent a copy of the program to the superintendent of Catholic schools for the Des Moines Diocese, who in turn contacted Erik Smith, director of formation and ministry at Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines. The program was started in that school this year with seven mentors from Dowling visiting students in two Catholic middle schools.

“I went in to watch this new group of high schoolers speak to their assigned middle school class,” Benson recalled. “I saw hope and the start of something that I knew would change the lives of those that participate in it. … These kids will learn to love themselves and be strong and stand up for themselves. I couldn’t wish to give anyone more than those gifts.”

Feedback from the Des Moines mentors indicate they, like Benson, have been impacted by APTK, said Smith.

“One of the cool things I noticed is that, for all of the student mentors, just being part of the program made them think about their own spirituality and where they’re at on their faith journey when it comes to their relationship with God,” he said.

Smith noted that, before starting the program, the mentors were asked to do some intense soul-searching.

“It’s a powerful thing for a young person to stand in front of kids and talk about the things they talk about, and actually live it out themselves,” he said. “[The mentors] had to do a lot of internal reflection to make sure they could commit to it. They said that really helped them in the school year as well.”

Another aspect Smith likes about the program is the impact of peer-to-peer teaching.

“Having a high school person come in and talk about making good decisions in high school can be a powerful thing,” he said. “Student-to-student lessons can be more powerful than hearing that message from a teacher.”

Smith said Benson has done “a great job” in helping him roll out the program.

“She’s always supportive, always made herself available,” he said. “She connected with the students right away. She understood their needs in getting ready to give the presentations. Without her, we couldn’t have pulled this off.”

As for Benson, she is grateful for the opportunity to “tell young people why it’s important to stay true to yourself and have standards for what you deserve.

“A Promise to Keep is really making a difference. I am truly blessed and in awe by the work that God has let unfold.”
 

(For more information on A Promise to Keep, contact Margaret Hendricks at 317-236-1478, 800-382-9836. ext. 1478, mhendricks@archindy.org, or log on to oce.archindy.org/a-promise-to-keep.aspx.)

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