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At a young age, DiBenedetto found himself, essentially, caring for himself. When others his age were planning for homecoming he was couchsurfing, grateful for a place to sleep. Thanks to some notable people who entered at different stages in his life, he says that the community was his family. Think Big for Kids is a nonprofit that helps underprivileged youth discover untapped potential through three programming pillars: career exploration, mentoring and job readiness and job placement. He was raised, mostly, by his grandparents in Brooklyn, New York during his early life and he had a particularly close bond with his grandmother.

It was enveloped in crime and drugs. About four years following the move to Florida, DiBenedetto was rocked by the death of his grandmother.

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Recalling the memory visibly makes DiBenedetto emotional. We were poor and my grandfather did odd jobs, even after we moved to Fort Lauderdale.

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We got our hair cut at Kmart, wore crappy clothes and, at times, we were on welfare and food stamps. I was just never embarrassed by it. From the age of 12 into young adulthood, DiBenedetto lived with more than a dozen different people. But it was good because he gave me a responsibility. You should get into computers. At the time, there were no computers in schools. It was I was a ward of the community, instead of the state. The principal knew, the guidance counselors knew. But I got good grades, I took tough classes and they let me not have a guardian.

I would check myself into school. I answered for myself at a really young age. He lived with a lot of different people. Even in households that spoke Spanish and German, just to name a few. Nearing the end of high school, DiBenedetto had a major moment that directly ties into his passion behind Think Big for Kids. The high school awarded him multiple awards and scholarships, most of them small tokens of his achievements.

But the big one was a scholarship from a local high school booster to attend Cornell University to play baseball. He notes, while he never did end up attending Cornell, it was the intent behind the gesture that impacted him profoundly. I must make sure to pay it back. Entering his young adult years, DiBenedetto decided to go to Florida State University, a much more affordable option than out-of-state Cornell.

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When he arrived, and was set to start taking classes, he learned that his scholarship fell through. He was an unbelievable influence on me…he taught me a ton about people. It was hard to feel sorry for himself, and his own challenges, in the presence of someone like Douglas, DiBenedetto recalls. DiBenedetto also met Pearl, another mother figure, who is still present in his life today.

At a relatively young age of 32, he was named partner at the firm. He did just that. He opened a pizza and bagel place in South Tampa. He ran that place for about a year, while working at Arthur Andersen. One, you can always nail cost in any business. You can predict that. He refers to the challenges in finding dependable people who you can rely on. The next monumental moment he brings up is meeting Tom Wallace, managing partner at Florida Funders.

He explains this fateful meeting with Wallace as going to kiss the ring and asking for money. To hear him tell the story, it does sound like a scene from Goodfellas. Smoky restaurant, gentlemen gathered to discuss business, and make deals over bourbon and cigars.

For about 10 years, he spent time raising funds to set up computer labs, visiting clubs and sharing his story. It was another epiphany moment that jarred the concept for taking his work a step further with creating his own nonprofit organization. He was at a club, giving his prepared story, trying to inspire a room full of teenagers who probably would have been anywhere else in the world, if they could.

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It was like a moment of truth. I looked up and noticed I was only connecting with a small percent of the group. How many of you know what the SATs are? DiBenedetto left that meeting feeling like a failure. But he let it be the catalyst for a whole new approach to reaching underrepresented, or underprivileged, youths before they gave up on a world that seemed to move by without them.

DiBenedetto met with Chris Letsos, who used to run the Boys and Girls Club of Tampa Bay to pitch his comprehensive program that would work with kids from sixth grade through to their first job. DiBenedetto offered to fund the entire program himself. DiBenedetto called two other local business owners to get them on board with the plan.

A full-circle moment, for certain, for DiBenedetto and his story. Great and inspiring story. You captured it wonderfully, Jo-Lynn. We continue to be very proud of Tony. Love It, I have heard much of It from Tony over the years and this is a fantastic representation of Tony.

I can hear him telling It when I read It. Great writing…. Tony, Your foundation will succeed because you truly have your heart in it. He passed away 3 years ago but, everything I do including my job, Its not work when you are passionately involved. I wish you much success. I am confident you haver the Midas touch. Save my name,and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

It was the summer between seventh and eighth grades. He realized, he had to get to them sooner.

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