Benjamin House performers gear up for talent show

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Benjamin Hughes (left) and George White practice their rendition of "76 Trombones" for the Benjamin's House's 11th annual Talent Show that will be held at Museum of the Albemarle on Saturday, July 28, at 2 p.m.

071118 Benjamin House

BY Anna Goodwin McCarthy

Friday, July 13, 2018

Benjamin Hughes will kick off the Benjamin House’s 11th annual Talent Show later this month with his rendition of “76 Trombones” while also leading a parade of performers across the stage.

The iconic song from the Broadway musical “The Music Man” will be just one of the songs Hughes and eight other Benjamin House residents will be performing during the talent show at Museum of the Albemarle on Saturday, July 28. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “It’s the Hard Knock Life” and “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” are other songs on tap for the 2 p.m. performance.

The show will also highlight residents’ other talents, including joke-telling, impersonations and dancing. A waltz from the Disney film, “Beauty and the Beast,” will be featured.

Ann Hughes, Benjamin’s mother and founder of the Benjamin House, said residents are “having a wonderful time practicing” for this year’s show. The assisted living residence for the mentally challenged offers brain-stimulating activities for residents every day, so practicing for the talent show is a way for them to work on their memorization skills while also having fun exploring their talents.

“It has given all of our residents a confidence they never had,” Hughes said.

Joining the residents on stage for the show will be six Benjamin House staff members, Hughes said.

Hughes, a retired educator, and her husband, Lennie, an attorney, founded the Benjamin House in February 2006 after years of planning. They founded the assisted living facility as a way to build a future for their third child, Benjamin, who was diagnosed with autism at age 2.

When Benjamin was first diagnosed, Hughes said “some doctors said there was nothing we could do.” However, Hughes found the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential in Pennsylvania, which specializes in child brain development. There, Hughes learned techniques that Benjamin could use at home to further develop his skills.

Because learning some of these techniques required at least 16 hours of work a day, Hughes said she and her family were fortunate to have the help of some 250 volunteers.

“These people cared and have continued to care about Benjamin,” she said.

After more than three years of this extensive training, Benjamin achieved great success in skill building and physical movement. Hughes said he was reading at an early age and later attended public school, graduating from Northeastern High School. He is now looking forward to his 40th birthday in August.

“He has a very rewarding, rich life,” said Hughes.

Hughes said she and her husband created Benjamin House so that Benjamin and other mentally challenged people “could have the best life possible.” An active member of Christ Episcopal Church, Hughes says she was guided by her faith.

“God put it in my heart,” Hughes said of Benjamin House’s founding.

Faith also plays a role at the Benjamin House. The facility hosts two chapel services each weekday — once in the morning, the other in the evening. Hughes said residents also volunteer at local organizations and several hold supported employment in the community. Benjamin, for example, volunteers at the Pasquotank County Library.

“They all have full lives,” said Hughes.

Hughes said a year prior to the facility’s opening, Benjamin House Community Services was created. It has served hundreds of people since it began, offering services that include personal care, respite, supported employment, in-home skill building, community networking, residential support, personal assistance, developmental therapy and group living.

Hughes’ husband, Lennie, serves as the executive director of Benjamin House, Inc., and her son, Lennie Hughes Jr. serves as executive director of Benjamin House Residential. Jayne Hollowell is the director of Benjamin House Community Services.

Hughes said her daughter, Laurel, lives in Wilmington and works in the mental health field. Hughes calls working with mentally challenged people her family’s “passion.”

Hughes said she started the talent show 11 years ago, after recalling how Benjamin had enjoyed performing in the talent show at a camp he attended as a youngster.

The first year the talent show was held in the Benjamin House dining room, but Hughes said there was not enough room for attendees. Hughes said attendance at the show is always high, and the auditorium at the museum was full last year.

“It has been well-received,” said Hughes. “The community is so invested in Benjamin House.”

The Benjamin House Talent Show is free and open to the public. Hughes said the organization has never charged admission to the event, but attendees may bring nonperishable goods for donation to Amen Ministries.

“It is such a wonderful gathering of happy hearts,” said Hughes.

For more information, visit the Benjamin House Facebook page or visit http://​www.benjaminhouse.org/​about/​benjamin-house.