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YMCA names its Volunteer of the Year

COVINGTON - Brent Bennett has a love of soccer and a heart for children, so it was only natural that he should take an active role in the Covington Family YMCA's soccer program when his eldest son started playing.

That was eight years ago, and since then, Bennett has become one of the YMCA's greatest assets, helping to start and grow its Select Soccer Program from about a dozen players to more than 100.

For that reason, Bennett has been named 2009 Covington YMCA Volunteer of the Year.

"He has an infectious enthusiasm for, I believe, all children being involved in fitness activities and keeping them moving," said YMCA Associate Executive Director Louly Hay-Kapp.

"He is one of the most energetic people I have ever met," she continued. "He never says no. He never looks at any situation as a barrier. He looks at it as a chance to improve or an opportunity to figure out a better way to make something happen. He keeps an incredible attitude."

For Bennett, volunteering is a chance to use his talent to give back. Bennett is a two-time Division I All-American and former semi-pro player who has been inducted into the hall of fame at his alma mater, James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. A certified youth soccer coach, Bennett said he prefers using his skills at the volunteer level.

"For me, it allows me to coach without a tremendous amount of pressure. The YMCA staff is very adaptive and they're very supportive of what it is we do. I do it because there are a lot of kids that really need help," he said.

Bennett holds practices twice a week for the more advanced Select Soccer Program and travels with his teams throughout the metro area. When he helped start the program four years ago, there was only one team; now there are 16.

Hay-Kapp said Bennett is a father figure for many of the kids he coaches.

"He gives of himself as a coach and as a father figure. He gives extra time way beyond the call of duty," she said.

While it's usually the YMCA staff's job to motivate volunteers, with Bennett it's often the other way around, Hay-Kapp said.

"Our staff has enjoyed our interaction with him and is inspired by his leadership and volunteerism and desire to make our program better," she said.

Bennett said the payoffs he gets are far better than money.

"I get a lot of satisfaction ... A lot of guys helped me along the way and this is my way of giving back to society," he said.

He said he is especially grateful to all his coaches and to his family - wife Nyasha, and sons Jabari, 13, Jelani, 11, and Jalen, 7 - who support him in all he does.

A Covington resident, Bennett is director of DeKalb County's Motor Vehicles Division.

Bennett will be honored at the Metro Atlanta YMCA annual volunteer recognition dinner Thursday at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.