2018 Miss Kansas Outstanding Teen pageant winner Amelia Benjamin sings to Alzheimer patients, helping connect music and memories for those who can't remember otherwise.
Amelia Benjamin, 2018 Miss Kansas Outstanding Teen, knows how to get things done. The 16-year-old Blue Valley High School student from Leawood started an anxiety reduction program two years ago for those suffering from Alzheimer's in her home community called Music Making Memories. She and a crew of 10 volunteers serve more than 140 patients in area care facilities, all organized by Benjamin. They sing familiar songs like Amazing Grace, America the Beautiful and God Bless America and have witnessed the incredible connection between music and the disease-compromised mind.
In addition to being an academic high achiever, Benjamin is also a soccer athlete with the Puma Football Club and a show choir singer in the Stage Right Performing Arts Club. Perhaps it is her success in following her passions thus far that led to her success on the recent Miss Kansas Outstanding Teen stage in Pratt.
"I've always watched the Miss American pageants on television," Benjamin said. "I've always thought it would be cool to do that, but it wasn't until a former voice coach introduced me to an instructor who had other Miss Kansas contestants as students that I thought, maybe I could do this."
Last year Benjamin was unable to compete in MKOT because she had just won her first pageant competition in the Kansas City area USA National Miss Kansas Junior Teen 2017.
"Just the week before I had learned how to runway walk and I didn't expect to go there and win," Benjamin said. "But it was a great experience and helped prepare me for MKOT."
In Pratt last week, Benjamin said she wasn't quite sure what to expect because this was her first time participating in the Miss America organization teen pageant.
"It was really hard for me to be away from my family for a week because we are have always been so close, but it was good for me coming here," she said. "This week taught me that this is definitely doable."
Also, doable is Benjamin's goal to pursue a degree and career in neuroscience so she can further her work with Alzheimer's patients, using her background in music to enhance the lives of those struggling to remember.
"This is something I have always been passionate about," she said. "When I was eight or nine years old, I remember hearing my grandmother talk on the phone to her 92-year-old father. She would say, 'This is Pat, your daughter, don't you remember?' I don't know why but that always stuck with me."
Benjamin has experienced many healing moments in her music ministry with Alzheimer patients. She especially remembers one gentleman whom she was singing to. As they held the music together, his hands were shaking so badly that she couldn't read the words and notes, but as the song progressed, the music helped relax him so that he stopped shaking and he became calm and peaceful.
"I have a video of me singing with a woman with Alzheimer's in a care home," she said. "This woman doesn't know her name or any of her family members, but when I start singing, she begins singing the words with me in beautiful harmony. It's just incredibly touching. I could do this work forever. We have found that just singing and playing music helps these people so much."
Benjamin plays the guitar, ukulele and piano in addition to singing. For her musical number at the 2018 MKSOT pageant she sang a moving version of "God Bless America."
"I've always loved that song," she said. "It's one of the favorites I sing for my patients. I don't have to try to passionate about it. This is who I am."
Benjamin enjoys watching Netflix and shopping with friends when not involved in school activities, but she said she spends most of her time at home practicing her music. She said it is what makes her work with Alzheimer patients and her pageant life doable.
Her parents are Brendan and Michele Benjamin and she has a younger brother, Ryan. She looks forward to the year ahead as MKSOT, hoping she can connect more Alzheimer’s patients with their memories through music.