At the age of 65, Charles Benson is a man who has had enough life experience for several lifetimes, but when he lost his job, he was forced to start a new career from square one and he did it with help from the Medical Assistant program at UEI College in Bakersfield.
Charles is a military veteran with training to offer anger management courses and substance abuse counseling. He spent nearly a decade working in the prison system in California as a substance abuse counselor.
In 2022, the prison he was working at was reorganized to serve a new population, and Charles was left without a job. The VA suggested he get some fresh training and sent him to UEI College.
“I went to school nearly 50 years ago,” Charles said. “The first module was pretty tough. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. The good teacher I had, Ms. Castillo, she made it easy for me to get into the flow of things. After that, I was on honor roll pretty much the whole time I was there.”
Charles has what he calls an addictive personality. Once he decides he likes something, he is all in. He has been with the same woman for more than 35 years. He was once addicted to drugs but has now been clean for 29 years. When he began to learn about the medical field, he was hooked.
“I’m an extrovert. I’m a people person,” Charles said. “I’ve been in the health business for quite some time. I like to see people not only change their lives, but I like to see people heal. I don’t like to see people hurting or sick. If I can change that for them, that’s right up my alley.”
Charles would put forth great effort to do well in class. He recalled many nights staying up until midnight when the next assignments would be opened up, just so he could finish them right away and be fully prepared to attend class.
“I can’t speak about Charles without praising him,” said Delila Castillo, Charles’ instructor. “He is a student that I will never, ever forget about. He has even molded me to be better. He is an amazing human.”
In addition to getting excellent grades, Charles quickly became a father figure to many of the students in the classroom, and sharing his life experiences was one of the highlights of the program for him.
“I was around all those young ladies, and they would ask my advice,” he said. “I’ve been on the planet for a while so that part was great. I made a lot of new friends. Being able to help them with advice, to me was probably greater than getting over my needle phobia. I got to know young people and saw what is out there and seeing that we have a great future in the next generation.”
“He showed what a determined person he is to overcome any and every obstacle in life,” Ms. Castillo said. “It shows his optimism about life. It shows the empathy he has with people. It shows the heart he has. It shows how amazing he is. He was born to be a medical assistant. He can relate to everyone and anyone on different levels.”
When it came time for graduation, Ms. Castillo knew she wanted to nominate Charles to be the class valedictorian. On graduation day, he delivered a speech encouraging everyone to go for their dreams.
“I learned many years ago this important phrase, ‘Whatever the mind can conceive, can be achieved,’ ” he said. “So for all my classmates and fellow graduates, we did it. We made it despite the negativity and pitfalls that were bestowed on us. Our faith in God will always win out over any distractions we may have.”