People & Partners
Meet the People & Partners Who Help Us Thrive
In order to ensure that all children in Pinellas County are ready for kindergarten, we rely on a diverse group of partners, committees, and individuals. Together, we can best align efforts and resources to make sure the right help gets in front of the right people — as efficiently as possible.
Dr. Keesha Benson is an inclusive and equity-centered community practitioner with over 15 years of experience engaging in community-level work with children and families, nonprofit organizations, and community stakeholders. Her work has crossed multiple disciplines including child welfare, public health, business and education. Her service in both a programmatic and research capacity on numerous community grant projects has led to an in-depth understanding of community engagement at various levels with culturally diverse populations. She is dedicated to cultural humility and ensuring that community work is completed in an inclusive and culturally relevant manner.
Dr. Benson received both her Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Social Work with a focus in community intervention, and a Master of Social Work (MSW) from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Business Administration from Florida A&M University. As someone trained in community intervention and community participatory practice, she is passionate about ensuring that stakeholders have access to the needed resources and information that leads to long-standing transformative change.
Most recently, Dr. Benson served as the Manager and Community Facilitator for the Grow Smarter Initiative, where she successfully led community partners, stakeholders, and 90+ organizations in the multi-sector work of equitable economic growth for the city of St. Petersburg. Prior to returning to her hometown (St. Petersburg, FL), Dr. Benson served as an Assistant Professor of Instruction at Temple University School of Social Work, College of Public Health in Philadelphia, PA, where she saw firsthand the importance of a strong educational foundation and the lifelong opportunities that it leads to for social mobility and future economic opportunity. Her experience as an Associate with the Strong Couples Strong Children project, a federally funded healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood initiative based in Durham (North Carolina), allowed her to engage in a community partner approach to addressing the needs of low-income expectant parents as they navigated the co-parental relationship for improved child outcomes.
Dr. Benson is a proud resident of Pinellas County who lives in St. Petersburg with her husband and three children. As the mother of young children (ages 7 and under), she understands firsthand the importance of the collective work of ensuring an equitable, accessible, responsive and accountable childhood development system that will serve as a guiding force to prepare the children of Pinellas County for kindergarten and beyond.
Comprising key players in the early childhood landscape, the Thrive By Five steering committee provides strategic guidance, direct access to a breadth of knowledge and resources, and unique opportunities to collaborate and align endeavors.
USF Family Studies Center
Early Learning Coalition
LSF Head Start/COQEBS
Juvenile Welfare Board
Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg
Pinellas County Schools
Florida Department of Health Pinellas
Directions for Living
Community Foundation of Tampa Bay
As part of the formula to achieve this critical work, Thrive By Five has established Project Teams, dedicated to focus areas identified through comprehensive research and strategic planning, and run by passionate volunteers and staff from a range of organizations and businesses.
Supporting family-friendly workplaces and private sector champions of early education
Children & Caregiver Success
Ensuring equitable access to quality programs while hearing and responding to specific needs of families in Pinellas County
Working together to streamline processes for families to access services
Building public will for prioritizing early childhood as a community value
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Thrive By Five engages hundreds of stakeholders countywide, including local influencers, social and human services providers, education/nonprofit leaders, government officials, and business and civic organizations. Together, we can better pinpoint opportunities for our resource-rich community to work more collaboratively and effectively to meet the needs of Pinellas County's children.