CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – As the state said goodbye to Senator Scott Bennett Monday morning, the disability community thanked him for his continued support – even after his death. Instead of flowers, Bennett’s family asked for donations to two non-profits: CU Able and the Champaign-Urbana Autism Network. According to Bennett’s obituary, he was planning to focus on those causes in the upcoming legislative session. But his support of the community ran deeper than that.
“I think we all feel it – the importance of his work, his legacy – everything that he’s done and was hoping to do in the future,” CU Able board of directors member Meghan Burke said.
A notable career cut short. Constituents are remembering state Senator Scott Bennett for his tireless advocacy of people with disabilities – up until his unexpected death at age 45.
“If you met Scott – whether you were in the disability world or not – he genuinely cared for every single person that he met,” Champaign-Urbana Autism Network President Julie Duvall said.
Duvall said the group always felt supported by Bennett.
“What he didn’t understand – he wanted to. He was always looking for knowledge and ways to help,” Duvall said.
Burke echoed Duvall’s memories. Both nonprofits are set to receive donations in honor of Bennett.
“He’s one of the people that I think was a true friend to our community,” Burke said. “I think it’s a big hole that’s been left.”
She said Bennett had a profound impact on the disability community locally and state wide. For example, she said he was instrumental in passing the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act – also known as the ABLE Act.
“ABLE Acts allow people with disabilities to save money without losing access to their governmental benefits,” Burke said.
She recalls Bennett reaching out to organizations and parents of children with disabilities simply to ask: “how can I help?”
Duvall said Bennett led by example, and his empathy in and outside of the office will leave a lasting impact on everyone he served.
“If people would just take the time out to listen, it really means a lot. You learn a lot and it means a lot to the person that’s sharing,” Duvall said.
Duvall said the C-U Autism Network will honor Bennett by naming him the ambassador of their annual autism walk in the spring. You can make donations in the senator’s memory to CU Able or the C-U Autism Network. The network said the money will be used to support its mission of providing education and sensory-friendly events throughout the year. CU Able said they will be in contact with Bennett’s family to decide how to use the donations to honor his legacy.