SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Growing up in Syracuse, her name set her apart.  And for a child, that’s not always easy.

“My whole life, my name brought me a lot of anxiety,” Paola Benevento says now.  “I was always the person that would never correct anyone when they said my name wrong.”

But Paola got a lot of support growing up.  She used to visit her mom’s classrooms in the Syracuse City School District.  And Paola graduated from Henninger High School in the Class of 2009, just as ‘Say Yes to Education’ came to town.  She was the very first student to receive a college scholarship from Say Yes Syracuse.  That opened doors to Syracuse University.  NewsChannel 9 spoke to her in 2013, as she graduated from SU and prepared to head to Columbia.  “I wouldn’t have been able to go to the university that I am now.  The tuition is very, very high and to have that on top of undergraduate loans, it wouldn’t have been possible at all.”

Paula stayed close to the Say Yes program through college, even taking a leadership role in Say Yes summer programs.  After graduating from SU, graduate studies took her to New York City, where she’s now been teaching elementary school for more than seven years… and learning to believe in herself.

She says, “It took me till, you know, adulthood to really learn that lesson, that it is part of my identity and it’s a positive part of my identity.  My name is how I introduce myself to the world.

Now, she wants to introduce her story to a new generation that might struggle to fit in.  She’s written a book called “Philomena and the Name Game.”  Paola’s working through Kickstarter to raise the money she needs to self-publish it.  And she’s enlisted art students from her alma mater, Henninger High School, to help.  “They have been working with me to create illustrations that are reflective of the words in the book,” she says.  “And that really helped drive home the story and the representation.”

She hopes to have her book available for sale sometime in March under her own Empire Orange publishing company.  And she hopes this is just the first project of many.

There’s more information about her purpose as an author, about the story, and the progress of her book, and you can help make it a reality by checking out the Kickstarter campaign at:

“Philomena and the Name Game,” by Paola Benevento.  That’s a name you’re going to want to remember.