With Facebook refreshing in the background, Carol Benassi packs and labels another box of spirit wear to ship to her nationwide customer base. Aside from working a full-time job as the customer sales director for Skillsoft and serving on the JMU Alumni Board of Directors for the class of 1982, Benassi manages the Facebook group known as “JMU Nation,” which consists of more than 17,000 members.
JMU Nation was created in December 2016 in response to the influx of fans heading to Frisco, Texas, for the football team’s national championship game against Youngstown State. It was used as a communication tool for fans to share information on travel plans, hotel accommodations and meeting places.
Because she lives in Dallas, just south of Frisco, Benassi was invited to join the group and share her insight on Frisco’s entertainment scene. When the group began growing rapidly, Benassi became an administrator and was informally given control.
“I joined, and everybody said, ‘You live in Dallas. Can you tell us where to stay and what restaurants we should go to?’” Benassi said. “It ended up turning into more of my page than anyone else’s, I guess because I posted so much.”
After the FCS National Championship win, Benassi transformed the group into a hub for linking alumni and students and sharing news involving JMU. She frequently posts updates on student athletes, university events and ways to give back to the university — her most recent posts encouraged donations for JMU’s annual Giving Day on March 21. Members can share their respectful opinions in discussions, recount memories of their time at JMU and reconnect with former classmates and friends.
“There’s a lot of people [in this group] that reconnected with people that they haven’t talked to in years,” Benassi said. “We’ve actually had a few alumni chapters that have started because of the page.”
Jane Boyles, a parent of a current student, serves as an administrator for JMU Nation and says that although she spends a great deal of time moderating and sharing news with the group, Benassi goes above and beyond. Without Benassi, she says, there would be no group.
“It seems to me that she loves JMU more than anything else,” Boyles said. “She is so dedicated, and the success of the JMU Nation Facebook page and her JMU Nation store is a testament to how hard Carol works every single day.”
In addition to her Facebook group, Benassi was given authorization from the JMU Foundation to start the JMU Nation Store, a website where she sells unique spirit wear, tailgate essentials and collectibles. She receives product inspiration from the group members. For every item sold, Benassi donates a percentage of the proceeds to the customer’s choice of university organization, including the Duke Club, Madison Forever Fund or the Madison Vision Fund.
“Depending on what I buy and sell [the items] for, I try to give at least five percent back [to JMU] of each item,” Benassi said. “I give my big donation twice a year. I do it during Giving Day and I do it again in the fall.”
On the board of directors, Benassi serves alongside Joe Showker, a representative of the class of 1979 and member of JMU Nation. Showker notes that Benassi’s hard work reflects the love she has for her alma mater and says she’s the epitome of what it means to be a Duke.
“[Benassi] exemplifies the JMU spirit of service and getting involved in [the] community, and she has certainly done that to a grand proportion,” Showker said. “She’s Hall of Fame material as far as I’m concerned.”
Taking into account her Facebook and store responsibilities, Benassi estimates she spends anywhere from 25 to 50 hours a week working on JMU-related projects. She’s even a football season ticket holder despite living halfway across the country. While staying engaged with her alma mater is time-consuming, she’s thankful she can give back to the place where her heart belongs.
“People are like, ‘Why are you always posting about JMU?’ and I say, ‘You wouldn’t understand it unless you went there,’” Benassi said. “I will be rolling off of [the Alumni Board of Directors] in June, and I’m not sure what my next connection will be back to JMU, so this is a great way to stay connected with alumni, with parents and with students and share why we all love JMU.”
Contact Amy Needham at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.