For teenager Kendal Benjamin, home isn’t a place that you go to at night. It’s a state of mind.
The graduating senior at C.A. Johnson High School in Columbia, S.C., plays football and track, studies hard, and goes to school every day. In just about every way, Benjamin is a regular student. But at the end of the day, Benjamin’s life makes a drastic detour from normal. Instead of heading home to his family, Benjamin instead goes to Palmetto Place Children’s Shelter, where he currently lives, along with 19 other children and teens. “It’s not home but it’s something to help me get on my feet so I can learn life skills,” Benjamin told the local news station, WIS.
Palmetto Place is a shelter that provides a safe and nurturing environment for children and teens who are victims of abuse and neglect, as well as teens who have no other place to live. In Benjamin’s case, his mother lost her job and was unable to provide for her children. While she tried to make it work, Benjamin, 17, says he finally approached her about their situation — exhibiting an act of maturity that far exceeded his young age. “We can’t just stay here and we’re making like everything’s alright because it’s not alright,” Benjamin said. “So I need to go take care of me so you can take care of you. Hopefully when I take care of me, I can help you out later in life.”
After bouncing from place to place, Benjamin ended up at Palmetto Place, one of the few shelters that houses teenage boys. “There are very few that accept males over the age of 12,” said Jill Lawson, an area social worker. “So, if the parent or guardian and younger siblings go to the shelter, where does that leave the male high school student with nowhere to go?”
Despite his living situation, Benjamin keeps moving forward. “It’s not like I’m going to go to school angry, sad, because I don’t have anything to eat or my lights are off,” he said. “[I] Just go to school like nothing happened, just like a normal person… I just don’t like feeling sorry for myself.” That positive attitude hasn’t been lost on his coach and teachers, all of whom have become an integral part of his support system. “[Benjamin] does not blame anybody. And he doesn’t consider himself a victim,” his football and track coach Jerry Jackson said. “Plus, [he has] intestinal fortitude, to stand and endure adversities when most people his age would just break down and say, ‘woe is me.’” It’s that determination, as well as his thoughtfulness, that led Jackson to make Benjamin one of the team leaders this year. “The other kids can look up to him, and he can be an example and role model.”
Erin Hall, Palmetto Place executive director, told WIS that the organization works closely with the school on cases like Benjamin’s to make sure that they are getting the support they need. “They know which kids will thrive at Palmetto Place and which kids really need to be here in order to succeed, graduate from high school and move on to bigger and better things,” Hall said.
As for Benjamin, he doesn’t let homelessness define him. Instead, it drives him to make a better life for himself. “Sometimes you have to make a way when there’s no way,” he said. “Life is not easy but you have to get through it some type of way — well, in a positive way.”