Kendal Benjamin wants to be known as a champion, someone who works hard and surpasses limitations. The 17-year-old senior at C.A. Johnson High School in Columbia, S.C. is an outstanding student and athlete, an all-star by any measure, yet he begins and ends his days among 17 other children in a homeless shelter.
Benjamin recently moved away from his mother to allow her a chance to focus on her own life, and took refuge at Palmetto Place Children's Shelter. From the teen's perspective, his living circumstances make him persistent and push his ambitions higher.
"Sometimes you have to work through stuff, you have to persevere," Benjamin tells the Good News Blog. "I've learned to be patient. The reason we're in this situation is because my mom wasn't patient."
Benjamin and his mother have been moving from shelter to shelter since he was in fifth grade. He decided to go out on his own last November, which is when he found a spot at the children's shelter. His mother, a former nurse, lost her job, and Benjamin felt she would have a better chance of getting on her feet if she didn't have to take care of him.
"Me and my mom were struggling real bad, and she wasn't able to support me," he recalls. "There was no point in her trying to help me out when she couldn't help herself out."
As Benjamin's father hasn't been around most of his life, the high-schooler ventured out on his own, allowing his mom to move into a transitional home for adults.
Benjamin describes life in the shelter in the most positive way possible. The residence is a two-story home with a dining hall and living room. Benjamin shares a room with a few other kids, and they are served dinner each day. For other meals, the teen relies on school lunch, food stamps and donations.
Benjamin focuses on what's pushing him forward. He makes good grades in school, his favorite course is science, and he plans to study athletic training at Gardner Webb University, if he doesn't go into professional sports.
In extra-curricular activities, Benjamin is equally impressive. He plays defensive end in football and throws the discus and shot put in track. Last year, he ranked best in Track & Field at his school, placed third in the district championship, third in the region, and went on to compete at state. He also won "Mr. Junior" in his school pageant.
For Benjamin, education and athletics provide a "gateway" out of hardship.
"School offers me a place to do better," he comments. "It gives me a chance so I can get out of here."
Sharlee Dixon, Benjamin's social worker at school, attests to his strengths as a student and person.
"What I think is special about Kendal is that he does not allow his situation to stop him," she tells the Good News Blog. "I've seen children in the same situation take it as the worst thing in world. They can't see a future for themselves. I've also seen them use it as a crutch. They have a sense of entitlement that the world owes them something. Kendal is the exact opposite of both of those. He doesn't feel like we owe him anything, except to give him his education so he can move forward."
According to Dixon, as many as 1,000 children are considered homeless in the area. Benjamin says he doesn't bring up his home life with other kids unless they ask. He's not ashamed, rather he doesn't want to dwell on negativity. Now that his story is making headlines, he's happy others can empathize with his journey.
"After the story came out, other kids have opened up to me," Benjamin recalls. "They say,' I'm homeless too, I've been going through the same thing. I'm glad you said something. I'm glad you did that.'"
He jokes, "I'm a local celebrity."
More of the Good News:
Autistic Teen Scores Touchdown with Help from Amazing Football Team
Foster Teen Gets First 'Real' Thanksgiving with Adoptive Family
NFL Star Helps Struggling Gay Teen Overcome His Fear