When the Little League national champs returned to Chicago as hometown heroes, one of their star players came back to a humble reality — his family is homeless.
Since June, 12-year-old Jaheim Benton has lived one step away from the shelters and the streets — sleeping in the homes of friends and family, said his mother, Devona Benton, 46.
Jaheim’s mom says it all started when her hours as a home care provider at Catholic Charities were cut after losing three clients. Her fiance, Jaheim’s father, Frank Jackson, works as a part-time radiator technician. But she says the two can’t support the family on the salaries from their part-time jobs.
As the family struggles to find a home, Jaheim — No. 8 on the Jackie Robinson West team — returned to Chicago on Monday a star. He scored five runs in Williamsport during the team’s seven games there.
Now, Jaheim stays with his dad, Jackson, at the Auburn Gresham home of a family friend and coach on another team he has played for.
At the most exciting time in Jaheim’s life, his family remains apart.
“I’m trying to do the best I can and get us back together,” his mom said.
Jaheim’s mom drove to Pennsylvania last Wednesday to see her son play after loudly cheering for the team at a South Side viewing party. Jaheim’s dad traveled with the team to see him play. He called it an escape from reality.
“I loved it. I didn’t want to leave,” said Jackson, 59. “I couldn’t believe it was happening.”
Besides Jaheim, Devona Benton takes care of her 16-year-old son, a 30-year-old daughter and her three grandchildren.
“I went from 80 hours every two weeks to 36 hours. That’s a big cut,” Devona Benton said. “We just didn’t have enough. We live from paycheck to paycheck.”
The money they make wasn’t enough for a three-bedroom, $850 apartment on the South Side, which doesn’t include utilities, food and clothing for her family, she said.
“There were times where we combined our paychecks and still couldn’t make it,” Devona Benton said.
She now takes care of two elderly clients but continues to work just 36 hours every two weeks.
“I’m just praying I get some more clients,” she said.
Devona Benton said she has applied for government assistance and is getting food stamps. Her employer, Catholic Charities, also has helped, finding an apartment for the family three years ago. It provides employee assistance when there’s a need, and she said she has reached out for more help.
“I have been at my job for six years. I have never had this happen to me. . . . This is the first time I have ever lost a home,” she said.
Earlier this week, the family sat on a stoop in Auburn Gresham, waiting for Jaheim’s brother to arrive for a congratulatory dinner for Jaheim.
Jaheim is shy. He doesn’t talk about his family’s troubles. All he can think about is baseball. He’s the player who scored the game-winning run in the team’s championship game.
He talks about what his head coach, Darold Butler, said after the team’s loss to South Korea.
“He said keep our heads up, ‘You did good,’ ” Jaheim said.
Devona Benton says she’s doing her best to keep him centered on his goal: a career in baseball.
“I told him to stay focused. That it’s going to be all right, and ‘Don’t let it bother you,’ ” she said. “‘Don’t let it stop you. I’m going to take care of you. I’ll take care of you.’
“He said he understood.”
Every day, Devona Benton stops by to see Jaheim and Jackson.
Jaheim will begin seventh grade at Langford Community Academy in West Englewood next week. And his mother says he has big plans to play baseball in high school. He says he hopes to play for the Chicago White Sox.
“He’s saying he wants a career out of it. I say God bless him and go ahead and get it,” Devona Benton said. “He’s got the talent for it.”