Arlington Heights teen a basketball hero for suburban homeless

Zack DeLuca is just 13 years old, but he's taking on some grown-up responsibilities by giving up his free time and using his talent to help the homeless in the Northwest suburbs.

Through his Hoops for Homeless, the Arlington Heights teenager started giving basketball lessons to young children for a fee last year, with all proceeds going to JOURNEYS-The Road Home in Palatine. He's since donated more than $500 to the nonprofit agency.

JOURNEYS Executive Director Beth Nabors said Zack has become a "beacon of light" for the organization that provides shelter, services and housing to Northwest suburban residents who are homeless or at risk of losing shelter.

"In today's world there is so much worry, so many people being hurt by governmental policy and so much financial burden," Nabors said. "Though all of that darkness comes Zack. This idea was his idea."

Zack, who plays basketball at Carl Sandburg Junior High School in Rolling Meadows, became concerned about the homeless when he was about 7. His father brought the family to stay in Chicago while he had business there and Zack was saddened to see so many homeless in the city.

"I knew when I grew up I wanted to do something to help," he said. "Last year when I was 12, last summer, I thought it was a good time to start."

Zack's basketball lessons cost $10 for 30 minutes and $15 for an hour. Clients typically are 4 to 10 years old and their parents know the money is going to JOURNEYS.

  Zack DeLuca, 13, of Arlington Heights, donates his earnings from giving basketball lessons to JOURNEYS-The Road Home in Palatine, a nonprofit that provides services to the homeless in Northwest suburbs. Here, Zack works with client Levi Booth, 7, at the child's Arlington Heights house. Patrick Kunzer/

Upon arrival to work with 7-year-old Levi Booth one day last month, Zack set up three orange cones near the boy's driveway hoop in Arlington Heights. He professionally ran Levi through drills for dribbling, shooting, passing and other skills necessary to excel on the court.

"It's so much fun to teach the kids to donate to a good cause and everything. It's awesome," said Zack, who has promoted Hoops for Homeless by distributing fliers to children in his basketball circles and through his mother Tara's Facebook posts.

JOURNEYS development associate Emily Labedz said it always is inspirational when children want to help in their communities. She said Zack's support of the homeless is memorable.

  Zack DeLuca, 13, of Arlington Heights, was inspired to help the homeless after a trip to Chicago when he was seven years old. Today, he donates the money he earns giving basketball lessons to younger kids. Here he high-fives 4-year-old Lydia Booth, whose 7-year-old brother, Levi, is taking lessons from Zack. Patrick Kunzer/

"I hope the kids he teaches these basketball lessons to can see him as the mentor he truly is and that he continues to use his skills to change the world," Labedz said.

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