How softball helps once-homeless Conant student named Dream
Conant student triumphs over homelessness
There's no end of movies and TV shows about high school life, but apart from the triumphant, sports-themed finale, very few even approximate Conant High School senior Dream Aaron's experience.
Her four years at the Hoffman Estates school have seen her and her sister Destiny endure periods of homelessness, the imprisonment of their mother, and their father's struggles with unemployment.
But Dream, with the support of her "second family" in the Illinois Bash Softball Association, overcame those hardships to earn a full scholarship to Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Florida, where she hopes to secure her future with an engineering degree.
"I'm so grateful for being on this team," Dream said. "It helped with knowing that I would always have someone to talk to, other than those who were going through the same thing."
Dream, who already stood 6 feet tall as an 11-year-old, always was a naturally gifted athlete -- one who rarely had to work hard to stand out among the low level of competition she normally encountered growing up.
Searching for a higher level of play to challenge her, Dream's father, Reggie, came across Illinois Bash on social media when she was 14. Dream initially resisted the harder work, deeper discipline and intimidating competition he had in mind for her.
"I wanted her to be on a team with people that were better than her," Reggie said.
The outcome is everything he'd hoped for, he said.
Bash coach Jim Goranson of Elk Grove Village said his organization's main goal, as the team travels the country to play other high-level clubs, is to make softball the means to the end of higher education.
What really set Dream apart, he said, is that she learned quickly and never forgot how much her chances of reaching that goal depended on her commitment.
"When you have the personal adversity she's had, there are a lot of reasons to not work hard," Goranson said.
The Aaron family lived in Schaumburg when Dream started her freshman year at Conant in 2012. Her mother, Camellia, would later be incarcerated on financial charges, including forgery and providing false information on a charge slip.
With her mother in prison and the Aarons having lost their home, Dream and Destiny would find themselves living in their father's car for three to four months while he worked a late-night job in LaGrange. He frequently checked up on them, and they ate their meals together and used the restroom at his workplace, until he lost his job there.
They would begin their drive to Conant at 5 a.m., after which Dream and her younger sister would strive to fit in their peers.
"I wasn't ashamed of it, but I kept it to myself," Dream said of her homelessness. "We worked it out so people never knew."
Dream, who also stars for Conant's softball team, added that her parents raised both girls to get good grades.
Her mother, Camellia, said her high school years began on the South Side of Chicago but ended in Evanston. It was in Evanston that she learned there was a major difference to suburban schools, and she made it a goal that her daughters would always attend one.
"I grew up with a lot of adversity, in a different environment," Camellia said.
The self-reliance and academic and athletic skills Dream has built -- culminating in a full college scholarship -- mean the world to Camellia, who recently was released from prison.
"I think it's the biggest piece of hope," she said through tears. "It's a reminder that I'm still a good person and a great mom."
Recently, the girls and Reggie have been living with a grandmother in Chicago. Once, for a few weeks, Dream and Destiny even stayed with Goranson's family in Elk Grove Village.
Now that her future is taking shape, Dream finds her biggest concerns are for her parents.
"I just want my parents to be financially OK," she said. "Money doesn't make you happy, but it does help."
Reggie hopes his daughter's experiences traveling the country with Illinois Bash and juggling high-level sports and school will make her better prepared than most for college. And though she'll be more than 1,200 miles from home, the Bash will continue to be a second family, through a mentoring program it provides its college-bound alumnae to guide them through unfamiliar territory.
Dream's grateful for all the help she's been given to show what she's capable of, and while she recognizes that her high school years weren't typical, she's never been tempted to feel sorry for herself.
"There's someone out there who has it worse than me," she said.