Pulling a little red toy wagon around town, he collected truckloads of supplies to aid the victims. Taking part in helping others sparked an inspiring journey and saved hundreds of lives.
“There are over 1.3 million homeless youths. The average age of these kids is 9 years old which is incredibly young. I think that it is really horrible that we are allowing this to happen and we are not working harder,” Zach told me. He described to me how incredibly sad it is that kids his same age and younger lack basic necessities and how heartbreaking it is to find out that relatively few Americans are aware of this situation.
When I asked him why these kids are called “invisible” he said, “…a lot of these kids are really well hidden. A lot of them don’t want to be found; they don’t want to be marked as a homeless child so they hide themselves and they do a really good job at it.” He further points out that, “…homelessness can happen to anyone…something that people need to know.”
Zach was determined to spread awareness across the country. He decided that because these children do not have a voice, he would speak for them. And his voice was heard, loud and clear. At about eleven years old he decided to walk across America for his cause. Along the way he would talk to schools and organizations to spread awareness of the homeless youth and have them help out, too. This caused a national spark of enthusiasm.
Zach made headlines with his March Across America and was followed by several news anchors and radio stations with his “Zach Tracker” GPS. He made it a journey of enlightenment.
Walking 2,478 miles was an arduous feat. When asked what kept him walking, he responded: “I would say the kids. There were a lot of times throughout the walk that I definitely got this urge to really ask the question whether or not it is worth it; but then I would see a kid or hear a story and it would re-inspire me to keep going.”
He also stopped to talk with several homeless kids during his journey. He found that each homeless child had a different, unfortunate tale to tell, but also an inspiring one. Zach conveyed a particular moving story passed on to him from a group that helped distribute his back packs, (“Zachpacks” containing candy and a small toy together with food, hygiene necessities and a first aid kit.) The group had been working with a boy for months and never once had they seen a smile. When the boy found the toy, a yoyo, at the bottom of the pack, it was the first time they had seen him smile. Zach was told that this was the first toy that boy had received in years. “This was a really important story to me,” Zach said.
Zach, by age fourteen, has achieved philanthropic success beyond what many of us can imagine. However, I was interested to find out who inspired him.
When I inquired, he answered, “There are a lot of people that inspire me. I would say my mom is definitely one of them and people like Elton John and President Clinton. I think because they use their fame and fortune to make a difference. They have used their status to help people. I really admire that.”
Although he is a celebrated philanthropist, Zach is really just a normal kid in many ways. I asked him about his outside interests, and he said, “Besides the foundation and school…I love playing tennis, and like most other teenagers I play video games and hang out with friends.”
It has been about three years since the completion of the walk, but Zach still is in the action.
“We have been planning a lot of stuff. Also with the movie coming out, we‘re doing everything we can to make sure it is a success. But while we were here in Philly we actually put together 400 back packs for homeless youths in the Philly area. That is one of the programs we do all over the country.
Within the next year or so we want to go on a school tour and speak to different schools and …go into these communities and put together some really great projects that will make a difference in the communities and really help homeless kids,” Zach said.
Chandler Canterbury portrays Zach in the movie, “Little Red Wagon.” When asked about Chandler and other actors in the movie, he had nothing but good things to say. “I think he did a really good job. I think everybody that worked on the film did an incredible job and because of their efforts and their work I think it will really go a long way towards bringing awareness to youth homelessness… The entire experience was incredible. Just meeting everyone that was working on it from the actors to the production team – everybody was incredibly nice,” he explained.
Zach thinks “Little Red Wagon” is a great family film that truly shows that one person can do anything. One person can make a difference.
The critics agree as well. The movie received a 5 out of 5 rating and the Heartland “Truly Moving Picture” Award. After seeing the movie myself, I have to agree. The movie inspired me to do more for my community in order to follow in this young man’s footsteps. He hopes for other kids to be inspired, too.
“Find something that you are passionate about whether it is homeless youths or the environment or animals. Just find something you are passionate about and come up with an idea about how to make a difference and then just do it,” he advised.
After speaking with Zach I realized that I just spoke with a person far ahead of our time. He and his organization may well change the way we as a society think about the problems of the homeless. Zach decided to look past society’s ways and help others before himself, and that is what makes him a true hero.
Hopefully after seeing “Little Red Wagon” we can make Zach Bonner’s dreams and the dreams of millions of children come true. Maybe a child shall lead the way.
Feeling Inspired? Visit www.littleredwagonfoundation.com and make a donation or learn how you, too can make a difference for homeless children in your own community.