At first glance, Zach Bonner seems like most other boys his age. There is nothing that would lead you to associate him with homelessness – unless, of course, you took the time to sit and have a chat with him. It’s then that your education would begin.
Don’t misunderstand me. Zach himself isn’t homeless. However, child homelessness is a topic he is quite familiar with.
At the "ripe old age" of 11, Zach is a seasoned veteran when it comes to being an advocate for this nation’s homeless children.
His passion for helping homeless children began in 2004 shortly after Hurricane Charley struck Florida.
According to a news article in USA Today, Boy, 11, on trek to help homeless kids, having a desire to help the children of those families displaced by the hurricane, Zach went,
"… door to door with his wagon to collect water, tarps and other supplies. He collected 27 pick-up truck loads of supplies."
Then in 2005, with help from his mother, he established the Little Red Wagon Foundation.
His latest effort to raise public awareness about child homelessness has resulted in his taking a walk. However, this particular walk is more than just through the streets of his home town.
Zach is making a 668-mile "hike" from Atlanta, GA to Washington D.C. – raising both public awareness and funding for his philanthropic work. So far, he has managed to raise around $35,000.
But, that’s not all he’s doing.
As he makes his way to the nation’s Capital, he is collecting letters from other children. He’s hoping that he will have the opportunity to present them to President Obama.
This isn’t the first time Zach has taken his message "on the road."
In 2007 he walked from Tampa to Tallahassee; then in 2008, from Tallahassee to Atlanta.
A report, released this past March by the National Center on Family Homelessness, estimated that 1 in 50 American children would experience homelessness this year – putting the number of homeless children at around 1.5 million.
Of the nation’s homeless children, Zach says,
"These kids don’t have a home, they don’t have a safe place to sleep at night. They’re out on the streets not because they want to be, but because it’s out of their control."
Zach is right. Child homelessness is indeed out of the control of those children who are currently without a place to call home.
Although, it would be easy to assign blame to the parents, that would be unfair. There are numerous other factors involved which have contributed to the increase in family homelessness. Among them: the economic recession.
A recent article from Reuters said this:
"Hard economic times are hitting the United States’ youngest citizens, threatening to roll back decades worth of gains in health, safety and education, according to a report released on Monday.
… the percentage of children in poverty will rise to 21 percent in 2010, up from about 17 percent in 2006."
Many of those "children in poverty" may very well end up becoming homeless.
It seems strange to me that in a nation which is always clamoring about Constitutional Rights that we have somehow forgotten about the rights of our nation’s homeless children. We have failed to keep in mind that all of this nation’s children are our greatest asset. They represent the future – and the best possible chance for a better world.
Perhaps that’s why someone like Zach is so inspiring to me.
Sure, he could use his summer vacation to hang out with his friends or go on holidays.
Instead, he has taken a stand for his convictions. He is making sacrifices for something he strongly believes in. More importantly: he’s a doer and not just a talker.
What kind of impact might we have at significantly reducing the numbers of homeless if we followed Zach’s lead?