More than one million children are homeless in the United States. To highlight the problem, 12-year-old Zach Bonner walked hundreds of kilometers from his home city of Tampa, Florida to the U.S. capitol, in Washington, DC. Along the way, Zach helped out at shelters for the homeless. His efforts were recognized this week by the spirituality website, Beliefnet, whose readers and editors voted him the most inspiring person of 2009. We profile Bonner in this week's Making a Difference series.
Zach Bonner walked across the southeastern United States, a 1,900 kilometer journey to bring attention to the plight of homeless children.
"I think it's ridiculous that there's any child that doesn't have a home in this country," Zach explains. "I think it's horrible."
He traveled from Florida to Washington, D.C. where he told an audience near the U.S. Capitol that child homelessness in America is real.
"It still amazes me the amount of people still today who don't believe this problem even exists. And the truth is, not only does it exist, but it's getting worse," he asserts.
Zach says the problem has several causes. "Because of the economic crisis, it's getting worse because of people losing their jobs, and people losing their homes. And therefore, that's also a reason they become homeless," he says, "And sometimes, the families are abusive toward the child and they run away."
Zach did the walk between his studies. It took him three years to finish his walk, which he began when he was only eight years old. He averaged 20 kilometers a day. No matter how tired he got, Zach says he felt he had to keep walking.
"When a child gets tired of being homeless, they don't get to think, 'Well, I'm tired of being homeless, so I'm not going to be homeless anymore.' So why should I be able to say, 'Well, I'm tired of walking, so I'm not going to walk anymore,'" he states.
Along the way, Zach visited homeless shelters. ". . . helping plant the gardens - all kinds of stuff, just getting to play with the kids," he says, "hopefully making at least one day of their life better."
Zach has a long history of helping others. When he was six years old, a powerful hurricane devastated parts of his home state of Florida. To help people who had no food or water, he went around his neighborhood with a little red wagon, asking for donations of bottled water and other supplies.
One year later, Zach began the Little Red Wagon Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps underprivileged children. He and other volunteers fill donated backpacks with food, personal hygiene products, and small toys to give to homeless children.
Zach has received awards for his volunteer service, including one from President George W. Bush in 2006.
Next year he plans to put on his walking shoes again for homeless kids. This trip would be almost twice as long -- from Tampa, Florida to Los Angeles, California.