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Boy travels to raise awareness of youth homelessness

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

Some youngsters dream of being professional athletes or musicians when they grow up. However, for one Florida boy making his way through Henry County this week, success is not measured in wealth or fame, but his ability to help others.

Ten-year-old Zach Bonner, of Tampa, Fla., is currently engaged in a charity walk from Tallahassee to Atlanta, to educate the public about youth homelessness.

Bonner's commitment to his peers began four years ago, with the creation of the Little Red Wagon Foundation. He started the non-profit organization for kids, when he was just seven years old himself.

"I [wanted] to help underprivileged children, kids in Title I schools and kids who were victims of natural disasters," says Bonner, while taking a break from his walk on Ga. Highway 42 in Locust Grove. "Our overall goal is to raise as much awareness as we can," he says.

Bonner came up with the idea for the walk two years ago. The catalyst for the endeavor was an activist named Peace Pilgrim, who put on her walking shoes for a cause which lasted 28 years. "She walked over 25,000 miles for world peace," says Bonner.

Bonner's effort is a continuation of an endeavor which began last year in his hometown, and generated $25,000 in 23 days. Bonner notes that the walk is making an impact in a number of areas in Georgia.

"The money we raised in the Macon area is going to the Macon Habitat for Humanity," he says. "The money we raise in Atlanta will go to a project there to help underprivileged children to play sports, do art projects and other things."

Bonner's walk has resulted in praise from several noteworthy sources in recent years. In 2006, he received the Presidential Call to Service Award from President George W. Bush, and he provides regular updates on the group's progress by request, to former President Bill Clinton.

The money raised through Bonner's project also is used to provide children with backpacks, containing personal hygiene items, a first-aid kit, toys, clothes and candy. He says he hopes to make a dent in alarming national statistics concerning children.

The National Coalition for the Homeless reports 1.35 million children in the U.S. are homeless each year. According to Bonner, the walk is a key element in helping to reduce that number. "I hope I can get other people aware that they're there, and they're not just a number on a page," he says. "I think in order to solve the whole entire problem, everybody's going to have to work together, help one kid at a time."

Accompanying Bonner on his excursion of goodwill are his mother, Laurie, and his sister Kelley.

Laurie Bonner says she is proud of her son's acts of goodwill toward other children, including some who have faced one of the most catastrophic events in recent history.

"For the past two years, he's thrown holiday parties for Hurricane Katrina victims in Renaissance Village," she says. "For about 1,500 families, he supplied ham that was donated through Smithfield Farms, a gift for each child and a gift bag. He likes to do community service. That's what makes him happy." Bonner's mother says she hopes the money will help children affected by homelessness, to "reach their dreams."

Kelley Bonner, 21, calls her little brother "an inspiration." She says other children would do well to learn from his example. "I think what he's doing is awesome, and he's lucky to have the opportunity to do it," says Kelley. "I think there are a lot of other kids who would like to have the chance to do something like this."

Zach Bonner is scheduled to arrive in Atlanta Monday, which will be his 11th birthday. More than 100 students at the Georgia Virtual Academy, are expected to walk the final mile of Zach's journey with him to the State Capitol.