Florida Boy Takes 13 Million Steps Across America to Combat Homelessness
Have you ever walked a mile in someone else's shoes? OK, how about 2,478 miles? Zach Bonner, 12, is putting some serious mileage on his sneakers, as he walks from Florida to California in an effort to draw awareness to the plight of 1.3 million homeless youths.
Bonner, who will take approximately 13 million steps and walk about five hours each day by the end of his journey, set out on his trek from the Tampa, Fla., area on Christmas Day 2009, and plans to arrive in Los Angeles Sept. 17. AOL is one of Bonner's sponsors for his "March Across America" and AOL's Philanthropy Project is helping to put together a feature-length motion picture about the boy.
ParentDish spoke with Bonner by phone in April, the day he crossed the Mississippi River into Louisiana.
This isn't Bonner's first walk to draw attention to the plight of homelessness. In 2007, he started his long walks from his Valrico, Fla., home with a goal to reach Washington, D.C., as a way to raise awareness of the more than a million homeless children. He's hoofed it 280 miles from Tampa to Tallahassee, then 270 miles from Tallahassee to Atlanta. Last summer, he put one foot in front of another for 639 miles, walking from Atlanta to Washington, D.C.
Laurie Bonner, his mom, always accompanies him, driving an RV and homeschooling him along the way, although Bonner says the experience of each walk is an education all its own.
"You get to see all kinds of things," he says, describing someone walking with him as he crossed the bridge at the Mississippi River, giving him a tour and telling him its history. "You get to see things in real life. It's very educational."
On any given day, Bonner may be accompanied by his 20-year-old brother, Matt, or his 22-year-old sister, Kelley. Each take turns participating in Bonner's walks and other charitable activities.
"They are really supportive and really help with whatever they can help with," Bonner says of his family. "Kelley has come on all the walks and drives the chase car. She makes phone calls and sets up some of the camp grounds. My brother also helps with holiday parties and stuff."
Bonner says his mom supports all his journeys -- even after he came up with the idea to walk all the way across the country, which could take 266 days to complete.
"She was actually very supportive. Helped me plan it, planning the route," he says. "Whatever I might need help with."
The youth sees former President Bill Clinton and rock star Elton John as philanthropic role models. John donated money for the walk to D.C. and, Bonner says, has plans to donate more money once Bonner reaches Los Angeles.
When Hurricane Charley hit Florida in 2004, Bonner, then 6 years old, hit the pavement, carrying water and supplies in a red wagon. He then started the Little Red Wagon Foundation, a nonprofit to help kids in distress. Bonner's organization encourages others to make a difference in their communities, and also provides homeless kids with backpacks filled with food, hygiene kits, a pair of socks, a sewing kit and, as Bonner says, "a candy pack and a small toy to meet their kid needs."
Bonner tells ParentDish he came up with the idea to do the backpacks to help homeless youth after doing some online research about different organizations that help the homeless and their needs.
"There were different organizations and wish lists," he says. He compiled the wish lists and started putting the different kits in the backpacks.
"It's just that I really enjoyed it," Bonner says. "I wanted to do a lot more projects and we decided to start the foundation to help homeless youths and there were great organizations who help homeless youth, but their resources are limited to meet basic needs. I wanted to be able to do projects and provide something special."
Although Bonner says he wants to see his foundation go on as long as possible, he does plan to become a prosecuting attorney when he gets older, while always keeping an element of community service in his life. He sees a lot of kids doing great things, he tells ParentDish.
"Kids are never too young to make a difference," he says. "You are never too old or too young to make a difference. Don't let anyone stand in your way. Find something you are passionate about and just do it."
As for Bonner's return to Florida? His mom will be driving him.
Related: California Boy, 13, Sets Out to Be Youngest to Conquer Mt. Everest
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.