Talking with Zach Bonner reminds the cynic in me just how great people really can be. He’s literally walked across America to raise money and awareness for homeless children, and he’s been up to it for years via a foundation he started called the Little Red Wagon Foundation. It all started 8 years ago. “I started back in 2004 with Hurricane Charlie. That was my first project. It was at that point that I decided that community service really needed to continue to be a part of my life. It was after that project that I knew I had to keep going.”
And keep going he did. To date, Zach has walked America 4 times for up to 7 months each time traveling 2478 miles at 20-30 miles a day. When I was his age, I was playing Goldeneye on N64 and heading out to band practice. Bonner is saving the world. No wonder they never made a movie about me.
But Zach is humble in every regard. Whenever I asked him about the experience of starting a cause, he always would bring the conversation to the kids – not himself. No statistics, no attempts at being profound, just honesty and authenticity. It was remarkably simple.
So how does a humble guy react when at just 14 years old, he’s already had his life shared in movie form (“Little Red Wagon”, in theaters now)?
“We were really excited for the movie to happen. Not so much for us, but rather it would be a great way to touch even more people through other methods inspiring them to get involved. With a Hollywood scripted movie in theaters and on DVD I think you can reach an even broader, more diverse audience than through your other methods.”
But what about the authenticity of the story? Feel good films can be a bit too simple, and at times “Little Red Wagon” certainly is. “Of course there are moments where you’re watching and you say, ‘I’d never say that’ – Especially my sister. Some of the things that she does and we all kind of laugh at and say, ‘That’s not Kelly.’ Really though, they did a good job. Anna Gun delivers a line that was so much the way my Mother would say it that it was kind of funny.”
With Zach’s story coming to screen, he appears to maintain the point of it all is missional. And his mission seems clear – get homeless kids shelter and care. His story of getting things done is a convicting reminder of the things that get in the way of helping others. “One of the things that really was a problem for me especially was adult vision. They’re not taking it seriously, they’re fazed and didn’t think I was actually the one doing it but that it was my Mom or somebody else forcing me to do it.”
However, apathetic adults have not swayed Zach’s vision. “When someone tells me that I can’t do something or that I can’t finish a project, it just makes me want to do it more. It makes me feel like I can prove you wrong and it just shows that one kid can make a difference. You don’t think I can do it? Well I can do it and I’m going to prove it to you.”
The film itself isn’t quite as amazing as Zach’s story, but its intentions and purpose more than hold up. “Little Red Wagon” will above all encourage you to think about how you can love your neighbor. It’s the kind of film that would be great to watch as a family especially with a young child. It’s empowering to kids to be reminded of just how much their vision matters. And in Zach’s view, that would accomplish so much. If you think about it, Zach found a need, it tapped into his passion, and he acted on that passion. Zach was clear that the original motivation in the stories and worlds of homeless kids is what keeps him going even now when fatigue can set in on his long walks and projects to help others.
When asked about how people can get involved, he encouraged everyone to see the film in theaters so that it will hold over longer and encourage more people to take action. “That’s something that can be really good not just for us but for the cause in general. When they see the movie hopefully they will get involved in their own communities.”
Zach’s story is clearly just beginning. He is inspiring others to get involved and told me stories of other kids who hear his story and they start their own relief efforts. He also talked about a new youth resource center being developed in Tampa, Florida that is “a safe place for these kids to go and get food, wash their clothes, use a computer, stuff like that.” Zach’s hope is that there is a center like that in every major city across the US.
Zach remains humble and focused. It was his closing words that perhaps resonated the most in our conversation: “One of the things that I’ve learned because of the foundation and because of these kids is that we talk about our problems and what’s going on with us…but somewhere in our city, in our state in our country, or in the world there are so many people that have it way worse than you. I think just remembering that helps to keep a level head. It reminds you that in the grand scheme of things, your problems compared to somebody else’s maybe aren’t that bad.”
Wise words from someone of any age and life experience, especially someone who isn’t eligible for a driver’s license yet.
Check out “Little Red Wagon” in theaters now, and visit the Little Red Wagon foundation website to learn more about Zach and the Little Red Wagon foundation.