- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 12, 2009

Eleven-year-old Zach Bonner started walking from Atlanta on April 11. Six hundred sixty-eight miles later, he ascended the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

The young philanthropist walked the distance to Washington to raise awareness for homeless children. He arrived on Thursday, completing the final leg of a 1,225-mile journey he had started in Tampa, Fla., in 2007.

“It’s very exciting to finally be done with it,” he said, bright blue eyes gleaming. He added that he considered his trip successful. “I’ve been able to raise a lot of awareness in the media.”

His T-shirt summed up his trip and his goal: “Tampa to DC, 1225 miles, Boy’s Journey to End Homelessness.”

Zach related how his mother would walk with him on the trip while his older sister drove the car a few miles ahead until they caught up. A film crew also joined him for parts of the journey. Zach has inspired a motion picture written by Patrick Sheane Duncan (“Mr. Holland’s Opus,” “Courage Under Fire”) and produced by Philanthropy Project, a nonprofit funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

Zach said he didn’t mind being followed by a film crew.

“They were just regular people. They just have a camera,” he said.

Jana Taylor, associate producer with Chautauqua Films, the company that filmed parts of Zach’s journey, said the boy inspired the entire crew.

“One of the things we all still talk about is how people don’t know about homeless youth because they look like every other kid,” she said.

Zach stopped at social organizations and charities along the way, speaking about his mission, meeting homeless children and even throwing Chuck E. Cheese’s parties for them, something Zach said is not normally in a nonprofit’s budget.

He averaged about 13 to 20 miles a day, even walking through rain and 100-degree heat.

When he was 7, Zach started collecting water bottles in his red wagon for children affected by Hurricane Charley. Soon afterward, he started his own nonprofit, Little Red Wagon Foundation, to help needy children.

“It’s just a cause that’s always been important to me,” he said.

Zach won the President’s Volunteer Service Award in 2006. He said he wants to be a prosecuting attorney when he grows up.

He came up with the idea to walk to Washington, but, he said, “I didn’t know it would be this large.”

Upon arriving at the Capitol, Zach sprinted the final yards to be on time to meet Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Mel Martinez of Florida. Zach confidently fielded questions from the three legislators and the press.

“He represents the best of America’s youth,” Philanthropy Project President Michael Guillen told the senators.

Mr. Martinez also praised Zach, saying it was one thing to learn about an issue, another to take action.

At the end of their meeting, Zach asked Mr. Martinez the best way to get a letter to President Obama. Zach has been collecting letters to the president from children nationwide, sent via e-mail. The letters urge Mr. Obama to work with philanthropists to aid homeless children.

Zach said he would stay over in the District to volunteer with Sasha Bruce Youthwork, a Washington nonprofit that aims to help homeless, runaway and abused youths.

What’s the next stop for young Zach Bonner?

Summer camp.

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