Little Red Wagon Movie - Interview with Zach Bonner

Friday, October 19, 2012

Technically, this is Day 19 of our 31 Days of Quality Time series, but I am taking a time-out thanks to an unexpected and important opportunity. Little Red Wagon, a movie based on the true life story of Zach Bonner, will premiere here, in Charleston, South Carolina, today

Zach is in town to talk to various groups and promote the movie. When offered a phone interview, I jumped at the chance. Here is what we discussed - I hope you enjoy it.

Hi Zach. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me this morning. To give you a sense of audience, my blog primarily reaches Christian women and mothers. What do you want us to know about homeless children in America?

My message for everyone is the same. There are stereotypes that kids are on the streets because they want to be. But really, they are in this situation through no fault of their own. In many cases, there is abuse going on at home or the situation at home is not a good one. They may believe that the streets could be better for them. A lot of people think these kids are bad kids, but they’re not. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work directly with quite a few of them. Every time I’m amazed at how smart and intelligent they are. They are just incredible kids.

I’ve seen your movie, and as a mother, I thought it was motivating. How can mothers raise children to be more aware of the needs of others? How did your mom teach this to you?

I got into helping and volunteering from the basic idea of a child. It’s like you learn in kindergarten: if you have extra crayons, you share them.

As far as parenting goes, one of the greatest things my mother ever did for me, especially at the beginning, was just listening and being supportive. Listening is really important. It is one of the most important things parents can do to encourage their kids. It helped me, and not just with the foundation, but as a normal kid and a teenager, having the ability to talk and share ideas and have them listen to it, that is something that is truly important.

Sometimes ideas are too big. I wanted to build homes for homeless families when I was 7 years old. My mom was like, “That is a really good idea, but maybe we should start with something a little bit smaller.” So it might be necessary to re-size their ideas to something that is manageable until you can garner the support of your local community to get behind you.

Zach, I’m amazed at what you have accomplished. What drives you? Does faith enter into your work or motivate you in any way?

The main motivator for me is the kids themselves. Especially when I walked across the country, it was incredibly strenuous and very demanding. It is exhausting and you start to question whether it is worth it. But then you meet these kids and hear their stories . . . you hear what they are going through, and suddenly, all your struggles become so small compared to what they are going through. That is what drives me.

Also, knowing that even if in all the work that I’ve done, if I’ve only made a difference in one child’s life, it would be completely worth it. These kids, they deserve someone to stand up for them.

One of the most memorable parts of Little Red Wagon is the parallel story of a mother and son, who unlike your character, end up homeless. Tell me about how that story played out.

That part of the movie does a great job of showing that homelessness can happen to anyone. It happens quite often. One event can spark a downward spiral that can end in homelessness. One of the reasons I agreed to make this movie was to bring awareness to homelessness. That part of the story also shows that the stereotypes about homeless people aren’t necessarily true.

You walked across the country in 2010. Now you’ve got Little Red Wagon out. What is next on the horizon for you?

We are trying to use the movie as a platform. We first released it in was Philadelphia. While there, we used the movie as a way to get schools involved. We ended up putting together 400 Zach packs like the ones shown in the movie. Those went to homeless youth in the Philadelphia area. So we are trying to use the movie as a platform to give us the ability to do that.

We are also, next year, hoping to go around and do a school tour in various cities across the United States, speaking to schools and using the resources we have. We want to get more  kids involved in volunteerism.

If someone is interested in getting you to come to their school next year, what is the best way to go about doing that?

Email me through my foundation website. I read all the emails. We are still in the planning stages right now, but we definitely want to do it. So if people want to get in touch with me for any reason, they are more than welcome to email me.

You are 14 right now. What do you want to do when you grow up?

As far as the foundation goes, I of course want to keep it going and continue to build it. Whatever career I go into, I still want to be able to incorporate what I’ve learned through the foundation in order to help these kids. On a personal level, I’m hoping to either become a lawyer or get a doctorate.

As a final thought, what can my readers do, right now, to help homeless children in America?

Find a local organization and contact them to see what their greatest needs are. Those vary across the country. For example, in Florida where I’m from, blankets and warm clothing isn’t as big of a need as it would be in other parts of the country. Then, figure out a way you can help fulfill that. If the greatest need is canned food, then put together a food drive. Think of ways you can help fill the need.

I know you’ve got a busy day ahead. Good luck with everything you’ve got going on, and thank you for taking the time to talk to me. We are so glad to have you here in Charleston.

I’m glad to be here. We love Charleston. We were here for the filming of the movie and it is so great to be back.
Wow. What a great kid. Earnest, well spoken and a clear thinker. He makes it sound so simple:
"It’s like you learn in kindergarten: if you have extra crayons, you share them."
"Suddenly, all your struggles become so small compared to what they are going through."
"Think of ways you can help fill the need."

Maybe it is that simple. 
And how about his wisdom?

"Listening is really important. It is one of the most important things parents can do to encourage their kids."
"If I’ve only made a difference in one child’s life, it would be completely worth it." 

Tonight, I get to attend the "red carpet" premiere of Little Red Wagon with a friend. Thank you, Grace Hill Media for emailing me out of the blue, and thank you Emily at Momentum Marketing for coordinating the interview and seats at the premiere. I am excited and honored. 

Most importantly, thank YOU, dear readers for being the audience - for listening, reading, supporting, and encouraging. Thank you for caring about children and wanting to live out this scripture with me: For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God created in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10. 

Without you, this would be empty space. 

*Final note: All opinions here are my own. I have not been paid for this review. I simply took it on because I thought the film and its message were a good fit for this blog. 

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