HOPE founder helps homeless kids

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Junior Alisha Zhao has started her own club, Health, Oppprtunity, Play, Education.

Alisha Zhao is no stranger to community service. She started the Health, Opportunity, Play, Education (HOPE) for Homeless club three years ago as a freshman, and later founded her own nonprofit, Kids First Project, which helps homeless students achieve their academic dreams. “I have always had a passion for helping people, and this nonprofit is a way for me to share my experiences and knowledge with others,” Zhao says.

As if that isn’t enough, over the summer, she was an ANNpower fellow, representing Oregon with over 50 other young women students from around the country at the three-day leadership conference in Washington D.C. She calls it “a rewarding experience that I will cherish forever.”

The fellowship is a joint program between Ann Taylor Inc. and Vital Voices that strives to empower young women and teach them leadership skills that they can use to better their communities. “The application process was in the Spring, and the prerequisites included being a sophomore or junior, and being a U.S. citizen. I was one of 50 applicants chosen out of 5,000 people.”

In D.C. Zhao met several influential people, including former president Bill Clinton, and Alyse Nelson, founder of Vital Voices, a nonprofit global partnership. She learned how to do elevator pitches, which are one-minute pitches that have to be compelling, and l heard actress Jennifer Morrison speak. “Jennifer Morrison was really inspiring because she is a huge advocate for women empowerment.”

Zhao created the HOPE for Homeless Club after volunteering at Portland Homeless Family Solutions (PHFS), a nonprofit that helps foster children find safe homes. “I was really moved by the children in shelters that weren’t really getting resources they needed, yet they were so compassionate and bright,” the junior  says. Two years later, the club has grown to approximately 150, becoming one of the largest clubs at Lincoln.

HOPE has launched projects such as civic and government classes for parents and children in shelters, and served countless meals for families in need.

Aside from her club and fellowship, Zhao also founded a nonprofit called Kids First Project. Its mission is to raise awareness on the lack of funding for disadvantaged children.

After returning to Oregon, Zhao immediately tapped the skills she learned at the conference to her own projects.

We just did our first event for Kids First Project! We received a donation of $500 to purchase back-to-school supplies for the families at PHFS.”

ANNpower has also just granted Kids First Project $2,169 after an application process among the fellows.

Zhao is now preparing to go to the National Child Awareness Month Youth Conference in Washington D.C. in September. The conference will focus on  issues concerning children of all ages and how youth can combat them.

“I am thankful for all of the opportunities I have had, but I love the chance to give someone else an outlet for opportunity that they have never had before,” Zhao says.

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