Alisha Zhao, 17, of Portland, Ore., a junior at Lincoln High School, created a club at her school to provide services to local homeless people, and then founded a nonprofit organization called "Kids First Project" to expand her efforts and focus on the needs of homeless youth. While volunteering at a homeless shelter several years ago, Alisha realized that the families there were not getting the help they needed to escape the generational cycle of poverty. "I met youth who were capable of becoming doctors, dancers, and even presidents, yet did not have the resources to achieve their dreams," she said. It quickly became a passion of hers to help supply those resources.
As a freshman, Alisha started the Hope for Homeless Club, which, over the following two years grew to include more than 300 members and conducted projects serving 500 families and an additional 200 individuals. Then, Alisha decided to form a nonprofit that could deliver educational and recreational programs to homeless youth through multiple organizations and shelters. She recruited an advisory board, a board of directors and volunteer leaders, and began organizing activities to help homeless kids reach their potential, including arts and crafts projects, games, tutoring, peer mentoring, life skills classes and donations of school supplies. In recognition of her leadership, Alisha was appointed by Portland's mayor to be the first young person to ever serve on the city's Human Rights Commission.