Seated between two actors on a Hollywood movie set, Harold Oehler relived one of the most important days in his life: The day he met child philanthropist Zach Bonner. • It was 2007, when Oehler, a representative of the Lazydays Employee Foundation, set up a booth at the WEDU Be More Awards in Tampa. He struck up a conversation with a 10-year-old boy running the booth across the aisle. • "He had a cardboard display that said 'Little Red Wagon Foundation' and said that he was there to help kids," Oehler said. "He was very well-versed about the homelessness issue, and I saw he was the real deal. I told him if he ever needed anything, to call me at Lazydays because we wanted to help kids too." • Soon after, Oehler received a call from Bonner, asking if he could borrow an RV for a fundraising walk across the country. • "I told him before we could do that, he had to come share his story with our employees," Oehler said. "When he came to one of our morning meetings, he could hardly reach the microphone. He told us about the homeless youth he wanted to help. At the end of his speech, he got a standing ovation, something that never happens at 7 a.m.," Oehler said. • "I told him he could have an RV for as long as he needed, which turned out to be about three years." • Bonner is now the subject of Little Red Wagon, a feature-length film that makes its Tampa premiere Friday.
It is hoped it will spark fundraising for the foundation's long-term goal of creating a homeless youth outreach center in Tampa.
"The center is really important because it would be the first of its kind in Tampa, where youth can go for a shower, clean clothes and help," Bonner said. "It's something that needs to happen."
The employee foundation, with Bonner's help, already has created the Lazydays Homeless Youth Program to serve the growing homeless population, and partnered with the University of South Florida College of Medicine to create Florida's first medical clinic for homeless and street youth.
The successful collaboration between Bonner and Lazydays was sealed when Bonner started his cross-country walk at the Lazydays campground in Seffner. Lazydays employees walked his first mile with him, a scene that is depicted in the film.
The movie, directed by David Anspaugh (Rudy, Hoosiers) tells the story of the partnership.
Bonner, now 14, continues to walk to raise funds and help the homeless youth program, which serves Tampa Bay area youth by connecting them with shelters and other necessities.
Donations collected at Little Red Wagon premiere events will go to the program to hire additional social workers and ultimately build an outreach center.
"These are unaccompanied youth with no parents or guidance in their lives," Oehler said. "Many have been cast out of their homes. Half will turn to trafficking themselves. We need to connect these youth to the resources that they need."
Bonner said his focus remains on the cause. When the movie offer came, he didn't want it to be just about him. He wanted it to inspire people to make changes in their communities.
Bonner and Lazydays employees visited the Little Red Wagon set. When it debuted at the 2011 Heartland Film Festival, it won the Truly Moving Picture Award.
High movie attendance in Tampa could translate into wider distribution and more donations, Bonner said.
"We're using the movie as a platform to help more kids," he said. "And we're really happy with the way it turned out."