Kids First Project

Promoting Hope and Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

Photo of Alisha Zhao
13 20

Written by

Eligibility: Are you employed by T-Mobile or related to an employee of T-Mobile?

  • No

Website or social media url(s) (optional): Facebook: Instagram: @kidsfirstproject Twitter: @pdxkidsfirst

Date Started


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)

1. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project? NOTE: All applications must include a 1 minute video that answers: “I am stepping up to make change because..."

I started volunteering at my local family homeless shelter when I was fourteen. Here, I met Sarah. Both fourteen with brothers, an unabridged love for reading, and a fiery commitment to lacrosse, we instantly became friends. But I began to notice that while I spent thirty minutes at most getting to school, Sarah’s daily commutes totaled three hours. While I had lacrosse practice, Sarah had to quit her team. With what free time she had, she would look after her brothers and the younger kids in shelter. All the kids in shelters had aspirations of becoming doctors, scientists, dancers, and even presidents, yet did not have the resources necessary to pursue their dreams. Sarah's resilience in making the most of her situation inspired me, but I was determined to find a way to bring programs directly to her and other young people experiencing homelessness in my community and beyond.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

The average age of a homeless person in the US is just nine years old. Because children cannot live in the streets, this issue often goes unnoticed. When I spoke to a transitional housing organization when creating Kids First, I learned that they had lost funding for children's activities and couldn't manage volunteers. Programs and volunteers are needed in family homeless shelter to empower homeless youth to reach their full potential.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Kids First Project brings educational and recreational programs directly to family homeless shelters. All our programs are run and taught by volunteers of all ages from the area. Our unique approach to bring programs directly to shelters is because homeless youth have long commutes between schools and shelters, so they often cannot participate in after-school programs. Furthermore, by having volunteers in shelter, parents have the opportunity to leave their kids for an hour to focus on finding housing or relaxing. However, homeless youth are not the only ones benefitting from our programs. We encourage people in our community to connect their passions with service by leading activities that they're passionate about to get them excited about service-learning. We've helped community members enact programs ranging from weekly lacrosse workshops to STEM programs, making service both meaningful and manageable. Lastly, our model is not only unique, but also relatively easy to replicate. While we're mostly concentrated in a few cities right now, our model means that our chapters and other groups can implement the same programs at the family shelters in their own communities.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

Although numbers are important, my team values the immeasurable impact that has been made through our work. We worked with Jasmine last summer through our tutoring program when she was fourteen years old, an eighth grader preparing to enter high school the following year. In middle school, she struggled with school. However, during the summer, our volunteers were able to help her build confidence in her strengths and passions. By August, she felt more comfortable with algebra and essay writing than she ever had before, and our volunteers even helped her discover a passion for painting. Now, she is excelling in her math class and is part of an art club held at her school. She comes back to the shelter to visit and see our volunteers because of the close relationships she has formed with our organization, and is in the process of creating a Kids First Project chapter at her own school.

5. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

After I realized that after-school programs wouldn't be effective for youth experiencing homelessness living in shelters, I found that shelters often do not have structured programs for kids, lack funding for children's activities, and, at the time, there were no existing organizations that brought volunteers and programs to shelters. Thus, our traveling model allows us to: 1. Impact more kids by serving multiple shelters in one community. 2. Create convenience for both parents and kids by bringing programs directly to them. 3. Give volunteers the opportunity to engage in service-learning.

6. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

With a team of 27 people and over 400 volunteers, we annually serve 500 families at 6 different locations across the country with an additional 7 student chapters. To date, Kids First Project has empowered youth experiencing homelessness across the US through our weekly programs and services. We have also given a platform to students to bring their passions forward and transform them into teachable curriculum. Today, Sarah, the girl who inspires my work, volunteers with Kids First Project and is a strong advocate for the ending of homelessness in our community. Although it cannot be reflected in tangible numbers or statistics, we have helped youth experiencing homelessness, like Sarah and Jasmine overcome barriers and discover, pursue, and excel in their passions.

7. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

Now that I am a student at Stanford, it has become more difficult managing a non-profit that focuses so heavily on delivering in-person programs, especially because they're located throughout the country. I need help restructuring Kids First Project so that our programs can continue to scale to new locations while maintaining sustainability. I have been studying human rights in college, and my team and I have realized that Kids First Project could also do a lot for youth experiencing homelessness in the policy and advocacy realm. I'm hoping to add a new component that will allow our volunteers to also engage in meaningful advocacy in regards to youth homelessness, such as government funding for children's activities in shelters.

8. Future Support: What are the resources needed to make your vision a reality?

I need resources to help Kids First Project go through a few transitions. Because we have been running for almost three years now, we need additional resources to adjust to change. With many of our team members cycling out of high school and into college and the importance of teamwork in our work, I need support and advice on replacing old members with new members in our Board of Directors. We do a good job of winning grants, but seed funding would be needed to scale our programs and implement new initiatives within Kids First Project. General mentorship on non-profit transitions and sustainability would be incredibly helpful for my team heading into this summer because we will be working on so many different parts of our organization.

9. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations over $10k

10. Ripple Effect: Please share some ideas of how you could partner with other changemakers or involve other young people as leaders in making a difference.

I'm a strong believer in collective impact and partnerships. In the past, I have partnered Kids First Project with other young change makers to help all of our organizations increase our impact. For example, one non-profit distributed feminine hygiene products. Because Kids First serves teens and women who do not have access to free feminine hygiene products, I partnered with her to supply all the shelters Kids First Project serves with feminine hygiene products. Another friend runs a non-profit that creates STEM workshops for low-income students. I partnered with her and she gave Kids First Project curriculum books and materials to hold her STEM workshops for the kids we serve. For change makers located in the same area, I have taken the initiative to create collaborative events, such as our annual Intersectionality Workshop for Global Youth Service Day. (Description of event in attached picture above) Because Kids First Project brings a variety of programs and directly works with youth experiencing homelessness, there are many exciting opportunities for partnerships.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 [optional] Which of the following categories do you identify with?

  • Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani) (9)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 [optional] Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities?

  • Communities of color

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others
  • Other

Evaluation results

5 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 80%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 20%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. - 0%

2. Changemaker Quality

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 100%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

3. Creativity

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 60%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 40%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Commitment

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 100%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Connection

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 80%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 20%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Claudia Gourdet

Hello Alisha,
Congratulations on advancing to the Top 100 stage! The issue of homelessness is very important to me and you are addressing it directly. I know of a lot of organization that's working on the same cause I would love to connect you. Please feel free to contact me, my email is

Photo of Alisha Zhao

Hi Claudia,
Congratulations to you too! Thanks so much for offering, I'll definitely reach out. I saw that your organization provides STEM programs - Has your team ever considered offering programs in the states? If so, we're always looking to offer more STEM programs at our locations and would be interested in partnering!

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