November 11, 2022
I, Arielle Zappia, a 14-year-old high school student, founded Project WHY (We Hear You) in the summer of 2022. I have lived in Orange County for the entirety of my life and I have seen the rise of homelessness over the years. I created Project WHY to make a difference in the lives of individuals experiencing homelessness as well as to change society’s perceptions of homelessness in America. I feel as though society has lacked empathy toward homelessness for a very long time and that it is time for a genuine change. I believe that once people understand that no one is inherently homeless and that each one of these individuals has a story, society will be more inclined to put effort into this movement.
Project WHY is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides individuals experiencing homelessness with a platform to truly use their voices and share their stories. I partner with different organizations and interview their participants. I then write their stories in the form of blog posts and publish them on my website. This allows our unhoused neighbors to tell their stories about WHY they are where they are whilst simultaneously restoring humanity’s empathy toward homelessness in America on a far more personal level.
My overarching goal for Project WHY is to provide as many individuals experiencing homelessness as possible with a platform to share their stories so that they truly believe that we as a society hear and support them. Moreover, I want to spread awareness about homelessness across the nation so that more youth advocates and public officials can help end homelessness together.
Along with providing Project WHY’s resources to many individuals over the past few months, I have also gained a deeper understanding of homelessness as a whole. It is truly a combination of many different factors that cannot be easily unraveled by one single individual or organization. This is why I believe that it is so important to have resources addressing all different aspects of homelessness readily available to anyone in need. Furthermore, interviewing a plethora of individuals with different backgrounds, personalities, stories, etc. has given me a completely different perspective on homelessness as a whole. I have come to realize that, just as Project WHY’s mission states, every person has an entirely different set of experiences that have led them to experience homelessness. It is for this reason that sharing these stories is so crucial to ending homelessness. Additionally, having more youth like myself work as activists for homelessness and other crises makes a tremendous difference in humanity.
The question of how someone so young can involve themselves in global issues seems daunting, however, with the right set of resources and the proper amount of motivation, it is possible for anyone! If there is a cause that you feel strongly about, I guarantee that there is a sector within it that has not yet been addressed (such as personal stories from homeless individuals). Conducting research is a great way to find nonprofit organizations to work for, partner with, or even gain inspiration from for another cause. This may also help you think of gaps in that particular cause that may have not been addressed yet. Additionally, there are many great websites that provide all of the forms necessary to start a nonprofit organization in your particular area. For example, CalNonprofits has a step-by-step guide for anyone interested in venturing out into their own cause. With this being said, there is not a specific set of rules or steps to follow that will tell you how to make a difference in your community, because it really starts with you. As long as you have the motivation and determination to change the world, you are capable of it!
As I mentioned previously, Project WHY addresses a specific issue within homelessness in America, however, there are many other great resources that provide many other services for our unhoused neighbors! Resources such as Grandma’s House of Hope or WISEPlace provide shelter for housing-insecure individuals. Others, such as Families Forward provide nutritional resources to anyone in need. And, of course, organizations such as Connect-OC provide mental health resources to any individuals in need of emotional assistance. Although mental health resources are useful for everybody, they are especially helpful for individuals experiencing homelessness. Many housing-insecure individuals struggle with mental health conditions and it is extremely important for them, along with the rest of society, to access and use these incredible resources. All of the resources mentioned above, along with many others, are helping end homelessness one day at a time, and you can too.
Founder & CEO of Project WHY