Zach Wood has never let his circumstances define him. Whether it was living with four people in a two bedroom home, navigating the depths of poverty, or helping his parents when they were down on their luck, the 18-year-old from Washington, D.C. used education as a ladder to a better world... with the aim of one day becoming President of the United States.
In order to get there, Wood travels two and a half hours a day by bus to attend his preferred high school. He was accepted to Williams College this fall, the top liberal arts school in the country, as well as summer programs at Yale, Stanford, Brown, and Georgetown. When money again became an obstacle, the precocious teen told his story on a local news broadcast last week, and it inspired so many people, he has now raised over $22,000 for his cause.
"It is really amazing that people, who may not even know me personally, but heard my story and were willing to donate to something they believe in," Wood tells the Good News Blog. "It represents the best of America, the best possibilities we have."
While Wood received a full scholarship for the 4-year program at Williams College, he was offered no financial aid for summer sessions at any of the Ivy League institutions, and initially thought he would have to turn them down. After speaking with reporter Bruce Leshan at WUSA9 in DC and setting up a crowdfunding page, things began to change.
First, Peggy Cooper Cafritz, a generous woman with a passion for education, decided she would fund Wood's entire program. Cafritz, 67, co-founded the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and has for years been championing kids from disadvantaged communities.
"He had already achieved," Cafritz points out. "It was clear that he was on a righteous path, and I felt that he should be helped and I couldn't believe that Yale wasn't giving him the money or his former school."
She adds, "At that point, he had a GoFundMe account, and had only gotten $100."
That number soon rose dramatically. To date, Wood has raised over $12,000, and that doesn't include Cafritz's donation. She says her money will help Wood with other things, like living expenses and transportation.
Wood still lives in cramped conditions, sharing a residence with his dad, uncle, grandmother, and occasionally his younger sister. He doesn't own a car, and spends most of his time studying and aspiring to be like his role models, Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson and Henry Louis Gates.
Considering the kindness bestowed upon him by others, the teen says he's amazed at the response of his community and Cafritz.
"Her generosity is incredible," Wood remarks. "For me, it was inspiring because I really thought there was no way. How can I come up with $10,000? I couldn't even come up with a hundred. It inspires me to do something similar in the future… I'd like to be able to make a positive difference in the lives of others by improving their quality of lives."
According to Cafritz, there were only two conditions attached to her donation: one, that Wood attend a minority orientation program at the school, and two, that he keep in touch.
She comments, "We've got a kid that could shoot the moon, let's help him."