Age doesn’t hold back teen entrepreneur

Zach Haney has a list of things to do on any given day.

1. Dream of future business plans

2. Gain national attention for local endeavors

3. Hop on the school bus and head to class.

That is only a slight exaggeration, as Zach doesn’t actually ride the school bus anymore. Haney is a sophomore at Shawnee Heights High School and the founder and driving force behind Teens Taking Action – a local organization with the motto “Today’s Youth, Tomorrow’s Leaders – Through our values we build better communities.” For such a young man, he is making big waves and his source of inspiration is not hard to come by – weekly Sunday night dinner with the cousins at grandma’s and a family who has always been busy and invested in their community are what drives his courage and motivation.

“My favorite food is the Reuben sandwich my grandma makes,” Haney said.

“We have Sunday night dinner every week at her house…. it’s a good way for the family to stay connected.”

Zach has always looked for leadership opportunities in school and found himself with the desire to push those opportunities even more.

“Although I felt Shawnee Heights had a good leadership program (through Student Council), I felt we needed to be doing more and should have the opportunity to do it on a local level. So I started looking on the computer for ways a teen in Topeka could volunteer,” he said.

“I am very entrepreneurial-spirited and have always had the dream of owning my own business, so I know about setting organizations and companies up already. “I thought the name, was perfect, so I bought the domain and developed a website. During the beginning you could have called it ‘The Haney Project.’ However, anymore that’s how things start…grass roots. I told my parents I was starting an organization and was planning a carnival for the children at the Rescue Mission. They didn’t fully grasp it at first until they started noticing all I had going on. Within a month I had a small scale carnival planned and an organization that needed a lot of help!”

Right on time, the help arrived, and in the nearly 2 years since it’s forming, TTA has had a growing list of supporters and accomplishments. “I feel TTA has done a lot for not only the community but for me personally as well,” Haney said. “I have grown and learned so much and met so many different people that I can hardly imagine what life would be without this organization. We
have held 2 carnivals for the Rescue Mission, which is now our annual fall event. We have held clothing drives collecting over 10 pallets of clothing. In 2011 I held a book drive and collected 5,686 books to send to New Orleans for the schools still needing materials post-Katrina. We have organized pancake and chili feeds and we have been a part of flash mobs and much more.

We have been contacted by a producer from Harpo Studios for the Rosie O’Donnell show after seeing an article about us online and we made a connection there. Also Feld Entertainment of Chicago reached out and when they bring Ringling Bros Circus, Disney Live, AMA Arenacross,
etc. to the area we help by introducing the show or projects, like our Cards 4 Kids which we launched this year at Disney Live. I feel just giving teenagers the opportunity or the ability to know they can accomplish great things, too, well that’s an accomplishment all in itself.” Seeing the need for greater ongoing support, Haney made the move in 2011 to come under the covering of the YMCA, a choice that provided TTA financial and liability support, along with facility availability and an avenue for future growth across the USA.

“Since I am still under 18 I felt it would be most appropriate to partner with a successful and quality organization like the YMCA,” he said. “We made this connection from a TV appearance on WIBW, and I met the events coordinator for the Southwest Y, Jen Haverkamp, and she hooked us up. It is something I am very proud of, and it brings the relief of knowing we have that umbrella above our heads.” Continuing to seek out wise counsel has been a part of the growing process for Haney.

“I have the problem of not always being patient,” he noted. “If I had to start TTA all over again I would start with getting a board of directors at the beginning, or at least a group that could help guide and talk with you about the accomplishments or goals of your idea. Do not be afraid to surround yourself by people with the same passion or desire you have, because in the end you will be more successful. One thing I have noticed is a lot of the time it’s about who you know. Making and keeping strong connections is very important to succeed in anything. I have made tons of requests for all sorts of things and have made the connections just by putting it out there. For instance last year we held a raffle for 2 VIP Tim McGraw tickets and the way I got it was by contacting his manager after finding him online. So try, try and then try
some more but never get discouraged no matter who or how old you are!”

When asked about future hopes for Teens Taking Action, Zach responded ”The next ‘big’ thing I would like for TTA is having a successful teenage board. I want more organization within the organization. I wish to continue seeing the carnival at the Topeka Rescue Mission and each year I want it to grow. I feel it’s important for us to continue making the connections we have made and provide this type of organization in this community and others, so that teens can stay active and feel like they have the ability to do good things. You can make a difference in your every-day life, and some of us may look at making a “difference” in different ways. For me holding a carnival and getting teens my own age to volunteer was my goal and I am happy to say I’ve done that. Don’t get discouraged, get inspired!”


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