Zhong, 16, was honored at the annual TD Bank Young Hero Awards ceremony, which "recognizes young people who have championed liberty through civic engagement, conflict resolution, diversity promotion, and school or community leadership," according to a press release.
In February, Zhong led efforts to organize the first ever two-day Turn Empathy Into Action Youth Peace Conference, where more than 200 Houston area students gathered to attend interactive sessions on five key issues facing the Houston area: human trafficking, homelessness, gun violence, environmental degradation and general intolerance.
The goal of the conference was to help students figure out tangible ways to enact positive change in their own communities, Zhong said.
"I definitely feel like there’s a lot of problems that affect Houston specifically, and I wanted to raise awareness for this," she said. "If I am in a position of leadership, I want to try to use the resources I have to do the most amount of good, and part of that is to empower students to be able to focus on their own projects."
Students who attended the conference—a collaborative effort between Zhong, NewGen Peacebuilders and Rotary District 5890—organized into different regions, each of which was tasked with coming up with a "Peace Plan" to acknowledge a problem facing the region and develop different methods that could be pursued at the ground level to address it.
Students determined local organizations they could become a part of and bills they could lobby for, among other efforts. Other groups are now working to establish youth councils to amplify student voices and launch new multicultural festivals with the goal of raising cultural awareness, Zhong said.
In response to Zhong's efforts, school districts across the Houston area have begun posting information in school restrooms that inform students on how to report suspected human trafficking in ways that do not endanger victims.
"School districts are getting more and more on board with learning about these types of problems that may not be seen in academic settings," Zhong said.
Moving forward, Zhong said she wants to expand the peace conference and continue running it on an annual basis. She also said she is continuing to work with NewGen to keep Peace Plans moving forward. In the upcoming fall semester, she said she wants to target specific regions of Houston to provide mentorship to help implement plans.
After she graduates, Zhong said she is interested in pursuing higher eduction, either in law or in education. Whatever she ends up doing, she said altruism and finding ways to help others will always remain central to her life.
"The overall mission is really to highlight that, if you are in a position that has the capacity to create positive change, then you have the obligation to do it," she said.