Three local students were honored at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) meeting on January 9th for their essay contributions to the VFW’s annual Patriot’s Pen and Voices of America essay contests. Friends and family members of the winning contestants gathered for a spaghetti dinner, followed by a ceremony in which they were invited to read their works for the veterans of Post 1920 in Mebane.
“The winner is given a certificate and a check, and then we’ll ask them to read their essay because after all, part of this is written for us, for veterans,” said District Chairman Kenneth Sellers, who was in charge of choosing the judges for this year’s contest.
This year’s theme for both the Patriot’s Pen, which is open to middle schoolers, and Voices of Democracy, for high schoolers, was “What Makes America Great.” Each contestant approached the theme differently, using personal anecdotes or historical references to support their essay.
“I think it’s one of the beauties of the program, is that they’re allowed to interpret [the theme] any way they want to. And it doesn’t necessarily have to reflect any particular ideology, view, or anything,” said Mr. Sellers.
Brooke Garrett, 8th grader at Bradford Academy, came in first place in the Patriot’s Pen contest. Her winning essay was a firsthand account of Syrian refugees landing in the United States, which she says was inspired by friends of her family.
“Through our church and through our community we have met a lot of people from overseas. So we have met a lot of refugees who come to America, and hearing their stories and how America has made them so hopeful, and helped them to persevere, that really affected me.”
Nate Fisher, 7th grader at Bradford Academy, came in second place in the Patriot’s Pen contest. The inspiration for his essay was the greatness that he “witnesses every day.” His motivation for entering the contest was his feeling that “I needed to do something about it.”
Izabella Sciora, a senior at Eastern Alamance High School, was inspired to write her winning Voices of Democracy essay on the US military. The opportunity to read aloud to the veterans of Post 1920 was meaningful to both sides.
“I hope it really touches [the veterans], hearing it from someone who’s younger and hasn’t really experienced much. I’m grateful for what they’ve done, and I hope that I’ll impact them and make them feel that we definitely appreciate them.”
The winning essays, which were judged anonymously, have the opportunity to go on to the district and state levels, then ultimately to the national level, where winners have the chance to win scholarship funds.
In addition to the Patriot’s Pen and Voices of Democracy essay contests, the VFW is involved in helping veterans and their families in each district, and funding scholarships for military families.
“If we get a veteran in the community that needs assistance, I’m usually the point of contact for that,” said Mike Barr, Commander of VFW Post 1920, “We’ll go meet with this individual and see what we can do to help them out, whether it’s financially or otherwise. In the last couple of years, I’ve done everything from transport homeless veterans to the homeless shelter in Durham, make sure they’ve got a bus pass and everything set up to go back and forth to their VA appointments and get the help that they needed there. It’s just kind of what we do.”
The ceremony on Thursday night was an opportunity for the winning contestants to give back to the veterans who continue to serve their community. Excitement and nerves were abundant in each student before they stood up to read the winning essays.
“I’m very excited,” said Brooke Garrett, “I just hope I’ll communicate my words well to them, and that it will affect their hearts and help them to be thankful for this country.”