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ISBN: 9781935552017
Contest Winners #242
Write a letter to the author responding to their story
Writing Contest Winners

Story: I Can Heal, by Anonymous

1st Prize
No Reason to Be Ashamed

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Dear Anonymous,
Your story, “I Can Heal,” is one everyone needs to read and actually listen to. Being sexually assaulted is something that you can never forget. No matter how hard you try to block it out of your head, it always somehow pops right back in.

I also experienced what you experienced. Feeling like a stranger in your own body, not understanding what happened to you. You keep telling yourself that you’re fine, hoping you will actually start believing that you are.

I was a 13-year-old girl who weighed 90 pounds while a 24-year-old man who probably weighed about 160 pounds basically took my soul. I couldn’t move, in shock that this was happening. To this day I feel like I let him take a piece of me. I feel like I didn’t put up a fight.

What I really like about the writer is that she realized she had no reason to be ashamed. I liked how she was able to build up confidence to write about it and talk to someone. To this day, I can’t talk to anyone face-to-face about what happened to me. I still have not told my parents.

Anonymous, 17
The Urban Assembly Academy of Government and Law
New York, NY

Story: Why I Had To Quit Facebook, by Sabatine Gervais

2nd Prize
Less Social Media, More Productivity

Dear Sabatine,
Your article, “Why I Had To Quit Facebook,” reaffirmed why I don’t engage on social media too much and why I have contemplated deleting all my social media accounts. I found that it is a major distraction, and although it can be beneficial in regard to communication and networking, it can also be time-consuming and can promote negativity.

With my recent college enrollment, I realize that I have to be determined and manage my time wisely, which involves eliminating multiple distractions. When I go to the library to study for an upcoming exam or type a paper, I notice students have their eyes glued to their phones. After hours of studying, I walk past those students again and they are still glued to their screens. I used to be just like those students when I was in middle and high school. However, I have grown up and come to realize that once my work is done, then I can enjoy my leisure time however I choose. My family and I have invested too much into my education for it to go to waste on distractions.

Lachelle Fulton, 19
University of South Carolina Upstate
Spartanburg, SC

Story: Helped Through Homelessness, by Amber Perez

3rd Prize
Warrior With a Pen

Dear Amber,
From your story, “Helped Through Homelessness,” I learned that student homelessness is way deeper than anyone can imagine. I have family members who have gone through the same struggles you have. I know it is not easy dealing with all that, keeping it all bottled up.

I can’t understand how you felt in that situation, but I can relate to the feeling of being embarrassed and not feeling confident. I too took to poetry as a way to release my emotions. You bleed on the pages without actually bleeding.

I’m glad you found your way to happiness and confidence. Living in shelters is not easy, but you got through it, which is a major achievement. Your story may inspire other kids who are going through the same thing. You stepped out of your comfort zone by publishing it. You are a warrior.

Tabitha Santos, 16
Unity Center for Urban Technologies
New York, NY

Special thanks to Nancy Flores and her students at Unity Center for Urban Technologies in Manhattan for submitting dozens of letters.

Runners Up
Story: Finding My Way Without My Parents, by Joel Rembert

On My Own

Dear Joel,
Your article, “Finding My Way Without My Parents,” resonated with me. My parents divorced when I was very young. I felt I had to grow up on my own much like you did. Sometimes when my father hears about my accomplishments, his response is just as nonchalant as your dad’s. In 2015, I qualified for the Scripps National Spelling Bee. I told my father the great news but he didn’t see it as a good thing. He complained about having to take time out of his work schedule instead.

I enjoyed reading how you have come to your own resolution. You didn’t need your parents to become a strong, educated individual.

Reading about the minimal presence of your parents made me grateful that I am still in contact with mine. All too often, I believe people take their solid support systems for granted. This article has inspired me to be more thankful for the simple blessings in my life. Thank you for telling your brave story, Joel.

Cade Klimek, 17
Chisholm HS
Chisholm, MN

Story: Accidents Happen, by Anonymous

Understanding My Body Better

Dear Anonymous,
In reference to your article, “Accidents Happen,” I went through the same experience of a condom breaking during sex. I was filled with so many confused emotions. I didn’t know where to turn, what to do, or how to do it. I thought I had really messed my life up.

Luckily, my boyfriend at the time informed me about Plan B and how it would prevent us from having a child. Like you, I wasn’t sure if Plan B was some type of birth control or an abortion pill. Thanks to Planned Parenthood’s website, I got more information on the topic and felt better. I decided to tell my mom what happened. She was furious at me because I was having sex. She even cried. I felt terrible, but told her I had taken the pill and that everything would be OK.

Since the incident, I have expanded my knowledge about contraceptives and tried understanding my body better.

This happened a year ago, and I am still with the boy who went through this with me. This incident has made our relationship stronger and gave us an opportunity to share our emotions and thoughts with each other. Thank you for sharing your story and helping me understand that we and other couples who have had accidents like this are not alone.

Anonymous, 17
Verrado HS
Buckeye, AZ

Jose Polanco’s story, “How I Overcame Shyness,” struck a chord with many readers. Here are some letters we received in response.

Dear Jose,
I truly connected to your story. When I was in elementary school, I did not fit in with the other kids very well. I tried my hardest to be part of their groups, but I felt that I did not belong.

I finally began to feel a sense of belonging when I joined the school band. I believe this was because I was with people who shared a common passion, music.

Reading your story has inspired me to be more outgoing. It has shown me that although people love to talk and make connections, it can be hard for them to reach out. So I take the initiative to start conversations.

Hearing your story has made me more aware that someone’s silence is never as simple as it appears. In your case, you were quiet because you were afraid to be judged. In my case, I was quiet because I felt out of place. But I’m seeing now that if I take the time to reach out to that quiet new face, I can make a huge difference.

Nicholas Holden, 17
Juan Seguin HS
Arlington, TX

Dear Jose,
I also consider myself a shy person. I do have some friends, but I don’t feel like I can be myself with any of them. Whenever somebody asks me what media I like, I shy away from giving them real answers. I always lie and say something like, “Oh, I don’t really watch TV.” I play a lot of video games too and so do my friends, but they don’t know that I do. I wish I had the courage to say I did too, so I could play with them.

Your advice about joining a group in your community is helpful. Unfortunately, I live in a small town, so there aren’t that many near me. However, I am a member of the marching band and the cross-country team, and these helped me to break out of my shell.

Once I start talking to someone, it’s no problem; it’s starting the conversation that’s the issue. I just assume they won’t care about anything I have to say. However, your story taught me that just talking about your interests can pay off. Thank you for giving me the confidence to introduce myself to more people.

Zach Whelan, 16
Myerstown, PA

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