Olivia V.

First Place Winner

I have, simply speaking, never been able to pick a favorite book. From If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and Junie B. Jones to The House of the Spirits and Metamorphosis, books have shaped my coming of age story. Since pre-school, when I dressed up as a "published author" for Career Day, I've possessed a passion for writing, creativity, and honest expression. The very existence of books, and the joy I've gotten from surrounding myself by them, inspired what I truly hope is the beginning of my life's work.

Upon entering high school, I discovered the Creative Writing Club, which provides a haven for me to voice my opinions and share my own work. Yet as I've matured, I've discovered that most public schools are slashing creative writing from their curricula and many of my younger peers lack the access I do to opportunities to generate creative written expression. Because I fervently believe every child needs literature as a means for understanding, engaging, and becoming a compassionate, active citizen, in January 2010 I founded Hope Through Literature, a community outreach organization. I immediately involved about twenty other high schoolers and we quickly instituted our first project, a massive book drive resulting in the collection of 2000+ books for local after school centers. I then established two core programs: a reading enrichment/book-sharing program at Florence Fuller Child Development Center in Boca Raton, and Ready, Set, Write!, a free creative writing class for elementary schoolers.

Although Hope Through Literature's structure may change as I travel to college next year, I know I want to dedicate my life to improving the quality of education for our country's youth. Along with my aspirations of becoming a professional writer and editor, I hope to eventually establish a non-profit organization, promoting literacy and creative expression and giving other literary teens opportunities to give back to future generations. The newfound self-confidence in Florence Fuller student Sasha's face when, for the first time, she picked up a book and began to reader clearly and proudly; Ready, Set, Write! student Anna's grin when I praised the story she'd written at home "just for fun"—these moments confirm for me the power of the written word to change lives for the better, and I know I want to dedicate myself to this path.

Creating Hope Through Literature taught me more about myself than I ever predicted: I realized I possess the ability to change the world, one student at a time.