Summer break will come to a close for Montgomery area students when school begins on Monday. A few of them will return to the classroom with a big boost to their creative writing skills, having been encouraged over the last two months to spend some of their free time preparing entries for a summer writing contest.
The fruits of their labors were rewarded and celebrated Tuesday during a reception at the Brantwood Children’s Home with Ruth and Jay Ott among the many supporters applauding the young writers’ efforts.
Ruth Ott grew up in Capitol Heights and attended schools with children from Brantwood Children’s Home, which sits atop a winding driveway next to Oakwood Cemetery Annex. In recent years, Ruth has served on the state board for the Alabama Writers Forum. The group sponsors “Writing Our Stories,” a highly successful statewide program to help youth learn to express themselves in words.
As Ruth adorned her family’s terrace at Oakwood with spring flowers in April, her thoughts turned to the Brantwood youth and how they could benefit from some encouragement through expressive writing. She began to develop the idea for the contest, and approached Brantwood’s director, Kim Herbert, and Brantwood board member Tom Methvin who responded with an enthusiastic “yes.”
The Otts decided to sponsor and dedicate the project in memory of Ruth’s mother, Carmen Scroggs Mitchell, who not only inspired her to love reading and writing, but who is buried near the big curve of the Brantwood driveway.
At the May meeting of the Montgomery Press & Authors Club — a small but well respected fixture of our city for many decades — Ruth shared her idea for the summer project. The club’s members unanimously voted to help sponsor the effort with a contribution towards prize monies, and several agreed to assist by judging the entries. Guidelines were established and shared shortly thereafter with the youth who are embraced with care and safety as Brantwood’s residents.
Their summertime focus to create original works came with the added incentive that cash prizes would be awarded to the first and second place winners of submissions in three categories: poetry, short stories and essays. The sky was the limit on their choice of writing topics, and they were allowed to receive assistance from on-site teachers and Brantwood staff members.
To get them started, residents who chose to enter the contest participated in a two-hour poetry writing seminar in June. Conducted by MP&A member Jean Clark, participants also had the opportunity to pose questions regarding the other genres.
The contest activated a lot of creative brain power, but required some hands-on activity as well, as entries were required to be typed in time for the final submission date.
A time for celebration
Anticipation was high this week as more than 40 Brantwood residents and staff members awaited the announcement of winners during Tuesday’s patriotic red, white and blue-themed reception, the culminating contest activity.
Each Brantwood resident was given a small American flag as a souvenir of the occasion, and the dining room was abuzz as the selected youth read their entries near a table bearing a large cake decorated in accordance with the patriotic theme.
Sixteen of the poetry category entries were submitted by six youth, who were recognized as the contest’s top winners. Receiving cash prizes with their honors were first- place winner Denise Moore; second-place honoree Jasmine Bradford; third-place recipients Early Gilbert and Albert Davis; Brittany Gholston, fourth-place; and fifth-place winner Valanica Fletcher. Their winnings will be deposited in their internal Brantwood bank accounts to support the youth’s back-to-school shopping needs.
The Otts had arrived early Tuesday to decorate for the occasion with the help of MP&A Club members Deborah Vogelgesang and Sara Prince.
Published poets Anne Burton Wallace, Mary Halliburton and Jean Clark were also among the early volunteer arrivals, though their major role was to serve as judges for the writing contest.
The consummate teacher, Clark returned the copies of their entries with her comments of critique. She and MP&A president Doris Jean Peak donated engraved statuettes that were also presented to the winners. Kim Herbert and Tom Methvin were joined by Brantwood board member Kem Anderson to cheer them on during the exciting gathering.
Everyone feasted on cake, fresh watermelon served from a beautiful compote, along with chips, nuts and tall glasses of tea. As they munched on the goodies, the students gathered to thank the Otts and club members and to talk about plans for next year.
While the reception was a celebration of written accomplishments, the contest, which was designed as a lesson in the effective communication of ideas, had a long-term goal: to help all the participants learn something about themselves. Learn a lot, they did.