Essay contest benefits local non-profits

Published 12:30 pm Thursday, March 23, 2023

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When Random Acts of Kindness Week was celebrated in Winchester, it sparked an idea among organizers to keep the ripple moving forward.

A group of George Rogers Clark High School students and Baker Intermediate School have been officially named and celebrated for their written word.

Owen Rainey and Ruthie Houston of George Rogers Clark High School, as well as Coltin Duncan and Elayna Smart of Baker Intermediate School were recognized for their essays.

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As a result, funds were received by their two favorite charities – STRIDE, and the Marco Shemwell Foundation.

“It just shows the love of the community,” said Brett Cheuvront, who helped organize the essay contest. “The kids understand it and want to give back.”

Several weeks ago, Cheuvront and fellow Winchester residents – including Whitney Leggett and LaShana Harney – first met to discuss Random Acts of Kindness Week ideas.

While Mayor JoEllen Reed officially proclaimed Feb. 14-20 as Random Acts of Kindness Week, an online Facebook page was also formed to allow individuals to share ideas for showing kindness.

The Hall Coffee and Social Club and Clark County Public Library also provided books and resources about the topic.

Through an anonymous donor, the team received a $10,000 donation to be used in the essay contest involving Clark County Public Schools.

Among 50 essays, two victors were chosen from GRC and BIS, with a first-place award of $3,000 and a second-place award of $2,000 going to a charity of each student’s choice.

At GRC, the first-place winner was Owen Rainey, while Ruthie Houston finished strong in second place.

Both agreed to donate to the non-profit organization STRIDE, which stands for Supporting Therapeutic Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities Everyday.

“I’m proud that STRIDE has played a role for them, and hopefully forming their opinions on the role of folks with disabilities,” said Darren Diguette, Executive Director of STRIDE. “We’re not here today if it wasn’t for a caring community that saw this was a need.”

While Houston wrote her essay on the positive connection she shares with her younger sister, whom she describes as “probably the kindest person I’ve ever met,” Rainey’s was about the support he received during his first varsity athletic experience.

“I feel like even just being involved in this is really cool because we’re giving the community an example of people doing things out of their way just to be nice to somebody,” he said.

After Tuesday’s festivities at GRC, Baker Intermediate School students had their turn to shine on Wednesday morning.

With Principal Josh Mounts present, Elayna Swart and Coltin Duncan received $3,000 and $2,000, respectively.

Both chose to donate to the Marco Shemwell Foundation.

The non-profit organization was founded by Ben and Liz Shemwell after their four-year-old son, Marco, tragically died in an auto-related accident.

“It’s really cool to know that the students know us, and they remember us, and they’ve been, hopefully, positively impacted by us in some way,” said Liz Shemwell.

“I think that’s really nice when different people in different organizations will get involved within the community [and] have a mutual mindset towards showing kindness to others,” said Ben Shemwell.

One of the ways the Shemwells hope to use funds is to provide birthday boxes that can be used at the schools, both through the end of this year and hopefully into next.

Swart’s essay mentioned trying to put others ahead of herself when needing to do house cleaning, while Duncan’s included several examples – such as serving at a local food kitchen.

It is a positive step forward for today’s youth.

“I think that’s encouraging when you see how young people perceive kindness and start thinking about those things and how their actions can positively impact other people,” said Leggett.