When I was in elementary school, the children at my school participated in the Christine Wonch Creative Writing Program. The program was a local contest formed in honor of a young girl who was killed in a car-pedestrian accident. For twenty years, it provided an opportunity for students to submit their creative writing to be evaluated and critiqued. Serving as both a tribute and an outreach program, the annual contest left a lasting impact on many in Charlotte, Michigan, including myself.
My stories featured what you might expect to see from a young child. In kindergarten, I wrote a story about a princess and a dragon. Throughout the following years, magic, talking animals, and my pet goldfish (R.I.P., Lucky) dominated the scene. In addition to writing practice, the program gave students insight into the publication process. My story and drawing of Lucky, for example, were immortalized in a book that was housed in the Charlotte Community Library. I’m not sure whether the archives of all the past winners are still there, but it was a great experience to go through the writing process and reach the publication stage at a young age (even if just for a local competition).
During those years, I looked forward to the end-of-the-year assembly, where we were reminded of the stories that we had written months before. The Christine Wonch awards were handed to us in a manila folder amidst other certificates and documents. Some years, I earned purple ribbons with gold stars and “young author winner” embossed in gold print. Other years, I received participation ribbons in a rainbow of bright colors. Either way, the message to young Elizabeth was clear: my work was recognized. Our work was recognized. My peers’ creative stories, poems, and essays had been read and appreciated. Someone even cared enough to judge and critique them.
Like most things, writing well takes practice, which is why opportunities to do so are extremely important. While it is a difficult skill to master, writing is an important part of our daily lives. The Christine Wonch Creative Writing Program encouraged children to get a head start in developing writing skills with simple activities, incentives, and outreach efforts. It allowed them to begin exploring the craft, laying a foundation for learning in later years. The program was not just for writing, either; it encouraged growth and self-confidence in young students.
I’m not sure what prompted my memories of the Christine Wonch Creative Writing Program, but I’m glad to reflect on them. The program blossomed a love of writing among students like me, nurturing our interests in the art form. Its legacy illustrates the positive impact of creative writing on children. From broadening the thought process to encouraging self-expression, there are numerous benefits to practicing creative writing early on. I owe some of my first attempts at creative writing to the Christine Wonch Creative Writing Program, and I’m forever thankful to the organization and its volunteer efforts for encouraging me to stretch my imagination.
For more information on the Christine Wonch Creative Writing Program, click here to find a local newspaper and an article on page 2 regarding the program’s legacy.