Juniper Rose - Hispanic Link News Service
The eyes of 16-year-old Jacqueline Uy glistened as First Lady Michelle Obama pulled her into a tight hug and whispered in her ear.
"She just told me to keep writing, and that her favorite thing to do was to write," said Uy, a member of WriteGirl, one of 12 after-school programs honored at the White House Nov. 22. "She told me to keep on dreaming, because someday I'll achieve my dreams and goals."
The Los Angeles program is one of 12 chosen from 350 nominated nationwide for the 2013 National Arts and Humanities honor. "I feel like WriteGirl does so much, so to be recognized like this on a national level means a lot," said Uy, who accepted the award at the East Room ceremony. "Creative outlets like these for young girls like me are really good not just for us, but they inspire so many people."
WriteGirl brings together students from the Greater Los Angeles area and matches them with volunteers who help guide them through high school. All who completed the 13-year-old program so far have gone on to college.
While Uy's parents emigrated from the Philippines, more than half of the participants are Latina, said Keren Taylor, its executive director. Many attend large schools with high-density classrooms.
"Often the girls aren't even thinking that they could go to college," she said. "In fact, there are counselors that will tell students, 'You know, you are not really college material.' We tell them, 'You can do anything you want to do,' and then we help them do it."
"We try our best to have a diverse pool of mentors and to recruit from a variety of sources for volunteers and social guests," she said. WriteGirl does have some Hispanic mentors and brings in special guests who speak to the girls.
CNN's Elizabeth Espinosa was one such powerful guest who triggered the students' thoughts, Taylor beamed. "'She's a Latina, I'm a Latina, she's doing that, maybe I could do that.'" But it can be challenging to get a diverse pool of mentors. "It often ends up being a lot of white women," she said. "But they are passionate and there to help the girls."
(Juniper Rose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)