By Melissa Preddy
Danny Bartolotta is a teen with a strong vision for his life—completing high school this year, entering college in the fall, followed by law school and opening a firm with his best friend.
The 17-year-old from Romeo said the loving support of his grandparents Bev and Don Fraser, including their advice—repeated early and often—to “don’t follow the crowd,” helped him establish the confidence and discipline he needed to excel in school and activities.
Last year he got the chance to tell them publicly how much their guidance has meant, taking third place in AARP Michigan’s “Why I Love My Grandparents” essay contest.
“My Grandma and Grandpa have taught me to believe in myself while not following what others may say or do,” Bartolotta wrote. “This is single-handedly the best piece of advice I have ever been given.”
As a top finisher, he was tapped to read his essay aloud at AARP’s awards ceremony in Lansing with his family in the audience.
“It’s really an honor to know that they got to hear me say this,” said Bartolotta. “They were very excited, and it’s a great memory.”
Other families throughout Michigan will be creating similar memories soon as the AARP contest enters its fifth year. The annual event has proved to be enriching for children and their elders alike, said Lisa Whitmore Davis, AARP Michigan associate state director for multicultural outreach.
Families, community centers, schools, churches and other groups are using the contest to stimulate interaction between young and old, to coach kids on writing and vocabulary skills, and to build confidence in children and teens.
“It’s an intergenerational activity,” Whitmore Davis said. “There are so many different ways this can be used as a tool throughout the community, and it can be as low-cost as printing the application forms.”
‘The flow of history’
“We also see that it helps young people become interested in their own family tree, and to help kids understand how they and their elders are part of the flow of history,” she said.
Entries for the contest, open to ages 6-18, are due Aug. 1. Last year there were more than 200 entries, and Whitmore Davis hopes to increase that total. Submissions from those ages 6-10 are limited to 300 words, for ages 11-14 it’s 500 words, and for 15-18 it’s 750 words. Rules are available at AARP Michigan’s blog: aarp.org/mi.
Essays are judged by volunteers, who select the top three from each age category. Then the nine finalists are judged on an equal footing and overall prizes are awarded for first, second and third places. Winners will be invited to a September awards event. The grand prize winner receives an Apple iPad; second prize is a Nook e-reader and third prize is a Kindle Fire.
Members of Detroit’s Greater Christ Baptist Church are doing their best to boost entries, and hope to shepherd 30 to 40 young people into the contest this year, said the Rev. James C. Perkins, pastor of the congregation.
The church partners with a nearby school to promote the contest, makes applications available to the community and provides volunteer mentors to help the kids get their thoughts down on paper. The contest also is a key component of youth ministry activities this spring and summer, Perkins said.
“We have them deliver their essays aloud at worship services,” said Perkins. “That way they get encouragement from the congregation at large, which helps them build up their self-esteem.”
Melissa Preddy is a writer living in Plymouth, MI.