First Lady Honors High School Literary Program with National Award

November 23, 2015

The Telling Room

An after-school literary program for multilingual high school students called Young Writers & Leaders (YWL) received a $10,000 award from First Lady Michelle Obama last week.

YWL was one of thirteen programs recognized with a 2015 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award at the White House ceremony hosted by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. Founded by The Telling Room—a nonprofit writing center in Portland, Maine— YWL serves a growing population of immigrants and refugees including “passionate young writers who need additional support beyond what their schools are able to provide.”

Mrs. Obama urged continued funding and support for programs like YWL at the ceremony. “There are millions of kids like these with talent all over the place, and it’s hidden and it’s untapped and that’s why these programs are so important,” she said, “We wouldn’t know that all this existed without any of these programs and that would be a shame.”

According to the Portland Press Herald, nineteen-year-old student Ibrahim Shkara—who immigrated from Baghdad, Iraq, to the United States in 2012—and Telling Room Executive Director Heather Davis accepted the national award on behalf of the writing center. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for sure,” Davis said, “It was hard to believe that what was happening was real. She was lovely and you could tell that Ibrahim was moved by her words.”

Other honorees included a youth-led international organization in Honduras as well as a musical theater program founded by Rosie O’Donnell for low-income children in New York. See the complete list of honorees at the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards website.


Photo Credit: The Telling Room.


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