It’s the time of year that people contemplate the past and look to the future. Appreciate the celebration of holidays with family and friends while wondering what the future holds for the next generation. For many years, members of the Veteran’s of Foreign Wars (VFW) and its Ladies Auxiliary have sponsored a national essay writing competition called the “Voice of Democracy” (VOD) to stimulate patriotic thoughts among high school students on a variety of subjects. This year’s essay theme was “Why I’m Optimistic About our Nation’s Future.” Last week VFW Post # 10046 announced the winners of the local competition which has been organized for the last 19 years by VFW Ladies Auxiliary chair Rachael Jurko. Michael Hollinger of Nikiski took second place honors and a check for $500 dollars for his efforts, “When I saw the essay prompt I thought that writing about why I’m optimistic would give me a good opportunity to actually research the topic and express why I think America’s future is going to be great and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my generation has so much potential to carry on the traditions that have been given to us and the more I learned the more I came to appreciate the value of those traditions,” Hollinger told the Dispatch.

Ellery Steffensen is a Connection student from Kenai and his essay won top honors and a $1,000 prize from VFW Post# 10046. “I have a passion for people and especially our veterans. They have a place that is near and dear to my heart and some of them have been a real inspiration to me, so I wanted to give back in my essay and say thank you for all they have done for us over the last 200 years. The prize is nice but it was the passion that motivated me and the need to share the emotions, winning was an added bonus,” said Steffensen at the awards ceremony where Post Commander Mike Meredith and Rachael Jurko presented the awards before family and VFW members. “I was a VOD winner when I was in high school and that’s why I’m in military service today,” commented a uniformed soldier at the ceremony.

Steffensen and Hollinger will now advance to the State VOD and if successful there will go on to national judging and the opportunity to win a trip to Washington D.C. and more scholarship awards for as much as $30,000. According to Rachael Jurko local several winners have gone on to place nationally in the past, “I’m so very proud of our young people and the contributions they are making to our community and to our world. It’s not only their language art skills but their heart skills that are so apparent,” she said. Next year’s VOD theme will be “Why Veterans are Important to our Nation’s History and Future.” Deadline for submission is November 1, 2014. For more information go to or contact your high school counselor.