Winner of the 2021 Palo Alto Humane Society's Ambassadors of Compassion Story Writing Contest, Cindy Lin and her dog, Yoyo. —Photo by Steven Shpall

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—Students in Santa Cruz County are once again invited to submit entries into a regional writing contest headed by the Palo Alto Humane Society (PAHS).

The Ambassadors of Compassion Story Writing Contest is open to seventh and eighth graders in Santa Cruz, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. Stories can be fiction or nonfiction, and should explore how humans and animals help each other—through themes such as companionship, therapy and healing, safety and rescue, and more.

The winning author will receive a $500 prize, and two runners-up will receive $200 each. The stories will be published by PAHS, and highlight the organization’s 2022 Creating Compassionate Communities campaign, which offers a variety of education and community programs.

 “We look at our education work as encouraging young people to become agents of change,” said PAHS program director Carole Hyde. “They learn engagement, empathy, and how to help their community. We see this contest as encouraging that kind of ethic. The fun of expressing themselves, imagining how people and animals can help each other, individually and socially … The stories always respond so beautifully to that.”

Each year the winning stories are published and illustrated in some form of a physical book. A book featuring last year’s winners will be coming out soon.

“I went back and reread some entries from last year … I was so impressed by the writing,” Hyde said. “The students express themselves so beautifully.” 

The winning story for the 2021 contest was “A Silent Cry for Help,” written by Cindy Lin, an eighth-grader at Pinewood School in Los Altos. Cindy said she had wanted to enter the contest to bring appreciation to animals, who are “our most steadfast and non-judgemental companions.”

“Often, even one’s closest friends may have ulterior motives, but animals stay by one’s side out of pure love,” she said.

Cindy admitted that she didn’t have the highest expectations when she first submitted her story.

“I wasn’t sure if my writing was good enough to be considered a winning piece,” she said. “When I realized I won, it was a sort of testament to my writing abilities and a confirmation that my voice and ideas were worthy of being heard.”

The Ambassadors of Compassion Story Writing Contest was first held in 2019 and has been held every year since. While the 2020 contest did see a dip in submissions due to the pandemic, Hyde said interest has been growing.

“The strains that were in the school system from Covid … I think we’re slowly emerging from that,” Hyde said. “I am hoping for a big response this year. We’d love to have more students from Santa Cruz County submit.”

Cindy encouraged her peers to participate this year.

“Overall, any writing competition can help you grow as a writer as you may be forced to work outside of your comfort zone,” she said. “However, by entering this contest … You are also helping support animals in need. Regardless of if you win or lose … you are still improving both yourself and the world around you.”

Stories submitted must be original and between 800 and 1,000 words. They must be submitted by midnight on May 31. The winning story will be announced after July 4, and the winning author will be requested to provide an interview with PAHS. The stories will be published in Fall 2022.

For contest guidelines and a submission form visit their website.

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Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study Literature. She covers arts and culture, business, nonprofits and agriculture.


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