UCF Lends Space, Volunteers to Downtown Camp for Young Writers

If you want to see 12-year-old Adriana Oaks’ face light up, ask her how she feels about going to a writing summer camp.

“I like everything about it,” the rising 7th grader at Howard Middle School said, her arms spread wide. “I mean, this is the greatest thing that I’ve ever done.”

Adriana recently attended a weeklong Young Writers Summer Camp offered by Page 15, an Orlando organization committed to improving children’s literacy. Page 15 offers a variety of programs – including free after-school tutoring and homework help during the school year – but the summer camp is a favorite.

The camps are held through the summer. Over the course of each week, children from 2nd to 12th grades learn about the creative process, develop characters and story, and write a short story of their own. Students work with a professional illustrator to design book covers, and each student leaves with their own printed book at the end of the week.

“At the end, you hand out those books and to see their faces light up – no matter what age, all the way through high school,” said Paul Driscoll, educational programs director for Page 15. “They see their creation, they open it up and there’s a real sense of pride. You can see that, for sure.”

This year’s camp was held in creative working space in the University of Central Florida’s Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy in downtown Orlando, part of what will soon become a new urban campus called UCF Downtown.

Zahnette Rosne, 11, was bent over a computer, perfecting “Stuck in Time,” her story of time travel and being trapped in the future. She said she writes in first person because the ideas come faster when she imagines herself in the protagonist’s shoes.

Her favorite part of camp? The freedom she feels around other young writers.

“I like the environment of it,” she said. “Being around other people who like to write.”

UCF student-volunteers help power Page 15 programs. The camp benefits from the expertise of Master of Fine Arts students from UCF’s English Department.

“These UCF volunteers are coming with some real power behind them – some real experience with creative writing, real knowledge and tips and tricks that our youngest students would never have access to,” said Page 15 founder and executive director Julia Young. “We’ve had a long relationship with UCF. We’ve worked with (Burnett) Honors College and Volunteer UCF for years and years for our tutors and our after-school program and in our summer program.”

UCF freshman Sophie Granville, who is majoring in political science with a minor in creative writing, loves volunteering at the writers camp.

“I get to be part of this cool space where you can feel the creativity in the room,” she said. “I get to be this mentor to kids who are just learning that their voices are powerful.”

Some kids travel from far away for the camp, but most are from the Orlando area. And a quarter of them are scholarship students, many from the Parramore community where Young chose to locate the organization 10 years ago.

“For me, I think it was just the idea of being in a community that had a need. Being in a community that doesn’t always have access to creative opportunities, and also a community whose reading scores are typically lower than others in Orlando,” Young said. “Having a powerful voice and powerful writing and reading skills are really what makes a difference between success and failure in a lot of people’s lives and I think that playing field should be leveled.”

Jeff Moore, Dean of the UCF College of Arts and Humanities, is pleased that UCF is able to provide a space for community connections.

“The ability to communicate and think creatively are skills that will serve these children for their entire lives, but this program also has a great impact on our UCF students who have the life-changing opportunity to be a mentor,” Moore said. “Our downtown spaces make it easy for our students and faculty to make these direct connections with community members.”