Questions of patriotism and reflection upon American history are prompts that Evanston VFW Snell Post 7186 are asking area youth to ponder, with monetary prizes and a trip to Washington D.C. as the stakes for two national Veterans of Foreign Wars competitions. 

Evanston youth enrolled from sixth-grade through high school are being encouraged by Post 7186 to engage said topics by entering one of two competitions: the Voice of Democracy audio-essay program for high school age students and the Patriot’s Pen writing competition for grades 6-8.

“There’s a long history of service in Evanston,” Jim Hughes, co-chair for Post 7186’s Voice of America and Patriot’s Pen competitions said. “So whether it was with the military or just service in general, Evanston is a very giving community, a very understanding community and a very diverse community that looks out for its veterans and is considerate about people who are underserved.”

More than $2 million in scholarship money is available for the Voice of Democracy audio-essay winners and a state winner from each state earn a trip to Washington D.C. There, the first-place national winner earns a $30,000 scholarship. 

State winners earn at minimum a $1,000 scholarship.

Mr. Hughes, an Evanston resident since 1970, said he was pleasantly surprised to see the nuance and consideration past winners have brought to the competitions.

“I’ve gone through some of the videos of the winners of the past reading their entries and I really found them inspiring,” he said. 

In addition to state and national prizes, Post 7186’s judges will choose several Evanston winners for prizes, including a $250 first-place award and a $100 second-place award for the Voice of Democracy competition. 

Post 7186’s winners of the Patriot’s Pen competition will award a $100 prize for first and $50 for second. 

“The questions about the country makes them think about the future and their place in it and projecting that,” Mr. Hughes said. 

Post 7186 Commander Charles Spivey estimated that most years anywhere from 15-20 essays come in, namely from private schools in the likes of Skokie, Wilmette and Winnetka. He said he is hopeful for Post 7186 to connect with public school superintendents to turn out more public school and minority submissions for the competitions. 

“That’s where we really need to make some work,” Cmdr. Spivey said. 

VWF Snell Post 7186, a chartered fixture of Evanston since 1946, has long been involved in said competitions. Post 7186 has sent word to youth-focused organizations in an effort to get the word out about the competitions. 

“We are trying to reach out through schools and churches, any youth organization that might want to promote scholarship and offer young people an opportunity to apply for a scholarship,” Mr. Hughes said. 

High school students in the Voice of Democracy competition have the opportunity to write and record an essay on a patriotic theme, with the aims of a trip to Washington D.C. and potential scholarship money. 

The theme for the 2020-21 Patriot’s Pen competition is “What Is Patriotism to Me?” The theme for the Voice of Democracy competition is “Is This the Country the Founders Envisioned.”

Cmdr. Spivey said that it can be quite difficult choosing from the final few essays. 

“It can be very tough sit-in down and trying to pick a winner because normally you have one of those categories, two or three kids that you come down to," he  said. 

Noted participants of the Voice of America competition according to VFW include journalist Charles Kuralt, Miss America winner Anita Bryant and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

“VFW’s purpose for these awards (scholarships) is to encourage personal growth and foster a greater understanding and appreciation for America, its history and values,” Rick Davis, co-chair of the competitions for Post 7186 said. 

Cmdr.  Spivey said applicants for both competitions will be recognized with certificates from the VFW, and he is hopeful for further recognition in the future potentially by utilizing video software like Zoom to showcase some of the submissions from area youth. 

“They learn more about our country, our military and the commitments our brave young men and women put forth and sacrifice for our country,” Mr. Spivey said.

Details about how to enter and what standards must be met can be found at vfw7186.org under the “Programs” tab and clicking on “Voice of Democracy “(LINK: https://www.vfw7186.org/americanism)” and “Patriots Pen, (LINK: https://www.vfw7186.org/patriotspen)” or by contacting Rick Davis at 847-682-2632. 

The deadline to enter for both competitions is Oct. 31.