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DHS Senior, The Telling Room Honored at White House

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DHS Senior, The Telling Room Honored at White House
Posted on 11/18/2015
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Ibrahim Shkara, a Deering High School senior, took the stage at the White House with First Lady Michelle Obama on Nov. 17 to accept a prestigious national award on behalf of The Telling Room, a nonprofit writing center in Portland.

The Telling Room's Young Writers & Leaders program, a free, after-school literary arts program for international multilingual high school students, won a 2015 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award.

Ibrahim, an alumnus of the Young Writers & Leaders program who is originally from Iraq, and The Telling Room Executive Director Heather Davis received the award in the White House's East Room from the First Lady.

The award is the nation’s highest honor for after-school arts and humanities programs. It recognizes the country’s best creative youth development programs for using engagement in the arts and the humanities to increase academic achievement, graduation rates, and college enrollment. The Telling Room and 11 other awardees honored at the White House event were chosen from a pool of more than 350 nominations and 50 finalists. The winning programs also were recognized for improving literacy and language abilities, communication and performance skills and cultural awareness.

Ibrahim said that accepting the award from Michelle Obama was an experience he would never forget. “It shows me that people recognize and value the power of programs like Young Writers & Leaders to change kids’ lives,” he said.

Ibrahim, now 19, and his family left Baghdad when he was 8 years old because of the war. They moved to Cairo, where he spent the next eight years. He was uprooted again in 2012 when his family came to the United States. They have lived in Portland for three years.

The Telling Room issued a statement saying, “We hope this award will draw attention to the well-documented fact that programs like Young Writers & Leaders are essential investments, not just in the lives of our young people, but in our community. We’re incredibly proud of this achievement and of the students, volunteers, supporters, board and staff who made it possible.

The Young Writers & Leaders program serves 30 students per year and 100 percent of the program’s seniors have gone on to college. The program helps improve students’ writing skills, academic performance, social and emotional well-being, and increases their chances of future success. In its first five years, Young Writers & Leaders served 90 students from El Salvador, Haiti, Burundi, Rwanda, DR Congo, Congo Republic, Djibouti, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Antigua, Kenya, Cameroon, Iran, Uganda, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Russia.

The award was celebrated by a number of The Telling Room’s longtime partners and supporters, including Maine senators Angus King and Susan Collins, and Maine Representative Chellie Pingree.

In conjunction with the Nov. 17 award, The Telling Room released on its website a new anthology of writing from students in the Young Writers & Leaders program.

The thirty pieces of poetry and prose in “A Season for Building Houses” open a window onto today’s immigrant and refugee experience. Along their journeys to new homes in the United States, the teenage writers in this collection explore what it is to belong and to lose, to experience danger and safety, to remember and forget, and to build home after home. The book will be available in bookstores statewide.

Ibrahim and The Telling Room were featured in a Portland Press Herald story and a story in The Washington Post.
Ibrahim Shkara with Michelle Obama