People & Places

YWP: ‘Survivor’

Young Writers Project, an independent nonprofit based in Burlington, engages young people to write and use digital media to express themselves with clarity and power, and to gain confidence and skills for school, the workplace and life.
Check out the most recent issue of The Voice, Young Writers Project’s monthly digital magazine. Click here.
Each week, VTDigger features a writing submission – an essay, poem, fiction or nonfiction – accompanied by a photo or illustration from Young Writers Project. YWP publishes about 1,000 students’ work each year here, in newspapers across Vermont, on Vermont Public Radio and in YWP’s monthly digital magazine, The Voice. Since 2006, it has offered young people a place to write, share their photos, art, audio and video, and to explore and connect online at For more information, please contact Susan Reid at [email protected].
Illustration by Katherine Moran, 15, of Bristol.

“This story was inspired by the song ‘A Safe Place to Land’ by Sara Bareilles, featuring John Legend. This song has a very sad tone to it. For most of the song, Sara and John are singing a story about bad things happening, but then right at the end the tone changes into a more hopeful one about how people can make a difference in the lives of others. I drew from that and told the story of a woman who had really been struggling in life and had gone through some tough times, but was then okay after getting a little help and went on to make a difference and speak about her life.” – Colchester writer Ava Blaisdell, featured this week


By Ava Blaisdell, 15, of Colchester

“You can be a light for someone in a time of darkness, like my friend Peter was for me. You can have a huge impact on someone’s life just by taking the time to notice them. I am a survivor. But I wouldn’t have been unless someone had taken the time to notice me.” Alicia paused, sweeping her eyes over the crowd. “And that’s what I’m going to talk about today, my story, so that you can go home knowing that a simple gesture may feel quite significant to someone else.

     “I’d like to take you back to 2005, when I was a 15-year-old girl living with my parents and older brother in a small town in northern Massachusetts.” Alicia’s eyes flicked downward as a wave of memories crashed into her mind like a roaring wave. “We didn’t have much money, and we lived in a small house on the outskirts of town. Every day my brother and I would walk to the high school, through rain, cold, and snow. 

     “I both loved and hated school. I had nice teachers, and I could always smuggle apples back to my house to eat in my bedroom, but I could hear the whispers behind my back like leaves rustling in the wind. But still, I would always rather be there than home, with the pungent smell of rotten wood, the mice scampering underneath the floorboards, and my parents hissing at each other like cats before a fight.

     “I had a few friends at school, but I never brought them back to my house, and they never asked me to. I was doing okay until one day after school when James was helping me with my biology homework at the kitchen table and the house caught fire. I remember the smell of smoke and being frozen to the spot, my eyes fixed on the words phospholipid bilayer as James ran to the phone. The fire department arrived and put it out a few minutes later, but to me it felt like hours of standing still, the flames raging around me.

     “We were later informed that the fire had started because of faulty wiring in the walls, but by then I’d already started blaming myself while my parents had taken to arguing about it. My dad got transferred to a different office in New Hampshire where we were able to get a new house that was slightly better than the first, but still it screamed poor to passersby on the street. I felt like I was drowning. I lost contact with my friends and had to be the new girl at my new school. I had nothing and nobody to support me except for James, but he was on the same sinking ship that I was, and although he did his best to hold me tight, I was falling and couldn’t pretend I was okay. 

     “I drifted numbly through school and afterward would lock myself in my room and sit for hours on the floor, until one day a boy walked up to me at school and handed me a paper that had slipped from my binder. He held out his hand and introduced himself, telling me his name was Peter, and after that he never left me alone. He was someone I could talk to, my light in the dark until the sun came up, and I began to realize I could be okay.

     “One simple action led to years of friendship, and I can say with certainty that he is the reason I am standing here talking to you all today. I survived, but I needed someone to show me that I could. Be that person for someone – show them a safe place to land when all is lost. 

     “Thank you.”

VTD Editor

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