Announcing the Spark Change Essay Contest for High School Students

Photo by m.a.r.c.

Written by Sarah Bartlett, Community Engagement Coordinator, YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish

High school students have a lot at stake in the journey to end homelessness.

Policies in place now will impact students for years to come, and we want to share their voices. Encourage the high school students in your life to write and submit an essay to the Spark Change Essay Contest.

Students are invited to submit an original, 500- to 800-word essay on one of the following topics:

1. There are more than 27,000 homeless students in Washington state. How does homelessness affect a student’s ability to succeed in school?

2. What are some stereotypes about homeless people? What are some arguments against these stereotypes?


Deadline: May 16, 2014

Who May Participate: Any Washington state high school student

Guidelines for the Spark Change Essay Contest

1. Essays must be between 500 and 800 words.

2. Essays must be submitted by the deadline.

3. We want to hear what YOU think. Therefore, all essays must be original work.

4. Please select one of the two essay topics and stay on message.

5. Include a cover sheet with the following information: Name, School, Year in School, Chosen Essay Topic

6. Submit a photo to complement your essay. You may use photos from other websites as long as you credit them. You may also use a photo of yourself, or submit your own original photo. You may NOT use a photo of other people without their permission.

7. It is important that the judges not know your name when choosing a winning essay. Please don’t include your name on any page other than the cover sheet.

8. Winning essays will be published on the Firesteel blog, a platform that advocates for policies to end homelessness, in June 2014.

9. Winning writers will receive a certificate.

10. Email essays as a Word Document or PDF attachment to

Tips for the Writer

1. We are looking for essays that make a compelling argument. Do your research and let us know what you really think.

2. We strongly encourage you write in the first person. We want to know about YOUR experiences and YOUR opinions.

3. Winning essays will be published on a blog that reaches people all over the state. Take the time to make sure your essay is well organized, and have a teacher or friend read it to ensure it makes sense.

4. Follow and read the Firesteel blog. This will give you a great idea of what Firesteel is all about and what kind of writing we want to see.


1. Inocente is an award-winning short documentary that follows a high school student and artist who has experienced homelessness. The film is a good representation of the struggles a homeless student may face.

2. Invisible Child is a New York Times series following a student’s experiences with homelessness.

3. The Firesteel blog shares stories of homelessness and what we can do to spark change. Read through some blog post examples — your own essay could be published here!

• Back to School: “No One Would Have Known I Was Homeless”

• Schools Stabilize Families: What Back To School Means for Homeless Children

• “American Winter” and Poverty in the United States

• From Soldier to Civilian: Standing Up for Women Veterans

• Vehicle Residents Hiding in Plain Sight

LGBTQ Youth and Homelessness

• Domestic Violence and Homelessness: Naomi’s Story

• Stories of Two Immigrant Families


Send an email to Sarah Bartlett at, or call 206.461.4426.

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