Why a chinchilla? Seems like an odd question, but it was one of many asked of students from the Jones Leadership Academy when they talked about the two short stories they had written: The Shadow of Ottawa Park and The Missing Chinchilla.

The eight students recently participated in a story writing workshop through WordShop, a Women’s Initiative of United Way. WordShop is a creative writing program that nurtures and encourages students in an interactive environment to produce writing projects of exceptional quality, and helps them discover their inner authors.

Matt Russell, the director of WordShop, worked with students from five schools this year to create original stories. The two short stories written by the Jones students are included in the final published piece titled Secrets on the Maumee. The wire-bound book is considered a milestone by United Way as it is the first publication highlighting stories written by students who participated in WordShop.

Both stories were first shared to eager listeners at this year’s Claire’s Day, a community event dedicated to inspiring children and families to be lifelong readers. The aspiring authors were presented with a copy of the book at a signing event on Wednesday, May 27.

First in line to have a copy of the book signed was Dr. Romules Durant, CEO/Superintendent for Toledo Public Schools. As he shook hands and posed for pictures with each of the young ladies, Dr. Durant congratulated them on their accomplishment and encouraged them to continue writing and to share their message with the world.

Mr. Russell told the girls that their stories showed true self-expression and that their dedication to literacy gave him ‘goose bumps’. He went on to congratulate the talented team of writers and hopes their stories inspire other teens to give writing a whirl.

Darshae Matlock was asked what it felt like to be a published author. “It’s cool, especially since I’m so young,” she said.

Will Darshae pursue a writing career? Probably not as she considers a future in veterinary medicine or practicing law, but she did say it’s nice to know she has being an author or journalist as another option.

So, why a chinchilla? Simple, the girls wanted their story to be memorable and they thought a pet chinchilla would add an extra bit of pizazz.

Congratulations to: Malani Armstrong, Latoria Webb, Ariana Pope, Darshae Matlock, Jodie Austin, Salimah Allen, Shamia Knox and Kasa Love.

Published on May 28, 2015