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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Looking up to their elders: Winners of annual essay contest share stories of love, support and honor

Ask children to write about their role models, and you’ll hear rich stories about how older friends and family impact young lives.

For sixth-grader Tess Inman, her grandmother set an example of strength and courage as she faced a second battle with cancer that ultimately took her life. Until her death, her grandma continued to make Inman and family feel special.

“She was very ill, but that didn’t stop her from doing what she loved,” wrote Inman, 12. “She always loved building puzzles … I remember she would build puzzles with me.”

“My grandmother would make sure that we were always safe. As long as we had a smile on our face, she would have one on hers.”

Annually, the Senior Assistance Fund of Eastern Washington invites regional students to write about elders who inspire them as part of Older Americans Month in May. Top winners were named Thursday morning at Trinity Catholic School.

The contest is done in partnership with Aging and Long Term Care of Eastern Washington.

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Inman took the first-place prize. Other Trinity essay winners describe a West Central Community Center mentor who is admired for support through difficult times, and a grandfather who overcame obstacles to bring his family to the U.S. for a better life.

Merrick Jones, second-place winner, looks up to Rick Harris, who he met at the West Central center. Harris encouraged him to play soccer and gave the boy a volunteer job.

“Ever since third grade, I have started going to West Central Community Center,” Jones said in his essay.

“Rick Harris is important to me because he supports me and is a mentor to me,” he said. “I have been through some hard times, and he has helped get me through those times. I would like to thank him for what he had done and I am thankful for him.”

Jones also credited his mentor for all he does for others and contributing to youth sports.

Harris’ dad, the late Dodgers pitcher Bill Harris, “wanted to start a fundraiser for kids to play sports,” Jones wrote, “but he did not, so Rick started one in his name.”

Another boy, Damian Diaz, received a third-place for a tribute to his grandpa. Diaz described how grateful he is for learning from him simple lessons in life, such as how to fish and mow the lawn.

“He taught me how to swim and he taught me how to ride a bike,” wrote Diaz, 12.

“My grandpa has been there when I needed him … He let me live under his household for years. He has taught me what was right and wrong.”

Ending with a story about the most inspiring lesson, Diaz knows his grandfather sacrificed for family.

“My grandpa has crossed the border with two gallons of water just so I could have a better life. He talks to me when I’m feeling down, inspiring me to be successful. He showed me new tricks in soccer. We’ve went on hikes together. I love my grandpa and I don’t know what I would do without him.”

Memories remain for Inman, who recalled that her grandmother continued to stay positive and spend time with her even as she dealt with cancer. She’d walk with her grandchildren and sing old songs.

“The last thing she loved was to sing to me before bed,” Inman said. “She would always sing me old songs that I wouldn’t know. She made sure to teach me so that we could sing together. When she sang to me, I always felt safe while going to bed.”

“I think she has impacted me because she made my mom a beautiful, strong woman, and my mom passed that on to me. She reminded me to smile every day, even if you are having a bad day. She reminded me to spread happiness and joy into the world.”

“I will forever remember my grandmother and her great deeds.”

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy asked to set aside the month of May to recognize older Americans. The essay contest through the SAFE organization is a regional tradition to mark that.

Winners in Spokane’s Older Americans Month essay contest receive prizes such as tickets to Silverwood Theme Park or the movies.

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