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Students give platform to the voiceless in Writing Wrongs journalism program

Pictured above are the 15 students from multiple universities who were selected into the Writing Wrongs 2019 program. The staff is excited to get to work and create a book in the course of three days over Labor Day weekend. Photo courtesy of Abby Baker

Carly O’Neill
Features Editor

Writing Wrongs is a three day intensive journalism program created for the storytellers and those with something to say. The theme for 2019 highlighted the LGBTQ+ community and the struggles they face in society.

Dawn Heinbach, the non-profit’s founder, first became inspired to establish Writing Wrongs in 2013, when she attended a workshop in Hollywood, Florida called “Will Write For Food.” She was a student herself at the time, attending Reading Area Community College.

Heinbach spent her Labor Day weekend with 21 other students at the COSAC homeless shelter, collecting information and writing articles on the residents. The media and design students of the program worked together to create an edition of the “Homeless Voice” newspaper. Residents of the shelter sold these newspapers in certain locations around town, and in turn were paid for their work to save up and eventually move out of the shelter.

When she realized that the work she did contributed to helping people and raising awareness about the severity of homelessness, she knew she had to continue making a difference back home in Berks County. 

“One of the reasons I wanted to establish Writing Wrongs was to provide a platform for people who are not usually asked about their lives to share their experiences. If someone is presented with the reality of people in a marginalized group, they can learn from those stories, those truths, and come away with a different perspective,” says Heinbach.

I was one of 15 students who were accepted into this year’s program, and one of six students who were brought on as staff writers. We all shared a common mission over Labor Day weekend, to aid in the completion of a book that will be published and sold worldwide. By the end of the program the writers and I had collectively written a total of 18 articles.

I applied to this program with a personal goal of enhancing my writing background and pushing myself to new limits that I never knew I had until this opportunity. For students looking to go into journalism or reporting, this literacy program will give you hands-on experience employers are looking for.

My colleagues and I spent Saturday and Sunday interviewing people and parents of the LGBTQ+ community, recording and taking notes of directors and speakers throughout the program, and within a few hours, turning scribbled down sentences and our interviewees stories into a piece ready for publication.  

My goal going into this program was to shed light on those who felt closeted or misinterpreted in a world full of discrimination. After the book is released in October, I can proudly say I’ve accomplished this goal.

The five other writers who gave up their weekend to create something impactful for a worthy cause, gave their takeaways on the program. 

Mia Boccher is a sophomore at Rutgers University studying journalism and political science, with a minor in women, gender, and sexuality. Going into this program, her main goal was to educate the public and provide people a platform for their voices to be heard. 

“It was an amazing experience…through a collaboration of storytelling, graphics, and community we created a focus on a group of people marginalized and built a family within our team,” said Boccher.

Gillian Russo is a junior at Fordham University studying journalism, with a minor in theatre. Russo has always been determined to “tell people’s stories and tell them right,” and this program allowed her to do just that. 

“The program gave me a unique opportunity to make meaningful connections. It was such an incredible experience bringing to light the stories of underrepresented yet inspiring people, and working alongside other students that wanted to do the same,” said Russo.

Steven Hernandez is a senior at Rutgers University studying philosophy. His desire to affect positive change in the LGBTQ+ dialectic and remove the labels put onto the community was his main intent going into this program.

“I met some great people and wrote some great stuff. These kind of high-pressure, high-emotion experiences force you to get really close to the people you’re with, both to your coworkers and your interviewees,” said Hernandez.   

Kimberlee Bongard is a senior at Ramapo College of New Jersey studying communication arts, with a concentration in journalism. Bongard wanted to address current or future concerns of the LGBTQ+ community through her articles. 

“Writing Wrongs was a great opportunity to hone my writing and interviewing skills. Although it’s a deadline-driven project finished in just two or three days of work, the group of writers really formed a team. Overall, it was a humbling experience interviewing people who had the courage to share their stories with us,” said Bongard.

Kristen Marcinek is a junior at Rutgers University studying anthropology, with a minor in social justice. She feels strongly that all people should feel represented, whether through the media or within their communities, and she wanted to convey this through her writing.

“I am really proud of my work, and I am proud of the work my teammates are doing. I am really excited to see the final project,” said Marcinek during an interview with the Reading Eagle.

If any student is interested in applying to the Writing Wrongs 2020 program, Heinbach suggests to not let the minimum requirements scare one off. The whole program itself is a learning experience that any student with the right mindset and background can tackle. 

“I encourage students who are unsure of their qualifications to reach out to me and ask rather than simply not applying. If they are weak in a certain area, there is time for them to work on that and strengthen that area before the program,” she said. 

Going forward Heinbach’s main vision for Writing Wrongs is to expand the program to multiple locations and make it accessible to more  students.

“As early as next year, we may be able to host the program more than once a year and in other locations. We will continue to explore relevant social issues and revisit issues that have been previously covered,” said Heinbach.