Help a bunch of bright-eyed high school journalists get to NYC

UPDATE: You can now donate to The Grizzly Gazette at gazettetonyc.info. I grew up in a modest town. Porterville, California. Population roughly 40,000. Mostly farmers. It's a place that smells of cow manure. It's the "armpit" of California, being the worst, poorest, most-polluted little valley in the golden state.

So when something better than oranges comes out of Porterville, it deserves to be recognized (because it doesn't happen often).

And that's exactly what happened this week: The online newspaper at Granite Hills High School (my alma mater) placed as gold crown finalists in the Columbia Scholastic Press Association awards for their online news site, The Grizzly Gazette. This is a national honor and a huge accomplishment.

Now their advisor, Evan Hackett, is looking for a way to send a handful of students to New York City to accept the award and asked me to chaperone. One problem: The school doesn't have the resources or funding to pull that kind of money together last-minute (the awards ceremony is at the end of March).

We ask of you this: If you know of any organization that is willing to sponsor a few kids flying and staying in NYC for three days, please pass this on to them. These kids deserve to get out and see the world -- to see how big their accomplishments are, and to know that after they graduate, there's so much to move on to.

Only 60 percent of people in Porterville graduate high school, compared to 80 percent at the national level, according to the latest census information. Only 11 percent of people in Porterville get bachelor's degrees. That's less than half of the national average of 24 percent.

When the Grizzly Gazette won its first national award (NSPA National Pacemaker) under my lead as editor in chief, it was an unbelievably powerful and eye-opening experience for me.

It was the first time I was able to see myself in the real world, beyond the little Tulare County bubble,  a feeling I best conveyed in my personal statement for my University of California applications that year:

The first thing we saw when we walked through the huge, glass, double doors were the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling—shimmering, dazzling, mesmerizing. We entered together, side-by-side, us against the rest of the high school world.

"We're definitely not in Porterville anymore," laughed Mr. Hackett, our journalism advisor.  I looked around at the faces of my fellow journalism students, my journalism family, and I knew they were thinking the same thing. Together we were exiting the little agrarian country town we came from and entering the real world.

It was April 20, 2006 and we were entering the San Francisco Hilton for the NSPA Journalism Conference. All of our differences dissipated away as we entered those huge glass doors. We were united, we were one, and all of the hard work we put into producing our online paper for the last seven months paid off as we stared down at our "Pacemaker Finalist" ribbons around our necks. They were our small tokens of triumph, our ultimate source of pride.

This was it. We made it. Our little online high school newspaper had placed as one of the top seven newspapers in the nation against some of the most affluent high schools in the United States. Our Title I school, in which eighty-nine percent of our students are classified as low-income, our east-side school, in which the rest of the town referred to as the "gang school" was finally being nationally recognized for our hard work.

There was never a moment in my life where I was more proud to be a leader. I was editor in chief and my family of reporters, photographers, editors, and designers stood behind me with full support. We were winners, not only of a national newspaper contest, but of all the goals and aspirations we set for ourselves.

As I stood, staring up at those chandeliers, gazing in awe at the thousands of students who filled the lobby of the hotel, and imagining the thousands more who were somewhere off in their hotel rooms, I knew that everything I questioned was worth it. All the hours of interviews after school, being squeezed in between my hours of homework for AP classes, golf practice, last minute deadlines, late-night breaking news updates, training the underclassmen on weekends—it was all worth it.

And there we stood. For this moment in time, we weren't the "gang school," and it didn't matter that eighty-nine percent of our students were low-income. All that mattered was that we were winners.

Now I know I can do anything I set my heart to.  These students, my peers, were artists.  We started with a color palette of talents and a blank canvas, and by the end of the year we became Picassos, Leonardos, and Van Goghs. Together we have combined our individual pieces of art to create this masterpiece, our newspaper, on display for the world to see.

It was this one, life-changing weekend that made me decide on a future for myself. This life-changing weekend I learned about who I was, who I am, and who I want to become. My future is journalism.  My future is experiencing the joy of reporting facts to the community. My future is being informed and informing others. My future is real, and my future starts now.

After the journalism conference, after meeting with students from everywhere in the nation, I knew that I had a plan for my future. I walked out of that hotel on the last day of the weekend as a changed person. For the first time in my life, I knew where I stood in the world. I knew my potential, and to this day, I know that I am a leader. The first step of my life journey is almost over. The effort of my four years of high school is coming to and end, and with this end comes a new beginning.

The second year I was editor in chief, we won another national award and traveled to Denver. It was the first time most of us (myself included) had ever been out of state or flown on an airplane. It was equally as life-changing.

I want to give these kids an opportunity to experience that same feeling I had at my first journalism conference. They deserve to go on this trip. Can you help them pay the way? Contact me lauren.rabaino@gmail.com or comment on this post if you can.