“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” -Malcom X

“Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning.” -Maya Angelou

“The difference between school and life? In school, you're taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you're given a test that teaches you a lesson.” -Tom Bodett

For Shanice, a student in PHMC’s Homeless Teen Education Project, the phrase that paid was from Tom Bodett. “As I read the quote I cannot help but reflect upon my life experiences past, present, and future. I reminisce about the tests and lessons I have endured,” Shanice wrote in her essay that garnered her first place—and a new digital camera—in PHMC’s “The Phrase that Pays” Black History Month essay contest.

Shanice and 10 other students participated in the contest, selecting one of 10 provided quotes, identifying its author and writing a 300-word essay inspired by the chosen phrase. “Each year we try to give the teens a writing experience and this is the second year we have had this particular contest,” says Deborah McMillan, assistant vice president for Social Service Programs at PHMC.

Shanice was the only student to select Bodett’s quote. “There were a lot of good quotes, but I really liked how this one was phrased,” she says.

Elaine Colbert, teen education specialist, and volunteer tutor Catelyn Coyle coached the teens on writing their essays. Six judges, including a representative from the School District of Philadelphia and PHMC’s vice president of communications Dina Baker, evaluated the essays for format, clarity, style, originality and organization.

On April 7, PHMC held a recognition ceremony and dinner for the contest participants and presented awards to the first, second and third place winners. The second place winner received a $50 Dave and Buster's gift card while the third place winner received movie tickets and complimentary transportation to the movie theater. All contestants received certificates commending their work.

The Homeless Teen Education Project, a program of PHMC’s Specialized Health Services component, provides homeless teens with tutoring, mentoring and educational case management services, including intensive interventions to improve attendance, behavior and academic performance. Although most of the participants in the program live in emergency shelters and transitional housing, some are formerly homeless and live in permanent housing.

In her essay Shanice writes: “I have overcome several obstacles in my life such as being homeless, death in my family, and having a single parent mother with a bad heart condition. All of these circumstances have been my most challenging tests in life. I have been moving from place to place, city to city, and state to state all my life…. Moving has not only impaired my childhood and schooling, but my outlook on life…. This unstable upbringing has shown me how important stability is…. In order for me to achieve this I must get an education so that I can pursue a career that will provide me with financial support.”

Since the contest, Shanice and her family have moved into permanent housing. Shanice plans to attend Kutztown University in Kutztown, PA in the fall. “I want to study biology or pre-med so that I can become a surgeon or pediatrician one day,” she says. When asked what she thought of healthcare reform, she noted that she had not been following it very much but that she thought getting people treatment was the most important thing. “I would treat a child first before asking their parents for proof of insurance.”

“If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.” -President Barack Obama

Every opportunity I come across in my lifetime I look upon it as stepping stones to my path to success… . And even if my goals fail or I just might never meet [them], I must move on to the next important thing and set new goals… . I’m not a quitter and I keep trying and trying until I get it right no matter what gets in my way… . No matter how long it takes to succeed in life we’ll make it for the long run if we believe we can.

-Second place essayist