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Lovers of democracy, pull out your feathered pens — it's time for the VFW's annual Voice of Democracy and Patriot's Pen.

Open to freshmen through seniors in high school, the Voice of Democracy contest gives students a chance to win up to $30,000 in scholarship money. Patriot's Pen is for students in grades 6-8 and offers a national grand prize of up to $5,000. Smaller awards are available at the local and state level, too.

"They're supposed to learn about patriotism, Americanism and veterans," local contest Chairman Coletta Williams (of Auxiliary 2657) said.

Competitors must write and record themselves reading a three- to five-minute-long essay on this year's theme, "What makes America great." Patriot's Pen entrants must write a 300- to 400-word essay on the same topic.

"Our national president and commander picks the theme each year," Williams explained.

The essay contest encourages young minds to examine America's history, along with their own experiences in modern American society, according to the national VFW.

Entrants must then turn in the recording on a CD or flash drive (for competitors), the typed essay and a completed entry form to their local VFW. The entry deadline this year is Oct. 31.

Winners at the local level go on to compete at the state level, and one essayist from each state and contest is selected to travel to Washington, D.C., for the final stage of the competition.

Only one essayist entered the high-school level competition from Fulton High School last year, Williams said. Forty to 45 middle-school students entered the Patriot's Pen contest. She said she's hoping to up participation levels this year.

"I've taken material around to North Callaway, South Callaway, New Bloomfield and even Kingdom Christian Academy," she said. "Homeschoolers are also welcome to enter."

To print off an entry form, visit Interested students and teachers may contact William at 573-310-3532 or email for additional information.