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Western Branch teen wins essay contest

A high school student wrote a winning essay that epitomized her love for her close-knit Western Branch community.

The “Why I Love Western Branch” essay contest was started this year by Terry Fraley, a broker for Infinity Real Estate Group and a Western Branch resident since 2000. Fraley is also a member of the Churchland Rotary Club and is on the board of the Portsmouth Humane Society.

He held this essay contest to get feedback from younger residents on what they love about the Western Branch community. The contest received 11 entries over a three-week period this fall, and Fraley said he plans to continue the contest next year, as well.

Fraley and four other local residents judged the essays, and this year’s winner was written by 16-year-old Shayden Schneider. The piece that she wrote, according to Fraley, truly captured the qualities that make the Western Branch community exceptional.

“We read them all, but this young lady captured it a little bit better, her feelings and descriptions of Western Branch. Although they were all positive, this (captured) the overall feeling of the whole Western Branch experience,” Fraley said.

Shayden is a 16-year-old senior at Western Branch High School, who will graduate early this year with plans to go to either University of Central Florida or Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. She lives in Western Branch with her parents and six siblings.

She’s part of the Student Council Association at WBHS, National Honor Society, the high school debate team, and volunteers at Believers Church in Suffolk. She also volunteers at PetSmart in Chesapeake Square, and her family is involved with Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters.

Shayden received $100 for winning the contest.

“I was really happy and surprised,” she said about winning the contest. “It makes me feel good, because I felt like I had a pretty good representation of the community. I feel like when I described it, it really reflects how our community is.”

The Western Branch community has supported her family and has become a place that truly feels like home to her.

“You can never go anywhere and not see someone that you know (in Western Branch). Everyone says things like, ‘this is my home,’ and I feel that in Western Branch. You really get that sense wherever you go.”

Shayden Schneider’s essay

Growing up in Western Branch is a huge privilege that my siblings and I get to experience. Being a part of this community is something I find so special. There are a thousand reasons to love our community and all the kind things our community does for one another. Western Branch is a historical breath of fresh air in a hustle and bustle world; kids growing up here get to experience the history, pride and sense of community that most kids only read about in history books.

The main reason why I love our community in Western Branch is because of how close-knit everyone is. Parents and adults look out for all the children, leaving parents less worried. With having a community such as ours, there is always someone familiar wherever you go! It’s so much fun to have people recognize me based on my family or family friends. It seems like you are always one degree of separation from everyone in the area. The Western Branch community never fails to make everyone feel special and included. This inclusive and diverse culture helps build a sense of belonging for all families. Sometimes parents cannot make an event, but there is always another parent taking pictures to send to the parents or post in the community Facebook page. This simple action makes the parents, particularly military and working parents, like mine feel supported as well as the children.

Another reason to love Western Branch is how we come together for fun or in a time of need. When someone is in need the members of our community jump at the opportunity to help. Our family has been the recipient of feeling the love of the community rallying around us when my sister has faced multiple hospitalizations. The people in Western Branch love to volunteer and never expect anything in return. One specific event that really displays our community involvement is the homecoming parade. Many different businesses, schools, and families put effort into the event. People take time away from their day to create floats and banners, as well as local businesses donating goods and services. Western Branch can conquer anything when we work together.

The final reason why the Western Branch community is so lovable is the opportunities it provides. The schools in our area work really hard to make sure students have a fun and safe learning environment. Students are also offered many chances to be a part of different organizations and clubs. Our area also provides many jobs for people of all educational backgrounds and experience levels. With multiple opportunities for higher education, trade schools and a strong military presence, no one will ever be left without a great opportunity in our community.

Western Branch is an easy place to love! From the people, the activities, and to the support, our community is overflowing with lovable characteristics. Western Branch never fails to make me feel safe, educated, and loved all at once. Anyone would be lucky to get the chance to live here.