Kids Can Write: Elea Abisamra’s journey to helping children become publishers
May 1, 2023
“Follow your dreams.”
This is something one hears constantly as a child. Those words are powerful, but they can be even more interesting when acted upon. Children dream big, but it can be hard for these to come true without help.
A student at Virginia Tech started an organization that is making an impact on children’s dreams. Elea Abisamra, a sophomore double majoring in nanomedicine and behavioral and cognitive neuroscience with minors in creative writing and international studies, founded Kids Can Write, an organization within the university. The group includes college students who volunteer at local elementary schools and tutor children, age 7 to 13, on how to write their own stories. The volunteers then help the aspiring authors self-publish online through Kindle Direct Publishing.
Abisamra has been creating books since she was 6 years old. She would staple pages together to make them look like actual books. At age 9, a friend of her mother’s helped her publish a book through the website Create Space. Since that time, Abisamra has wanted to publish her own books and help others do the same. She was able to follow through with her dreams by publishing the books she wrote and now she is returning the favor to other children, just like her mother’s friend did for her.
When Abisamra first came to Virginia Tech, she lived in the Innovate Living Learning Community, which focuses on entrepreneurship and encourages students to start their own businesses. The director of the program, Laura Townsend, heard about Abisamra’s idea and pushed her to create the Kids Can Write organization.
Abisamra said that some of the hardest things about starting the organization were creating the curriculum and completing the steps to make it a registered club. It also was difficult to find an elementary school partner and recruit and retain tutors successfully, she said. At first, 50 tutors wanted to join, but then the organization ended up with 25 based on availability. The founder, however, was determined to get more people involved, so she went to Gobblerfest to spread the word. She also emailed several students and professors about her organization.
Since the organization started in June 2022, it has grown tremendously, and it also provides an online tutoring program. Virginia Tech’s chapter has both a regular program and a neuroscience version where neuroscience majors educate children on the topic by helping them write books from the vantage point of traveling through the brain. While only 15 young authors became publishers during the organization's first full semester, by spring 2023, the number has grown to over 50. Abisamra has also expanded the organization to George Mason University and hopes to offer it to other schools as well.
“Kids Can Write is an ambitious and remarkably successful program that has without a doubt already changed many children’s lives,” said Jeff Mann, associate professor of creative writing. “I’ve encountered innumerable intelligent, talented, and enthusiastic students, but none have single-handedly developed such a valuable program in so short a time.”
Mann also said all of Abisamra’s work impresses him. As an author, he relates to how difficult and frustrating the writing process can be, but also knows how exciting it is to become a published author. He is glad Abismara came up with a way to help people relieve their frustration over writing by giving advice and feedback.
Since Abismara is so passionate about writing, she is minoring in creative writing. Storytelling has fascinated her for a long time, and she didn’t want to lose that part of herself, even though she is a science major.
Inspired by the movie, “Ratatouille,” she said there is one quote from it that helps to motivate her: “Anyone can cook, but only the ones who keep going will be great.” This quote has meaning for her because she thinks any child can write a book. They just must have the motivation and the tutors to inspire them.
She has stretched her organization even wider. After her cousin, Jad Salem, who loved to write, passed away from Osteosarcoma in 2019, Abismara initially thought she would try to grow her organization’s target audience to more than just students. She decided her organization should also encompass cancer centers, hospices, and retirement homes.
To this end, Abismara was recently awarded the prestigious Patricia C. Perna Fellowship, one of the most selective Honors College Scholarships. This will support her with $5,000 to expand her program to hospitals. She named the expansion project the Jad Initiative in honor of her cousin. MedStar Georgetown Hospital posted a flier for their patients to sign up and Carilion Clinic in Roanoke will also promote the Kids Can Write a program for their pediatric oncology patients for the Summer of 2023 and this coming fall.
Written by Audrey Hayes, an English and Public Relations major