Hands on Scholastic Journalism for youth!

A Backpack Journalist

Hands on Scholastic Journalism for youth!

A Backpack Journalist

Hands on Scholastic Journalism for youth!

A Backpack Journalist

Coming in the summer of 2024!

“I don’t how to write!”
“Me” 2008!

Hey all students – kids -now young adults!  Did you take our A Backpack Journalist program…at a military installation – at a National Guard Event – at an afterschool event?? contact us with your story – today!!!


The development of the A Backpack Journalist programming began at a Deployment Event managed by Linda Dennis at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina after a young teen openly declared when asked if he would like to write a letter to his deploying Father:

“I don’t know how to write!”

Dennis traveled nationally supporting deployment crafting activities for military families as the United States went to war overseas following 9/11. Dennis presented the A Backpack Journalist (ABPJ) “Concept – writing and journaling” as a healing agent dealing with the stresses of deployment for military families and youth and confirmed via RAND Corporation the need. 2008-2009.

A review by Allison Barber, Deputy Under Secretary Department of Defense serving under Secretary Rumsfeld, further encouraged Dennis to find a National Guard program for the pilot test. “The American people had a strong desire, interest to support the “warfighter” and their families and children during the deployment, plus the ABPJ platform, solid and strong, was outside of the government’s work and filled an important need for families and children.” Alison Barber.

Texas Military Forces, Army and Air National Guard, State Family Programs included a program specifically designed to provide support for the children and youth of Texas who had a parent, or a guardian actively involved with OIF/OEF deployments. There were many challenges presented to these kids, a large percentage played havoc with their emotional well-being. The adolescents had even more emotional issues to struggle with. All too often they had to fill in for the parent who was gone. It was the climate of the military families back when Texas first got introduced to A Backpack Journalist (BPJ).

Nancy Herren was the youth coordinator for Texas State Family Programs when the program was first introduced for a pilot test. “It was a wonderful addition to the programs being offered at the time. It allowed for self-expression for the kids, it was a much-needed outlet for them to freely and safely express their fears and frustrations while having fun doing it. It made way for freedom of expression and some of these teenagers were feeling anything but freedom when BPJ hit the scene.”

The funding for the pilot test, “the incubation” held in two locations, came from the Texas National Guard Family Support Foundation. Working on the USC Journalism School Campus for 2 days with 20 Texas Air and Army Guard youth Dennis introduced David Knight, a well-known high school teacher, to the youth for writing. James Smith, a SC National Guardsman just returned from Afghanistan for an interview. Then a hands-on experience participating at a local Homeless event. Next, Dennis and Knight traveled to Austin, Texas working closely with the University of Texas, for additional 2 days for another group of Texas Military Youth, adding photography after a youth asked: “Can we learn about taking pictures”. Mike McLean, a skilled photojournalist and teacher joined ABPJ. Both positive experiences supported next steps in funding to go forward and again supported by the Texas National Guard Family Foundation.

With now in place a curriculum, the ABPJ team, launched nationally to the National Guard Youth Conference in New Orleans, Additionally, the use of the “hat” was introduced for the photojournalism session, and an ice breaker that brought the youth together as they interviewed each other, followed by a presentation to the entire group. Writing continued, outcomes found in stories, letters and personal expressions.

Now we begin to share the stories of many military families and their youth who experienced the ABPJ program. Hours were spent often late into the evening, many youths sitting on the floor and our beloved David with them as they struggled to find the words. Then there was Mike spending extra time with youth wishing to take a better photo. And I, to read a young person’s writing, and observing to be sure all that needed, received a hug. During these ABPJ Sessions it is estimated that we reached up to 1000 youth, across the United States, serving in different branches of the military, with a focus on Texas and the western states. We often found young people who volunteered to join in and help us along the way.

With help of social media, we kept in touch and followed many and their families. We celebrate their lives today as we find them as reporters or editors at our nation’s leading newspapers, serving their states in high tech positions, as missionaries working with Migrant children, performing on record labels and working and teaching at risk kids in non-profits and working with Club Beyond, the Christian Program for youth found on military installations.

Coming home in 2013, the A Backpack Journalist program was modified to serve a young civilian audience found in Title One Schools, Elementary ages and the Charleston Promise Neighborhood. There was a need to continue in a different program model. The new model included engaging the local community in variety of ways from learning through field trips to guest speakers which included local journalists. Local businesses, Hendrick Automotive, South Carolina Port Authority, Charleston RiverDogs and The City of Charleston all were involved. An added plus, the local media outlets pitched in also. We held Summer Camps. Writing continued, photojournalism and research on low country civil rights heroes. Performances often and fun Parades through our city. We added volunteers, Brad and Denny, who became beloved male influencers and many of the Cadets from the Citadel

Fast forward to today. The motivation for this book came from these young local children in elementary school, beginning in the 4-5 grade here in Title One schools in Charleston, now high school graduates. We celebrate their success and hope the stories found here will be a part of the encouragement for them to “keep-on, keeping on!”. We are so proud and love them all.

Note: in the Epilogue of this book, Dr. Fred Medway, a leading research Psychologist for children youth issues, provides insight into how the A Backpack Journalist provided a positive effect or influence for the military teen and the local civilian’s young person. While our outcomes might not be considered quantitative, they are indeed qualitative and will surpass present day results!

Blessings, to all the young people and now young adults as they move through life. We really enjoyed having you with us!

Linda Dennis February 11, 2024

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