Southwest Virginia youth photo contest winners announced

Winners have been announced in the "I Love Southwest Virginia" Youth Photo Contest, which celebrates young photographers who capture great images of the region.

Luke Craig, a junior at Narrows High School in Giles County, won the high school category in the contest, which drew entries from all across Southwest Virginia's 19-county, four-city area. Matthew Fritz, an 8th-grader at Damascus Middle School in Washington County, won the middle school category.

They and eight other finalists and winners from around the region were invited to attend a BBQ dinner and awards program at Heartwood: Southwest Virginia's Artisan Gateway, which sponsored the contest.

"We love having the opportunity to celebrate Southwest Virginia's unique culture and the talented young people who call our region home," said Heartwood Operations Manager Lu Ellsworth, who served as master of ceremonies at the event. "It's great to see how much they love Southwest Virginia."

Luke won with a colorful fall photo of a wooden fence. He won $200 in prize money for himself and $200 for his school. Matthew's photo was of a barn that's been a landmark for generations but recently fell. He won $100 for himself and $100 for his school.

Second place in the high school category went to Hayley Aker, a senior at Chilhowie High School in Smyth County, for her photo looking up at a tree. Third place went to Nick Spencer, a junior at Patrick County High School, for a photo of Rock Castle Creek.

Four honorable mentions were also awarded in the high school category. Each of the middle and high school and middle school finalists received a framed print of his or her photo.

Shalissa Breeding, a senior at Lebanon High School in Russell County, received an honorable mention for her photo of a train illustrating the importance of coal to the region. Alison Saari, a freshman at Blacksburg High School, received an honorable mention for her photo of a pinecone in a tree.

Graysen Barrs, a junior at Abingdon High School, received an honorable mention for her photo of a colorful sky behind a fence. Kaitlyn Hafley, a junior at Chilhowie High School, received an honorable mention for her photo of a water wheel.

In the middle school category, second place went to Kierra Gertz, an 8th-grader at Northwood Middle School; her photo depicted what appeared to be part of a statue with a tree grown up through it. Third place went to Luisa Martinez, a 5th-grader at Rye Cove Intermediate School, for a photo of two sisters at a lake.

"I think it's important that our students get recognized and encouraged in the arts," said Nina Rizzo, art teacher of Hayley and Kaitlyn. "I appreciate that Heartwood is part of that encouragement."

For those who had not visited before, Ellsworth introduced Heartwood, which is located in Abingdon, as the heart of Southwest Virginia's regional effort to drive economic development based around the region's music, craft, cultural heritage and outdoor recreation.

Heartwood opened about three years ago as a cultural showplace and the headquarters of several regional revitalization efforts; it features juried craft from around the region, a music venue with regular performances, and a restaurant.

"We hope these fine young people will stay in Southwest Virginia and continue to help make our region great," said Todd Christensen, executive director of the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Foundation, who presented the awards. "A lot of exciting things are happening in Southwest Virginia."

(Released for publication)

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