On the playground behind The Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club on SE 44, children gallop through fields of green like antelope, leap from monkey bars like chimpanzees and fly from swings like sparrows.
At least that's how Skylar Huff sees it.
“Nature is what moves me. It makes me feel like life's worth living. Being outside and in nature makes me feel like an animal ... like a bird, free, not in a cage,” Skylar, 11, wrote in her essay for the 2013 ImageMakers National Contest, a writing and photography contest sponsored by Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
Skylar and fellow club member Iyana Freeman won at the Southwest Regional level.
“I'm really surprised,” Skylar said during the recent awards ceremony. “I didn't think I would win.”
This year's essay theme was “what moves me.”
“Nature moves me because it's free; all the wild animals can do whatever they want. I wish I could be that way,” Skylar said.
The Crooked Oak fifth-grader said she enjoys arts and crafts and playing with her dog. When she grows up, she wants to be either a photographer or a veterinarian.
She became a member of The Boys and Girls Club in August when her mother was looking for an affordable and safe place she could go after school, Skylar said.
A similar motivation led Amber Freeman to place her daughter Iyana, 9, in the program.
“I am really proud of her,” Amber Freeman said. “She's such a bright girl. She doesn't do anything halfway. She puts her all into what she does or she doesn't do it.”
Iyana based her essay on light.
“We need light for everything; to live ... to grow ... for me to be writing this. Light makes the world brighter,” Iyana wrote in her essay.
Iyana, an honor roll student who loves to take photographs, said she decided to write about the subject when she was outside playing with friends.
“I was taking a picture and noticed a lot of light shining down. I realized we need light for everything. God gave it to us so we can see and do everything else that moves us, and that really moves me,” she said.
In her free time, the Crooked Oak third-grader enjoys playing with her sisters. When she grows up, she wants to be a photographer or a professional basketball player.
“I love taking pictures. I was scared when I first started, but now I feel more comfortable since I know that I'm good at it,” Iyana said.
Joshua Huling, 22, the club's youth development professional and photography instructor, said the girls' work went beyond what he expected.
“They both went a different route and did their own thing, but I think they knocked it out of the ballpark,” Huling said.
Huling, a secondary education and photography major, said he got involved with The Boys and Girls Club after his own membership as a child in Shawnee left a lasting impression on him.
“I was in the Boys and Girls Club the first time I picked up a camera,” Huling said. “My love for photography just grew from there.”
The girls' essays and photos will go on to the national competition. Winners will be announced in June.