What are your dreams for your community?

When the Greater Twin Cities United Way and the Star Tribune asked local elementary students that question, we got plenty of heartfelt answers. In fact, hundreds of students in grades three through five wrote essays (a few with bonus poems and pictures) about their dreams for everything from a safer, cleaner environment to tuition-free college to faster stoplights.

While some mapped out aggressive projects (new parks, garden programs at schools), others saw the sweetness behind simple gestures (inviting another child to play). But most of the essays drove home the point that no one else can make our community better -- we have to do it ourselves.

First-place winner Winston Chen will receive a $500 savings bond from U.S. Bancorp. The nine runners-up -- Mackenzie Manuel, Cuyler Cronin, Ellen Johnson, Sam Zimmerman, Chase Westermann, Olivia Meredith, Amy Tran, Regan Thomas and Hannah Johnson -- will each receive a $100 savings bond.

By sharing their essays here, we hope we can help those dreams come a bit closer to reality.


Winston Chen

Fifth grade, Oak Point Intermediate School, Eden Prairie

I dare to dream of a community where people of all different cultures and religions come together creating a great collage of many colors.

I dare to dream of a community where despair is replaced with hope and fear is overcome by joy.

I dare to dream of a community where collaboration is valued, and everyone is an equal contributor.

I dare to dream of a future where my children will be able to walk streets with no litter and play on grass that isn't sauteed in chemicals.

I dare to dream.


Mackenzie Manuel

Fourth grade, Sojourner Truth Academy, Minneapolis

My dream for our community is for people to stop violence and get along. If we lived in a world like that, our world would be a lot safer. Another thing I would change is bullying and harassment. Some kids get bullied all the time and other kids see it and don't do anything. That's called a "bystander." If you see somebody getting bullied, you should tell someone because if you don't, it could happen to you! Nobody likes that in our community. So remember to always help others out and don't be afraid to stand up for what's right.

Cuyler Cronin

Fifth grade, Red Pine Elementary, Eagan

My Dare to Dream wish for my community is to start a new garden program at my school. I think it would be great to start a school garden with a farmers market stand. Many families live in new neighborhoods with small back yards that make it hard to plant a vegetable garden. Each class could help by taking turns working in the garden. The program would teach students about teamwork and how to run a business. The school garden would give kids a great gardening experience and also help raise money for the school. Let's dig some dirt!

Ellen Johnson

Third grade, Birch Grove Elementary, Brooklyn Park

Everyone should love each other, and have a house, and have food and water. Everyone should have a family and everyone should have a cozy bed. Everyone should be kind and respect others. Everyone should be kind to nature. All the children should obey their parents. Everyone should be able to go to college if they want to, and no paying any money for it, just being able to only go to college if they want to. We also should have stop signs that go faster, like: go, stop, go, stop, go stop.

Sam Zimmerman

Fifth grade, Lake Harriet Community School, Minneapolis

I dream of a community where kids that have special needs will feel accepted. The community needs to welcome all kids by inviting them to play and participate. They are just like everybody else. They want to have fun, laugh and be included.

Some ideas I have to welcome kids with special needs are to be friendly, find something in common and play with them if they want to. Invite them to do things and be understanding of what they can or cannot do.

The reason why I know all of this is because I have a disability, too. I am proud of who I am.

Chase Westermann

Fifth grade, Transfiguration School, Oakdale

Wouldn't it be great if we lived in a community where kids could ride bikes to the grocery store and not have to worry about anything dangerous happening?

I have three fabulous ideas for making a better community. The first step to making a better community is accepting people for who they are.

My second idea to make a better community would be to cut down on the use of electronics like TV, phones, computers and video games. This would get more people outside and meeting each other. If you do that it will be easier to get to know your neighbors.

My third and final idea is we could have a community garden. It will filter our air and give us fresh fruits and veggies for the food shelves around town.

In my opinion, that's how we can make our community a lot better.

Olivia Meredith

Third grade, Scenic Heights Elementary, Minnetonka

I learned in school that it's important to share your hopes and dreams with others. By doing this we can work together to make our hopes and dreams come true.

My dream for a better community involves all people young and old. I challenge you to take a personal pledge and to share your talent, time or money by paying it forward in our community. Choose an organization or school that is important to you.

Give hope, watch others beam,

it is easier than it seems.

Pay it forward is the theme,

as a community, we make dreams.

Amy Tran

Fourth grade, Bel Air Elementary, New Brighton

My dream for my neighborhood is first, I want to know the people in my neighborhood. I want to meet new friends. Then I want to help each other.

Second, I want my neighborhood not to be dangerous. I don't want my neighbors to say bad words. Then, I don't want them to go against each other and fight. This is my dream for my neighborhood.

Regan Thomas

Fourth grade, WestWood Elementary, Prior Lake

My dream for my community is for there to be less pollution. I really want the environment to be a cleaner and safer place. I wish everybody would be happy and friendly to others and the environment. There are many ways for the community to help with that, for example recycling, reducing and re-using. I also want our community to be more fun. I wish there were more fun parks. I also think it would be cool if everybody painted their house in a way that describes them.

Hannah Johnson

Third grade, St. Francis Christian School, East Bethel

I have a few ideas, so, first of all, I think the people should start being more helpful for the planet and other people, too. And here are some things that can help us do it, try not to watch TV, don't play too many video games. And if you live close to school, ride your bike not a car to school, and try to keep your friends from doing it, too.

And just simple things, like caring about other people's worries. So you could even smile. That might make their day better.