Josh Crews could be quick on the draw with a pen. Take his “Rosalita,” the page-and-a-splash story prefacing this year’s 10th-anniversary annual anthology of student writing that bears his name: in just a few broad strokes, two friends heading for the Bahamas board a boat that appeared to be in distress. It’s a trap. A violent coke-trundling man, his gun and his Rosalita want the two friends to take them to America. Big fight. Rosalita and her man (to whom she’d “administered a kiss that was in no way sisterly” before hell broke loose) end up overboard, presumably dead. But the two friends’ boat is sinking. “Throwing the bare essentials into a cooler, they put on flippers and started swimming. As the sun set, they were stroking out west—toward the mainland.”
End of story.
So Josh would have loved the quick-hit stories that follow, with titles like “Captain Toilet Plunger,” “The Lizard Substitute,” “Sally the Saffron Sofa” (“Unlike the other sofas, Sally could speak and communicate”), and this line from Jasmine Lopez-Coache, a 9th grade poet at Flagler Palm Coast High School: “The world is always untold/whether we like it or not.”
Wednesday evening, the Flagler County Education Foundation is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Josh Crews Writing Project and the publication of the ninth anthology of creative writing by students from every public school in Flagler County. The book launch takes place at 6 p.m. at the cafeteria shared between Buddy Taylor Middle and Wadsworth Elementary schools. The event is named in Josh Crews’ memory, the late bartender and co-owner of Woody’s BBQ, killed in a car crash in Palm Coast in November 2010. When Crews wasn’t immersed in reading, he was writing.
“Write On! An Anthology of Writing from Flagler County Students” has grown in pages and support since the first book was published in 2013. This year, 56 student-authors contributed to the book–pieces as short as a few paragraphs or a few pages long or, in the case of Matanzas High School 11th grader Lauren Sampsell, a 22-page, 17,000-word, multi-chapter, vaguely Handmaid Tale-ish epic called “The Black Sheep.” (“That’s how all of us came here. We were abandoned on the streets of Volta. Unwanted, unloved, but now we serve a purpose. Now, we all get to be somebody. The Compound trained us to be soldiers, to protect the citizens of Volta.”)
Some writers submitted multiple pieces. Many choose to write about what seems to have been the pleasure, phobia and mystery of the year: substitutes. (“The Unusual Substitute,” “The Octopus Substitute,” “The Two-Inch Substitute,” and so on.) The book clocks in at 176 pages, 96 more than the first. The writers, in grades 4 through 12, will be honored at the book launch, where they will share excerpts of their stories.
Joe Rizzo, Executive Director of the Educational Foundation, says he’d have never imagined the sort of impact the writing project has had. “We have published hundreds of authors, and we’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in Josh Crew’s name. And it started with myself and a girl named Carla Cline losing a childhood friend in a car accident in 2010,” he says. (Cline is another local hero whose latest effort may have saved Flagler Beach from rising seas, at least for a while.)
Abbey Cooke, 6th grade teacher at Belle Terre Elementary, has been the JCWP’s district coordinator since the 2014-2015 school year. As an avid reader and writer herself, especially when she was a child, she felt strongly about the objective of the foundation. With high stake testing environments, Cooke sees that kids treat writing as a “chore instead of a pleasure.” Getting students to express themselves creatively through writing is something she wanted to help make “bigger and better.” Over the years, Cooke has seen the project grow and exceed expectations. “We went from having the book launch in one of the conference rooms at the government services building to, there’s no way on earth we could do that now,” she says.
Now, the book launch event is capped at 200 guests due to Covid, though “we had more people RSVP this year than ever before,” Cooke said (which is why it was moved to the larger venue at the cafeteria).
Most of the funding, which pays for the book, the launch and all other expenses, comes from the proceeds of a yearly gala and silent auction. Rebecca Bower, Assistant Director of the Flagler County Education Foundation, says the events raised $450,000 over the past ten years. The Education Foundation also uses some of the money raised through the JCWP to sponsor one of the Take Stock in Children students, who receives a college scholarship.
“We’ve got some people who’ve written books that were in the Josh Crews Writing Project,” Rizzo says, “we have a girl that produced a TV show. The Josh Crews Writing Project sent a girl to Oxford a couple of years ago for a writing camp over the summer, so it’s just the things that it has done and been able to do to touch kids in Flagler County is just phenomenal.” (Rizzo may remember them as girls: they were, of course, women by the time they’d reached Oxford and the TV production rooms.)
“I think, you know, a lot of times these projects start with great intentions over a tragedy and ultimately, you know, they start to fade away,” he says. (Rizzo and Crews had co-owned Woody’s. Rizzo continued his role at the restaurant until he took over the foundation’s directorship.) “But in this case it really hasn’t.”
While Crew’s loss was a catalyst, Rizzo believes the passion for writing keeps the project alive. “The creative writing part of it is really what has driven the success of it,” he goes on, “we started for a really good reason. And I think we have an infinitely better reason now to continue, and that’s why it’s good. That’s why we’re gonna keep doing it.”