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South Medford student wins writing award

South Medford High School student Courtney Coker of Medford has won an award for the best writing from the Olive Garden's 13th annual Pasta Tales essay-writing contest.

Olive Garden asked students in first through 12th grades to write an essay about "How would you use the Internet to change your community for the better?"

Coker, who won the 10th grade category, wrote an essay describing her idea of setting up an Internet database to support homeless adolescents in Southern Oregon.

She and award winners in each grade category won $500 savings bonds and dinners with their families at Olive Garden.

Contest judges said they chose Coker's essay because it "gives homeless teens a voice and a lifeline."

Coker suggested giving each homeless adolescent an anonymous page where they could list their needs and include an address of a local shelter, where the reader could donate the listed items.

Olive Garden's Pasta Tales is designed to encourage young writers to express themselves and improve their writing skills. Entries were judged on creativity, adherence to theme, organization, grammar, punctuation and spelling by Olive Garden and the Quill and Scroll Society of the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Iowa.

The Olive Garden, a division of Darden Restaurants Inc., has 691 restaurants, more than 87,000 employees and $3.3 billion in annual sales worldwide.