A panel of independent judges have selected Ajla Ademovic, a rising senior at Thomas R. Proctor High School, as the winner of the annual Give Back to Utica essay contest, earning her a paid summer internship at the Utica Public Library.

The internship is made possible by the Give Back to Utica Fund, a donor-advised fund of The Community Foundation of Herkimer & Oneida Counties. The fund was created by former Utica resident Steven H. Oram, of Washington, D.C.


“I am pleased that this fund is able to reward and inspire those young adults whose lives have been positively impacted by growing up in Utica,” said Oram. “This essay contest highlights tomorrow’s leaders and gives the community another reason to be proud of its young people.”

Ademovic was chosen from 50 essay applicants who were asked to describe how growing up in the Utica area has shaped their worldview, what their vision for Utica is and how they can give back to the community to make their vision a reality.

“Utica is an exemplary city that showcases the potential of the world’s youth, as well as being a prime example of how diversity in our country has led to improvements in our society,” she wrote. “Growing up in Utica was, and still is, a privilege that I was fortunate enough to experience. As the daughter of refugees, I am not only proud of my heritage, but determined to give back to the city that gave my family a new start.”

When asked what she would like to see Utica become, Ademovic said that the city should focus on cultural programs to serve its immigrant and refugee populations, which are key assets. A first-generation Bosnian American, she believes that investing in such resources will improve the local economy, grow Utica’s workforce, and promote the city’s core philosophy of diversity.

“Through programs to improve language and education at the beginning of an immigrant’s young life, we can influence new residents to pursue careers or opportunities that will help them become successful, ultimately giving back to Utica and beginning a cycle which will be carried down through every generation.”

Ademovic has special interest in introducing these resources at Proctor High School, where she believes bringing together Utica-born students with new students from many countries will foster a spread of cultures, educating young immigrants and refugees. Toward this end, she helped organize the first New York state chapter of a club called Students Together Assisting Refugees (STAR) at Proctor.

Ademovic believes that the internship will afford her the opportunity to engage in the community and increase awareness of the city’s diversity, all while learning about the library’s expanding importance to the community as a center for learning and intellectual development. After graduation, she plans to study criminal justice at Utica College.


The Community Foundation, through the Give Back to Utica Fund, is also providing four other paid summer internships to students at the Mohawk Valley Latino Association, The Root Farm, and the Young Scholars Liberty Partnership Program at Utica College.

Photo Caption: Give Back to Utica essay contest winner, Ajla Ademovic, rising senior at Thomas R. Proctor High School.

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