Big Future for Small-Town Writer

Community Impact Scholarship winner Adelle Brunstad is making change through professional writing

Adelle Brunstad’s passion for writing and telling stories that promote change started in her early adolescence.

While she’s only 19, Adelle doesn’t consider her lack of business experience or higher education an issue for enacting change through communication. In fact, she’s been actively serving her community in her small town in northwestern Vermont:

  • At the 2nd VT Community Leadership Summit, Adelle represented LEAPS Afterschool and Summer Program as a panelist on “Youth Driving Change: Engaging Youth in Local Decision-Making and Amplifying Youth Voice.”

  • At 18, Adelle became an interim coordinator for one of the K–8 after-school programs in her community.

  • During high school, Adelle volunteered for the Enosburgh Initiative, which is a group that is a driving force in her community and focuses on economic development opportunities. A regional newspaper called her a “local secret weapon” for her writing work with the organization.

“These experiences were hands-on forms of higher education because I learned a great deal about organizing, planning, leading, working collaboratively and, frankly, myself.”

She would soon gather more experiences that would fuel her passion for change through the written word.

Adelle’s Writing “Background”

During middle school, an eighth-grade English assignment would set Adelle on this professional path—even though she didn’t realize it quite yet.

“The turning point [in self-discovery] was when I wrote a poem called ‘Ignore’ in eighth grade,” she recalls. She describes it being about how she found freedom by tuning out the trivial and by embracing the people and things in her life that truly matter.

“I remember vividly the moment that I read the poem aloud to the entire eighth grade, and I think they were all taken aback by it and didn't expect it coming from me. It gave them pause, which was what I wanted. I saw behavior toward me change.

“That’s when I realized the power words can have.”

“Ignore” continued to bring rewards beyond the school reading. The poem was featured on Vermont Public Radio and possibly factored in Adelle’s teachers’ selection of her as a graduation award recipient for showing “greatest promise of leadership abilities and accomplishments.”

But the most important effect had been on Adelle herself: She says “Ignore” slowly and steadily changed her and her life. “I had a new kind of respect for myself. The poem became an anthem and a powerful reminder for me.”

Come her freshman year of high school, Adelle began homeschooling that comprised a rigorous, well-rounded and mostly online curriculum with a focus on her affinity for writing.

That was also the year she discovered the Young Writers Project (YWP).

Print publication of the Burlington Free Press showing one of Adelle Brunstad's poems. Photo.
Adelle Brunstad's poem "If a tree falls in the forest" appears in the "Burlington Free Press," May 17, 2019.

“YWP is an online community for writers 18 and under, where you can post your writing, get feedback, give others feedback, and even get published in newspapers and other platforms outside YWP,” explains Adelle. “One of my poems was chosen to be in YWP's annual anthology, and I had the chance to recite my poem at the book's celebration.”

In addition to having her work published, Adelle was able to participate in many other invaluable experiences because of YWP, including:

  • attending an all-day workshop at the Vermont College of Fine Arts;

  • making connections with other poets and writers and reciting poems at open mics; and

  • participating in an online playwriting workshop, which resulted in her play “Food for Thought” being chosen for a cold reading at the 2019 Vermont Young Playwrights Festival.

More recently, she helped manage the collaborative effort for YWP’s Social Distancing Journal. Its purpose is to encompass the entire writing community’s experience of the COVID-19 pandemic through art, photographs, poetry and prose.

“YWP’s pandemic project is a cross between a community chapter book and an online magazine,” Adelle says of the project. “I am compiling the COVID-19 writing and arranging it strategically, creating compelling challenges and supervising 10 core YWP members as they work together to write chapters for the book. I encourage the writers to consider the positives and negatives of our situation, how this will shape our future, what we can do to help, and how we can turn these thoughts and experiences into impactful art.”

These experiences continue to strengthen Adelle’s love of writing, providing a “North on my internal compass—I just wasn’t sure how to make that a career yet.”

Translating Real-World Experience to Concrete Learning

When Adelle was part of the Enosburgh Initiative, she wrote two articles: one for Vermont Business Magazine and another for the town's historical society to help raise money and repair a historic statue. These writing experiences led to other professional connections.

“The leader of the Initiative directed me to the Director of Planning and Development for the City of St. Albans, who then introduced me to Northwest Regional Planning Commission (NRPC),” says Adelle.

“I am so grateful for the people who directed me to the NRPC. I eventually met with Catherine Dimitruk, NRPC’s executive director, and the meeting went well—I was offered a paid internship to come in once a week.

“It has been almost a year since I began at NRPC, and my hours and responsibilities have grown. I helped write and submit an application for a team of local municipalities and organizations to participate in the Working Communities Challenge, a grant competition facilitated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston to support initiatives that build healthy and strong economies and communities in rural Vermont. Now I help manage the team’s work and facilitate our meetings.”

With numerous real-world, hands-on experiences shaping Adelle’s career path, she wanted to find a set of courses that would put a finesse to her writing and aid her in a business environment.

“After I got my GED, I discovered the Professional Certificate in Business Writing from UC Berkeley via EdX,” she says.

“I pursued the certificate because I wanted a flexible online program from a quality institution to advance my writing skills. My main goal at the time was ascertaining how to communicate in a professional and organized manner since I am young, considering the opportunities I have been given.

“Then, I learned that because I completed the EdX certificate in Business Writing, I had advanced standing in UC Berkeley Extension's Professional Writing Program and wanted to pursue it but lacked financial resources to enroll.”

So she applied for a Community Impact Scholarship and was awarded one. Adelle’s community contributions encourage local youth to write and offer important perspectives that spark change—principles reflective of Berkeley’s mission.

“This scholarship will help me complete the Professional Writing Program as financial uncertainties impede my path forward. Further education from UC Berkeley Extension will allow me to pursue writing-related career opportunities with certificates that will inspire confidence in future employers and show my capacity for writing.”

What Adelle Wants to Learn

As she begins our Professional Writing Program, Adelle is looking to gain skills in technical writing. She has since enrolled in her first course: elective Technical Communication I.

“I hope to develop my overall writing skills—but especially my technical writing skills—to be more effective and explore different ways of writing,” Adelle enthuses. “I am especially interested in making my writing process more methodical and getting a better understanding of the expectation of writers in the current job market. Additionally, I hope to improve my creative writing and work toward publishing.”

These are skills that will come in handy with the Young Writers Project, too, as she hopes to continue to help create challenging prompts and publication opportunities and encourage youth to write about topics that offer important perspectives and spark change inside and out.


“YWP taught me to critically analyze my own writing, collaborate with others, provide input—it was my creative outlet,” Adelle states. “The Social Distancing Journal project taught me to lead a group online, which has served me well with my internship work. I am going to continue being a mentor for the YWP website, providing feedback for writing, participating in and facilitating workshops, and hopefully, starting more projects in the future as I am able.”

But that is not all Adelle sees in her future.

“Creatively speaking, I love poetry and short stories and hope to publish my work. I’m currently writing a children’s book about my autistic brother and me, which takes us through the globe-trotting adventures in his mind. I want to tell my brother's unique story, but I also would like to help foster a kind open-mindedness and desire-to-understand in the children who read it,” she says. “The book is called Imagination Maps: A Story of Empathy, Autism and Creativity.”

Careerwise, she finds herself humbled by the people she works with at NRPC and the work they do every day. And she hopes to one day find a fulfilling position in business and grant writing, like in her current internship.

She is certain that online learning will play a role in reaching those goals.

“I’ve found that learning online works best for me; I want to stay in my community and with my family,” Adelle affirms. “One day, I hope to enroll in an online undergraduate program either at Penn State World Campus (bachelor’s degree in letters, arts and sciences, followed by a master’s in community and economic development), Purdue Global (bachelor’s degree in communication or human services) or the University of Pennsylvania Online (bachelor’s degree in applied arts and sciences).”

Either way, we see Adelle continuing to make a big impact on her community.