WINTON, Calif. -- Adamari Lopez is a girl of few words, but she found the right ones to express her love and respect for veterans.
The 10-year-old Winton resident entered an essay contest organized by Elks lodges across the state, and for that she won top prize in this region. While it's nice to receive certificates and a trophy, the fifth-grader said she wrote about veterans because she cares about them.
"We have to treat them right, because they fought for our country," she said.
A student at Winfield Elementary, Adamari and her classmates wrote "What does Veterans Day mean to me?" essays for the Merced Elks Lodge's area contest. "Our veterans deserve care and respect for giving up years of their lives to protect our freedom, and to help others all over the world," she wrote.
The letter goes on to say Veterans Day is important and is a "sacred" holiday. The day is a reminder to her of why veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan need the best health care available. "These returning heroes are suffering from depression and PTSD, and they need our care and respect now more than ever," she wrote.
Her essay placed first in Merced and went on to get the top prize within a region including 11 lodges, from cities including Richmond, Stockton, Los Banos and Lodi.
Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Ernie Conner, who is also a member of the Merced Elks, said the essay's message of respect and care for veterans made it special.
"When the judges were looking over all the essays, this one really caught their eye and it caught my eye as well," he said.
Adamari received a slew of awards for her work during a Winfield Elementary School assembly Thursday. Of the awards -- including certificates, a trophy, a flag and a flag pin -- the $325 in prize money drew the most "oohs," "aahs" and applause from the about 430 children gathered in the cafeteria.
Javier Lopez, 45, Adamari's father, watched from the audience with a smile on his face. "I'm very happy and proud," he said in Spanish.
Kim Sherman, principal of Winfield Elementary, said she called all the children into the cafeteria because Adamari would serve as an example that working hard at something can bring its rewards. "She was really able to get her true thoughts down," Sherman said. "She's a really hard worker, a really quiet girl."
Adamari said she doesn't have any plans yet for the prize money, but she does have aspirations to finish college.
"I want to be a writer," she said.