Essays, videos and photographs from more than 200 Costa Mesa students proved there's no place quite like home for the city's youth.
Participants, some as young as fifth graders, participated in the fourth-annual contest by the Costa Mesa Library Foundation. Students responded to this year's prompt, "My Favorite Place in Costa Mesa," with essays, photos and videos featuring areas like the city's parks, the O.C. Fair and art and performance venues.
The contest is one way to keep the community aware of the need for a new central library and improved library services in the city, foundation President Barbara Steck.
It's also a way to get children involved, she said.
"Children start going to libraries at a young age," Steck said. "They should be part of the process, and this is one way to get them thinking about it."
The finalists were honored Wednesday night at the Captain's Table at Orange Coast College.
Sarah Cocroft, an eighth-grader at Christ Lutheran School, waited eagerly to see if her essay about South Coast Repertory caught the attention of the judges.
It did. Sarah, 13, was one of two winners in the seventh- and eighth-grade category.
She said she selected South Coast Rep. after taking acting classes there for the past two years. She even performed in the repertory's student performance of "Annie" over the summer.
"I like being a different character and being able to perform for people," Sarah said. "I've met so many great people performing and the teachers are great."
South Coast Repertory was so impressed with her essay that it gave the foundation a red gift bag containing a T-shirt, coffee mug and gift certificate for an acting class for Sarah.
"My parents will be really happy about this," she said, holding up the $25 gift certificate.
Luigi Palumbo,11, won in the fifth- and sixth-grade category with his essay about Segerstrom Concert Hall. Drew Juncker,11, was the runner-up in the category for his essay about his home.
The photography winners were all from Kirby Piazza's photography class at Costa Mesa High School.
Noah Gaeta, 15, won first place for his photo of a youth center at Vanguard University and received an honorable mention for his photo of a fire.
John Clark, photography professor at Coastline Community College and one of the judges in the contest, said this photo stood out to him even though he couldn't identify where it was taken.
Steck said she was also impressed with the photo.
"This doesn't have a sense of place, which we were looking for in the photos, but we were in love with it," she said.
Olivia LeValley's photo of a sunset at Talbert Regional Park won her first place in the 11th- and 12th-grade category.
The judges and audience were surprised to hear that Olivia,16, took her photo with a point-and-shoot camera.
"I always say it's the photographer, not the camera, that makes a photo great," Clark said.
Olivia was taking photos at the park about a year ago to submit in another Costa Mesa photography contest. The photo of the sunset was the last one she took before going home.
"I originally wanted to get a photo of water, but I just had to take this one before I left the park," she said.
Lisa Perlin's photo of a girl lying among flowers at Fairview Park was the runner-up, and Amy Roman's photo of the O.C. Fair received an honorable mention.
Winners were awarded $100, runner-ups were given $50 and honorable mentions received $25. The winner's photos and essays will be on display in City Hall next month.