A community project to help the local elderly spiraled into a national prize for Syed “Temur” Ali.

As a Boy Scout in Troop 133, Temur and his troop were approached by members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars to take part in the Patriot’s Pen Awards, where young people engage in a competition to write an essay about what it means to be a good American.

Temur said he wrote about being a boy scout as well as the community service he’s engaged with in the area, but there was another public good that Temur had been doing as well.

Two years ago when the COVID-19 pandemic first started, Temur and his mother Faryal made the decision to reach out to local nursing homes in New Iberia.

“It started two years ago when the pandemic first started,” Temur said. “Our first idea was to send cards but they weren’t accepting cards so we resorted to e-mails,” Temur said.

Temur would send e-mails every day to the contacts he had made in the nursing homes, with Temur building up a steady list of friends as time went on. He even said he gave them a special name, his “Grands.”

“At first it was about quarantine,” Faryal Atif, Temur’s mother, said. “He started with a joke of the day, a quote of the day, he was sending cute pictures.”

One of Temur’s penpals was Mac Stearns, a prominent New Iberia community member who was well known for helping and directing at the Iberia Performing Arts League.

When Stearns died, Atif said Temur would begin writing a “What would Mac say” e-mail where Temur would guess what Stearns would reply to him if he was still here.

Although the project wasn’t done for a prize, the experience of talking to nursing home residents daily was the perfect topic for the VFW Patriot Pen’s Award.

When a local essay competition was held by VFW Post 1982 in New Iberia, Temur came in first place. Temur then competed in district and state competitions and won both.

Most recently, Temur competed against 53 state finalists in the national level VFW youth essay contest. Temur came in first place in a competition that which more than 68,000 students participated.

Temur said his nursing friends were just as excited when he told them the news.

“They were really happy when I told them,” he said. “A lot of them replied and congratulated me, I was really happy.”