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Stitching the nation together

By Paola Santos

Between sewing bucket hats for social good, befriending the seniors on the third floor of the Atria Oakridge retirement home, and coaching the local Summer League swim team, tracking down Olivia Pluska during quarantine might be a wild goose chase.

Empathetic, thoughtful and driven, Pluska, 16, is dedicated to serving others and bringing light to injustice in her community. She calls Raleigh, North Carolina, home, and her activities this summer are an extension of the service she accomplishes during the school year.

Unlike many teenagers, Pluska looks to middle school as one of the most positive turning points in her life, specifically her seventh grade social studies class. After diving into a social justice project focused on women’s rights, she decided to get involved with InterAct, a non-profit in her home county, Wake County, that serves as a provider of sexual assault and domestic violence services. Since freshman year, she has been a peer educator for this group.

“I have gone around to schools and presented to Boy Scout troops and church groups to spread awareness on teen dating violence, which goes dangerously underreported,” Pluska said.

Also as a staff writer for the past two years on “The Eagle’s Eye,” the Enloe High School paper, she has aimed to give a voice to marginalized groups in her school community. She said she hopes to continue highlighting the experiences of underrepresented groups to those that hold greater privilege through a career in journalism. Her reporting will likely focus on international and educational issues influenced by her high school’s International Baccalaureate program and a year serving as a teacher in the Peace Corps after college graduation.

“I have always loved to write,” Pluska said. “I am really interested in public policy and politics as well, and journalism seems like the most pragmatic intersection of my passions.”

Some of these eclectic passions include exposing the inequities of charter school versus public school education, pushing for more progressive conversations in her hometown and appreciating the drag and LGBTQ+ community.

Spurred by her family’s shared love of drag television shows like “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and the Youtube series, “We’re Here,” she said she hopes to work with an organization of drag queens in Raleigh called Crape Myrtle, which puts on shows to donate money to HIV and AIDS research.

“Drag is all about self confidence, which is something I struggle with, as a lot of high schoolers do,” Pluska said. “My dream would be to partner with Crape Myrtle and put on a drag show with Enloe High students that are underrepresented in my school and possibly the LGBTQ Society of Raleigh to embrace one another.”

Crape Myrtle is one of the four local North Carolinia social justice organizations Pluska will donate her bucket hat profits to, which she began making “in the wake of the protests for George Floyd’s death.” Other funds she collects will be directed to the Anti-Racist Activist Fund, which bails out activists that have been arrested while protesting against white supremacy and who may face criminal charges, the InterAct organization, and the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network.