SOUTH OGDEN -- Life hasn't always been easy for 16-year-old Emily Burns, but she has learned how to take her struggles and turn them into strengths. Next week she will be rewarded for that hard work with a three-day trip to Disney World as a member of Disney's Dreamers Academy.
Burns is one of just more than 100 students selected nationwide to attend the three-day academy, where students will get tips on how to succeed in the world and will also get to try out some things that connect to their lifelong dreams.
Burns' application for the program in early December included an essay that talked about her dreams. She is the only Utah student who has ever been selected.
Burns is a sophomore at Christian Heritage Academy in Riverdale. She was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and clinical depression in elementary school and has had many social and emotional struggles in her young life; but she works every day to focus on the positives in her life. She has also learned that staying on her prescribed medications are a lifesaver for her.
"I am really thankful for them (medications.) Without them, I tend to drive people and myself crazy," she said with a huge, warm smile. "I used to be disruptive in class and not be able to focus. Now, I don't let it force its way out and I'm in control."
The Disney Dreamers Academy has been around since 2007 and was created by comedian-TV personality Steve Harvey to give a chance to students who struggle with different aspects in society. Burns' mom, Robin Needham, appreciates that the academy saw that need in her daughter.
"Emily hasn't had some of the typical hardships with family or financial things -- her struggles have come from other places," Needham said.
She is proud of and delighted by her daughter's abilities.
"I know what an amazing person my daughter is, but it is so nice when other people see that too," she said.
Burns has a strong passion for writing, as shown by her essay to Disney Dreamers Academy.
"I am a girl with a reputation for being brave and bold. It isn't my past, but the story I am writing for myself now excites me," Burns wrote to Disney Dreamers. Burns' ultimate goal is to be a marine biologist, working with sharks.
"It's not the normal thing, like with cute dolphins," she said. Since she was 4 years old she has been fascinated with marine life, especially sharks.
"Yes, Shark Week has always been big for us. I thought it was a phase, but it has lasted," Needham said of her daughter's interest.
She has found other success with writing, winning three essay contests in the past four years. One contest, when she lived in Texas, earned her school a $25,000 scholarship.
But her passions don't end with writing. She is an avid soccer and basketball player. She loves to channel her energy into exercise and sports. In the past couple of years, she has learned how to strike the delicate balance between sports and school but has decided that her school work must come first.
"If I have a lot of homework, I know that I might have to miss a practice to get my work done," she said. She said she is thrilled to be attending the academy.
Burns said she was surprised to be selected for the trip, which begins Thursday. She said, "I am excited for the experience and for everything we will do and for the people I will meet."
Her mom is excited for her, too.
"I am extremely proud. It's hard to tell a child when they don't have high self-confidence how amazing they are, but when they hear it from somewhere else, it helps," Needham said.
For more information on the Disney Dreamers Academy and for application information for next year visit www.disneysdreamersacademy.com.