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Words of Youth

The Young Voices Foundation creates a support network for young writers.

As a child Bobbi Carducci always loved writing but she found few places for her to gain support for her craft. As she got older she found writing groups and is now a professional writer living in Loudoun County, but she says very little has changed in terms of support for young writers in the world. Thus, when an adult writing group she was in got to talking about how they wished there were more outlets for young writers in the area, Carducci took action.

"The more I thought about it, the more I thought I want to be an instrument for change here," Carducci said. "So I suggested we start mentoring young writers or a contest with the kids. And we talked about it and we started Community Voice Media, a little publishing company specifically to reach out to these young kids."

Since then that little publishing company has morphed into a nationwide writing competition for children, two Loudoun youth writing groups and two published books of Loudoun youth’s writing. The organization, now operating as The Young Voices Foundation along with the publishing company, has been running for the past three years and hopes to eventually have groups nationwide where young writers can not only gain knowledge about how to write better, but also be encouraged about their writing.

"It’s awesome to be published. Every writer will tell you that it’s the best thing in the world and that seeing your name in print is amazing. If its something that you think you did really well then it gives you a really big boost of confidence that you can do it," Stacy Johnson, who founded the Young Writer’s Group of Eastern Loudoun after deciding that the trip to Purcellville was a bit too long, said.

AT THE MOMENT the foundation has two youth writer’s groups, running one in Purcellville at the Purcellville Library and another newer group in Leesburg that meets at the Thomas Balch Library. Both groups meet monthly and participants discuss each other's work, offering friendly criticism and suggestions.

"We have critique sessions and it really helps you to improve your writing and you get some really great input on what you’re doing and different opinions from the audience we might want it to go to," Johnson said.

A meeting consists of working on a certain topic like sentence structure or story flow and then moving on to critiquing each writer’s work for the month. Writers need to send their work out a week ahead of time so the other group members can go over it and critique it. Carducci said that all the critiques are friendly and that the group focuses on structure and the art of writing more than subject matter in order to avoid arguments over differences of opinion.

"We will look at all kinds of writing and I don’t expect them all to end up being writers, but we want to teach them that they can meet their personal writing goals whatever they may be," Carducci said.

Writers can be of any age, too. The group has worked with children just learning to write to seniors who are about to go off to college. The focus is on how to write better and come up with great story ideas. Carducci even allows younger children to have their stories typed up by their parents as long as they’re the children’s story and no one else’s.

"Parents can even proof read for them. That’s part of the process. You want things to look as good as you can before you send it anywhere. You have to follow the grammar rules and you have to do it right or it won’t work out," Carducci said.

The foundation will also bring in professional writers to talk with the groups about how they write and how they got to where they are in their careers. Professional writers have ranged from novelists to journalist all of whom work with the participants to improve their skills.

"I like that they have actual authors come in," Rachel Roman, a rising senior at Potomac Falls High School who lives in Sterling and has been published in both the foundation's books, said. "And it’s cool because they’re local names and they know what to do with writing and they’re from here so it’s easy to relate to them and they know how to work in the area."

Another benefit of the monthly group is that it motivates children to not only write more often, but to improve their writing. Many of the participants say that the program helps them to write better in school both creatively and on essays and class work. Carducci says that it is the focus on how to write well and creatively that helps students write better in school and the fact that they are motivated to write more.

"They absolutely write more confidently. Most kids are hungry for someone to tell them that their writing has value. A lot of students haven’t heard that they are capable as a writer and it’s because a lot of them aren’t sure where to go or what to do with it and this gives them a chance to bring it somewhere," Carducci said.

THE YOUNG VOICES Foundation does more than just hold monthly meetings. The other major part of the program is a yearly writing contest for young writer’s where the winners are published. The contest has run for two years and has produced two books, "Young Voices of Loudoun County: The Stories They Tell, the Lessons We Learn" and "Young Voices: The Stories Begin." The books are officially published and "of a very high quality" said Carducci.

"I thought it was pretty cool that it was an actual book and that it wasn’t just a newspaper article. It is registered with the Library of Congress and is in my school library," Roman said.

The competition is judged by a group of professional writers including Twila Liggett who founded "Reading Rainbow," a children’s television show centered around books. There are three categories that children may enter — elementary, middle and high school — with a chance to place first through third each year. After the winners are chosen there is an award ceremony with speakers and medals given and each writer who is published gets a free copy of the book. As of now the competition is open for entrants nationwide and entries from 27 states have been received, but Carducci said the group still wants more from the local area.

The focus of the Young Voices Foundation isn’t only on its own contest.

"We provide [young writers] with opportunities and inform them about writing contests from around the country. It’s pretty much like an adult writers group, but we focus on the young people. Our future goal is to continue this and develop a literary magazine completely run by the kids, so they can learn about publishing and writing."

Carducci also goes to local youth groups like Girl and Boy Scouts to discuss writing and inform them of all the opportunities they might have and how they can become more involved with writing.

"I am so blown away by the talent of some of these kids. I have one young writer who is working on a trilogy. She is creating worlds and languages for her characters," Carducci said.

AS FOR THE FUTURE of the foundation, Carducci hopes to continue the group’s growth to a nationwide level with young writers groups across the country meeting monthly and working together to support each other’s writing. The foundation is in the process of setting up other groups in the state of Virginia as well as other states around the country.

"There’s not an organized program for mentoring young writers," Carducci said. "Not on a national level and not even on a county level. The kids don’t know where to go with the talent. Athletes and musicians have lots of support groups and ways to practice and there isn’t always a way for writers."

To accomplish this expansion the group is trying to raise more funds. A Poetry Slam was scheduled for this month but has been pushed back until the fall so that the students can organize it better and get more poets to come. Those interested are welcome to participate as the group is looking for writers and poets actively.

"As a group, we’re trying to start a poetry slam. We’re going to get the poets who want to do it first and then deciding on a date," Johnson said.

Since the writer’s groups are free, money for support is raised through donations and other outlets. The group has a Yahoo Good Search program where every time a product is bought off of Yahoo it gets a certain amount donated to the foundation and it has a few sponsors, but would always like more. The foundation is also looking for volunteers.

Roman said that it is important for groups like this to be around for writers, "They’re encouraging younger students to write more and have fun with it and that is really important."