One of the best things about this writing journey so far has been emerging from my writing cave and connecting with other people through a shared love of the written word. So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of words to connect people, and I’ve been thinking about the importance of voice.

Last night I had the privilege of meeting ten amazing young women with very strong voices. I was a judge for the GLOW Boston 2012 Ignite Change Essay Contest, along with fellow YA authors Hilary Weisman Graham, Lauren Morrill, Gina Rosati, and Gina Damico. All ten finalists were honored at an Awards Banquet at Maggiano’s Restaurant. The prizes the girls’ received included scholarship money, books, and — for every girl — a brand new netbook. Each finalist was also paired with a writing mentor to personally help her in the process of realizing the power of her own voice. You can read more about all of the finalists here.

Boston GLOW stands for Girls’ Leadership, Organized Women. The mission of this small but mighty nonprofit organization is to foster opportunities for women of all ages to become empowered community leaders and active, engaged world citizens. The IGNITE Change Contest, which began in 2010, encourages teen girls to find their voice and make a call for change through writing. This year’s essay contest asked them to describe a problem in their community and come up with an actionable plan for solving it.

As a judge, I was impressed by the creativity of the ideas and the passion behind them. The girls wrote about a diverse range of topics, such as emotional bullying, domestic violence, and self-esteem issues. They discussed girls’ mentoring groups in schools, programs that might offer mothers a chance to recharge and regain their sense of self, and the need for more books in libraries featuring girls and women of color. Solutions were articulately, persuasively presented. I came away from the essays feeling hopeful, knowing that girls were wrestling not just with these problems but with potential solutions. That hopeful feeling was compounded last night as I sat among the young authors, in a room buzzing with energetic conversations. As I watched each girl step up and be honored, and as I met their proud families and friends, I felt that the future was in that room. Change truly begins with ideas and words, words ventured on paper and then shared with a wider audience.

YA author A.C. Gaughen is one of the key organizers of GLOW, and I’m so grateful to have been invited to read these essays and to meet so many inspiring and powerful women!

How do words connect you to other people? How do you think reading and writing can ignite change?