At 826, Students Can Be as Weird and Creative as They Want

826 centers are full of magic and learning.

I'm going to guess that you haven’t recently had the chance to have fun or be really imaginative at your job. You're certainly not thinking about what your dog would say while having a conversation with a flying mermaid on a planet made of figs. But, what if I told you there's a place trying to inject fun and imagination into young people's lives everyday? That place is your local 826 center.

826 National is a network of nonprofit creative writing and afterschool tutoring centers located in San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle, Ann Arbor, Boston, Chicago, and Washington D.C. Started in 2002 by writer and philanthropist Dave Eggers and educator Ninive Calegari, this collaboration between writer and educator has led to something really wonderful: a place that’s neither home nor school, but a "third place" where young people can be as weird as they want to be.

To build that atmosphere of "weirdness" we work under four premises: You can create a space filled with magic where learning can be fun; great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention; strong writing skills are fundamental to future success; and you can bring a community together to help young people succeed. Last year, with the help of more than 6,000 volunteers, we were able to support 29,000 students through our five core programs—after-school tutoring, storytelling and bookmaking field trips, in-school projects, the Young Author's Publishing Project, and writing workshops.

We also combine our tutoring and writing centers with whimsical imaginative storefronts. When you walk up to our flagship center in San Francisco—the very first 826 location—826 Valencia, you encounter our Pirate Store with supplies for the working buccaneer. Inside the store you will find Peg Leg Oil, eye patches and Scurvy Be Gone. But it's what goes on in the back of the store, past the velvet rope, where the real magic happens. That’s where the students work with their volunteers on homework (any subject) and creative workshops.

To extend our reach, we started inviting school classes to participate in our Storytelling and Bookmaking workshops. We also deploy volunteers into classrooms to work with teachers as a resource to assist with writing assignments. In addition, our Young Authors Publishing Project gives all of the students participating in our program the opportunity to become a published author.

826 supporters across the nation have recognized that this model is a way to engage young people in their education, and get volunteers to donate their time—and to have fun doing it. The model has been adopted and replicated in our eight centers across the nation. Each has a different store theme that reflects the local flavor—826NYC runs the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co., and 826DC runs the Museum of Unnatural History, for example—but each has the same commitment to celebrating weirdness every day.

You have to leave your expectations, your preconceptions at the door. Each of our spaces is where kids—and being fun and really imaginative—rule. It's why our students and volunteers keep coming back.

Ten years later, 826 is now a movement that has expanded beyond the US and is being picked up by other cities across the globe. We want to share our model with you as well, so over the next year, each of our sites will be sharing their stories with the GOOD community.

We welcome you to volunteer at a center, too. We need after-school tutors, designers, writers for our publications and products, people with retail experience to help with our stores, etc. All our programs are free of charge so every little bit of your help counts. Who knows, maybe you'll take a little bit of our kind of weirdness with you into the rest of your life.

Photo via 826 National

Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

Millions of people in over 150 countries across the globe marched for lawmakers and corporations to take action to help stop climate change on Friday, September 20.

The Climate Strikes were organized by children around the world as an extension of the of the "Fridays for Future" campaign. Students have been walking out of classrooms on Fridays to speak out about political inaction surrounding the climate crisis.

"We need to act right now to stop burning fossil fuels and ensure a rapid energy revolution with equity, reparations and climate justice at its heart," organizers say.

There's no doubt the visual images from the marches send a powerful message to those on the ground but especially those watching from around the world. GOOD's own Gabriel Reilich was on the scene for the largest of the Climate Strikes. Here are 18 of the best signs from the Climate Strike march in New York City.

Keep Reading Show less

September 20th marks the beginning of a pivotal push for the future of our planet. The Global Climate Strike will set the stage for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, where more than 60 nations are expected to build upon their commitment to 2015's Paris Agreement for combating climate change.

Millions of people are expected to take part in an estimated 4,000 events across 130 countries.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Apple

When the iPhone 11 debuted on September 10, it was met with less enthusiasm than the usual iPhone release. A lot of techies are holding off purchasing the latest gadget until Apple releases a phone with 5G technology.

Major US phone carriers have yet to build out the infrastructure necessary to provide a consistent 5G experience, so Apple didn't feel it necessary to integrate the technology into its latest iPhone.

A dramatic new feature on the iPhone 11 Pro is its three camera lenses. The three lenses give users the the original wide, plus ultrawide and telephoto options.

Keep Reading Show less
via I love butter / Flickr

We often dismiss our dreams as nonsensical dispatches from the mind while we're deep asleep. But recent research proves that our dreams can definitely affect our waking lives.

People often dream about their significant others and studies show it actually affects how we behave towads them the next day.

"A lot of people don't pay attention to their dreams and are unaware of the impact they have on their state of mind," said Dylan Selterman, psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland, says according to The Huffington Post. "Now we have evidence that there is this association."

Keep Reading Show less