The Fact That Changed Everything: Ninive Calegari and 826 Valencia The Fact That Changed Everything: Ninive Calegari and 826 Valencia

The Fact That Changed Everything: Ninive Calegari and 826 Valencia

by Bekah Wright Jessica De Jesus

December 10, 2012

At the time the idea was conceived, Calegari’s teaching job in Mexico was taking its toll on her. “Many days I forgot that teaching and learning are extremely joyful.” Like most other teachers, Calegari faced a dilemma – carving out enough time to give each child’s writing attention. “The thing Dave and I both knew and believed was that, no matter where you are with writing, getting that extra amount of undivided attention makes all the difference.”

Putting the wheels in motion towards a solution, Eggers found the ideal spot for the endeavor in the Mission District of San Francisco, only to come up against zoning requirements calling for a retail space. His solution: a pirate supply store. “To put his name on that lease was an exceptional act of courage,” Calegari says of her co-founder. “[The pirate store] ended up being the perfect way to introduce the programming to the community.”

As attendance has burgeoned, so has 826’s popularity. Growing with the demand has been, of course, an increased need of funding to cover infrastructure expenses. That being said, a National Board of Directors is now in place to oversee 826 centers established in New York, Seattle, Los Angeles, Ann Arbor, Boston, Chicago and Washington, DC. Its influence can be additionally seen in numerous national and international satellite programs that have adopted the program.

Though each facility has its own theme, from adventure travel to Bigfoot research, one thing they all have in common is a constant stream of volunteers. “Members of the community are lining up during their free time to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with a child they don’t know,” says Calegari. “I can’t think of anything more generous and amazing.” Carrying this further, she says, “Those intergenerational connections in safe places that don’t normally happen is pretty exciting.”

Calegari’s enthusiasm is infectious. Of the world at large she says, “I’m hopelessly optimistic that we’re going to continue to read books and tell stories.” For those who have a goal in mind that involves change, she offers this advice: “You don’t have to go at it thinking, ‘How am I going to transform 16,000 school districts in the country?’ Instead, you can spend an hour working with one child. Even itty bitty steps can make a profound difference.”

Since 826 Valencia's establishment, Calegari recently produced the film American Teacher. “I wanted to elevate the teaching profession, make it sustainable and honor teachers legitimately.” How she plans to follow up on that particular goal? She’s setting her sights high, and suspicions are, those that know the value of having their voices heard—as well as a myriad of pirates, superheroes and time travelers—will be backing her efforts.

To learn more about 826National and how you can join their crew of tutors, find out more at

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The Fact That Changed Everything: Ninive Calegari and 826 Valencia