GOOD

Every Kid Needs a Chance to Write a Weird 'Choose Your Own Adventure' Tale

At 826LA, when you're writing, there is no wrong answer and students are encouraged to be as weird as they'd like.

A trip to 826LA was this week's great adventure for the Pathfinder Fellows. Founded in 2005, 826LA is a chapter of the nonprofit organization 826National, which helps students with creative and expository writing skills. There are two 826 locations in Los Angeles, in the Mar Vista community, and in Echo Park. We headed to the Echo Park location, which is creatively named "The Time Travel Mart."

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Why Neighborhood Mentors Make All the Difference

At 826michigan, tutoring and mentoring kids couldn't help without the dedication of neighbors.


Some say that Mister Rogers was the ultimate neighbor. He was always kind, saw the good in all children, and inspired everyone to think beyond the realm of their own imaginations. Also, he didn’t wear his outside shoes in the house. At 826michigan, we take that ideal to the next level, and it's only possible because of our remarkable neighbors.

826michigan serves over 2,500 students in Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, and Detroit, teaching creative and expository writing skills. Our students conquer tricky homework in our tutoring programs, impress Dr. Blotch, our in-house crotchety publisher who drives our Storytelling and Bookmaking field trips, and find their voices through our publications projects. With so many students and a staff of seven (we have big hearts but work in small numbers), it's our volunteers who are the true backbone of 826michigan. We have more than 2,000 on our volunteer mailing list and are consistently awed by everything they do.

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Connecting, Creating, and Learning With Your Neighbors

To be good neighbors means being accepting and genuine in our desire to connect with others. 826LA volunteers do that by giving their time to kids.


Our neighborhood is the heart of 826LA. Without our neighbors, we just wouldn't exist. It’s the moms and dads, local café workers, teachers, retired lawyers, part-time musicians, designers, college students, and many others who make our work—supporting students aged 6-18-years-old with their writing—possible. Folks may stop by one of our Time Travel Marts to pick up some Wooly Mammoth meat, but they leave knowing that there's a place in their community can adults and young people can connect, be creative, and learn from one another.

The Lozano family are our neighbors. They've been part of 826LA since we opened our center in Echo Park. Four years ago when their eldest daughter Dayanara first began coming for free tutoring and writing support, she was struggling to assimilate to a school system vastly different from the one she'd come from in Mexico. With help from our caring volunteers, Dayanara was able to turn her grades around and build her confidence with speaking and writing in English. She's now one of our most prolific young writers. Dayanara was recently named our 826LA Author of the Month, and her framed photo is the first thing every person sees as they come into 826LA.

Dayanara's sisters Ana and Yamilka, ages 6 and 7-years-old, have been following in their older sister’s footsteps. They come into 826LA most days to work with local volunteers on their homework and on their writing. Their mother, Emma Lozano, is an integral part of our organization, too. As president of our Parent Advisory Board, she leads students' parents in creating initiatives to support our programs and to encourage their children. When she picks up her daughters at 826LA, Emma stops to greet other parents from the neighborhood and finds ways to get them more involved with their kid's education.

The Lozano family exemplifies what great neighbors do: they participate and engage with their community. A few weeks ago, 826LA unveiled a new collection of student writing at a book release party. As always, the Lozano family was there. Dayanara and her sisters stood proudly in front of the microphone and read their stories. Volunteers from the neighborhood cheered them on from the audience. Emma brought homemade tamales and made sure each and every volunteer, student, and staff person had more than enough to eat.

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Want Kids to Fall in Love With Writing? Sometimes All You Need Is an Iguana

Kids just need an encouraging space to help them become excited about writing and find their voice.


More and more we hear that employers want strong writing skills. In Washington D.C though—as in many cities—we see a large number of students who have issues with writing. In 2010, nearly two-thirds of D.C. public school students could not write at a proficient or above level. By not having a better control of the written word, they are automatically at a disadvantage—if you can't harness your voice, you can't wield power. But let me tell you something, they don't really hate writing. They just need an encouraging space to help them become excited about writing and find their voice. Here at 826DC, I've seen students do just that.

Since we opened two years ago, we have seen exponential program growth—during the last school year, we served more than 2,000 students. One of the students we work with, Rashawnda, a senior at the Duke Ellington School for the Arts, is 826DC's first Young Writer in Residence. A couple years ago, Rashawnda wasn't doing well academically. She ran with the wrong crowd, and cared more about her social life than about school. This isn't a unique story—many of us placed more importance on our social lives than in our schoolwork, too. At the behest of one of her teachers Rawshanda found her way to our four-month long poetry workshop.

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What Detroit Exodus? Why 826Michigan's Moving Into the Motor City

826's innovative academic and literary arts programming is coming to Detroit.


A quick glance at the news tells us that we're in the midst of a mass exodus from Detroit. Over the past decade, tens of thousands of Detroiters have packed up and moved and a full 40 percent of city residents plan to leave in the next five years. 826michigan is headed in the other direction. After seven years providing innovative academic and literary arts programming for school-aged students in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, in January 2013 we’re launching 826 programs in Detroit.

Working with budding communities is in our DNA. In 2002 when Dave Eggers founded 826 Valencia in San Francisco’s Mission District, he was seizing on the opportunity to unite neighborhood K-12 students with adult volunteers committed to the success of their community. In the process, the specific knowledge and experiences of that population—largely designers, writers and other creatives—became a resource for the school-aged students in the program.

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The GOOD Guide to Volunteering: The Mentor

Adults who volunteer can have a profound effect not only on the future of the kids they mentor, but on the future of society as a whole.

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