Moving from Boston to Chicago has been exciting and somewhat stressful. However, I have honestly rested easier throughout this whole process knowing that Chicago has an 826 branch. Having worked with the amazing people at 826 Boston for the past year, I went to the 826 Chicago volunteer training session tonight with high expectations. They did not disappoint. Half way through the session I felt like I was home.
The allegiance that this organization breeds in its volunteers is only too clear to me after talking to the seasoned 826 volunteer running our ‘new volunteer’ table. He went to school in Michigan and heard about the 826 there through one of his professors. He volunteered with them while he was in school. Then, when he moved to Chicago, the first thing he did was go find the 826 (just like me!).
This organization is awesome. Dave Eggers started the first branch in San Francisco in the late 90s and they have since spread to seven cities across the US. Each creative writing and tutoring center reaches hundreds of students in its community from elementary school through high school. They offer after school tutoring, field trips, writing workshops, in-school tutoring, and publishing opportunities for city kids. But I am convinced that their defining factor is that the 826 community remembers and embraces what it’s like to be a kid – fun. You know it as soon as you step into one of the many storefronts. The Pirate, Superhero, or Robot Supply Store. The Bigfoot Research Institute. The Boring Store (for spies only). So many of these types of organizations keep a distance from their silly inner child, separating the teachers from the students. At 826 everyone is learning and letting their imaginations run wild together, the volunteers just have the benefit of a few more years. Any kid’s idea is as valid as any volunteer’s idea. Building an environment like that will change any student’s educational experience (and hopefully life) for the better.
When the session was wrapping up, our seasoned volunteer, trying to be friendly and sarcastically excited asked everyone, “So are you all super excited to sign up for everything?!” And I said (with a big smile), “Yes! I am really so excited! I’m not even going to pretend I’m not.” And the seasoned volunteer immediately relaxed, smiled a little, and just nodded because he knew. It’s completely true.