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If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.
826 Valencia is both the address and the name of a unique, free, and, quite simply, spectacular after-school place for kids. While waiting to take a tour of this renowned tutoring and publishing non-profit, two KABF board members, Katy Jo and I, prowled around the entrance: The Pirate Supply Store. There we discovered that “scurvy begone” lemon jelly beans in a jar were the pirates’ dream cure for this dreaded disease. Another jar contained something equally necessary for your every-day pirate, “mermaid bait.” The actual physical property of 826 Valencia, though acquired for the purpose of tutoring and mentoring kids, was zoned as “retail” by the city of San Francisco. This potential roadblock didn’t stop co-founder Dave Eggers, who solved the problem simply by selling stuff. Hence a pirate shop was born, first to placate the law, and now, surprisingly, a successful business that helps raise funds for the non-profit.
In its own words, “826 Valencia is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their writing skills and to helping teachers get their students excited about writing. Our work is based on the understanding that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success, and that great leaps in learning can be made when skilled tutors work one-on-one with students.”
Yes, that’s all so true and more, but it’s the enthusiasm of the space itself that’s contagious. Creativity oozes from every crack, every molecule, and every breath in that place. While we were there we were lucky enough to witness dedicated children pouring in the door excitedly, willingly, and with the focused intention typically found only in trained Buddhist monks. They seem to know exactly what’s expected of them and as they found a seat at a table or a computer, 826 staff and volunteers hunkered down to help with homework, and after homework’s complete, creative writing projects.
There are approximately 60,000 public school students in San Francisco, with 826 serving about 6,000. That’s “10% of the kids,” remarked Katy Jo, impressed. The after-school program allows for drop-ins on Sundays; during the week the number is set at 84. It used to be drop-in all the time, but 826 has found that having a set number of kids allows 826 to work more closely with the teachers and the home-work assignments.
Each new treasure Katy Jo and I were shown—from the kids’ photographs as recognitions of hard-work carefully framed and hung above the row of donated Mac computers, to the bookshelves lined with professionally published books of the children’s written works—gave tangible evidence of the intangible: integrity, pride and expectation of what is possible when children are made to feel that they matter.
826 Valencia is an incredibly creative answer to so many parents’ prayers: a safe and loving and imaginative and inspiring and original and inventive space for children to learn to write well and to get their work not only heard and admired, but polished and published. We couldn’t begin to list all of the programs that 826 has to offer, so please find an 826 in a city near you—they’re not just in San Francisco—and take a tour or check out their website!
Click here to learn more about 826 Valencia.