Falling in Love with 826CHI by Jen Vincent
“Writing a book, publishing it, buying it, and putting that book into a child’s hand may be one of the most important acts of resistance we have. Because books give children light. Books give them hope. Books give them power.” – Donalyn Miller, Nerd Talk, Nerdcamp Michigan, 2017
Over spring break, I invited one of my teacher friends to go to a poetry workshop at 826CHI, a non-profit writing and tutoring center in Chicago. I had never been before so it was a treat for me to go and write but I also hoped to get some new ideas to bring back to our district.
I ended up falling in love with 826CHI.
I love the space, I love the vibe, I love the people. Most of all, I love how they empower student writers.
Afterwards, I talked to the director about options for volunteering if I wasn’t close enough to be in the city for after school tutoring and she mentioned that they have summer camps. Their middle school camp was planned to start at the end of July and would run for two weeks, Monday through Thursday in the afternoons. It was perfect.
Except…driving down to the city takes about an hour, maybe more depending on traffic. It would mean some added stress for my husband who would be on his own with our two kids for two weeks, I’d be spending money on gas and parking, and most importantly, I’d be giving up time with my family. But, I needed to do this. I was drawn to this organization and believed in supporting their mission. (If you’re interested, read The 826 Stand. It’s awesome.) I filled out the mentor application, contacted the volunteer coordinator, went to my orientation, and was officially signed up to be a volunteer for the Middle School Writer’s Camp: Eat Your Words.
And it’s been absolutely awesome! I’ve had a such a great time getting to know the students, sharing my writing life, and encouraging them as writers. We sampled a ton of food, learned from guest speakers, and even went to eat at Boka, a super fancy restaurant. With every experience, we put our pens and pencils to paper and focused on adding “golden details” to our writing about the food we got to eat.
Here’s the best part! Students wrote food-related stories and poems that will be made into a book. They’ll be true published writers. Then 826CHI will put that book into the hands of the very kids who wrote the words featured in it. Not just that, but the book will be for sale in The Wicker Park Secret Agent Supply Company, a storefront connected to 826CHI whose proceeds to go supporting the free programming 826CHI provides for many Chicago students.
If, as Donalyn said, books can give children light and hope and power, the work 826CHI is doing can change the world.
You can see how easy it was for me to fall in love with 826CHI.
I feel somewhat selfish for becoming a volunteer for this inspiring organization this summer because I’m coming away with so much. I met students who are brave with their words, honest and thoughtful. I got to soak up positive energy from the other adults. I wrote everyday, getting my own little descriptive writing workout in.
You know how finding Nerdy Book Club is like finding people who get you? That’s exactly how I feel at 826CHI. It’s my happy place. I wish twelve-year-old Jen Vincent could have had 826CHI. But I’m happy for the students like twelve-year-old Jen Vincent who get the opportunity to find themselves, grow their writing, and thrive at 826CHI.
And maybe that’s the best way to pay it forward. Find opportunities to be yourself, to bring your energy, enthusiasm, and passion to a place and to people who can appreciate what strengths you have to offer.
Guess what? There are other 826 chapters across the country in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Ann Arbor/Detroit, Boston, New York City, and Washington, DC. Maybe there is one near you you can visit or maybe you’d like to learn more about 826 National.
And thank you to Donalyn for sharing her beautiful words of inspiration again at Nerdcamp Michigan. All of the Nerd Talks will be posted on The Nerdy Bookcast later this year but Nerdy Book Club has the full text of Donalyn’s Nerd Talk if you want to read it now.
Jen Vincent is an Instructional Coach for Mundelein School District 75, a K-8 district north of Chicago. Jen hosts Sunday Check-Ins for Teachers Write, co-hosts the kidlit It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?, and blogs at teachmentortexts.com and storyexploratory.com. When she’s not writing, she’s a secret agent always on the lookout for people, places, and things that could use some positivity. Find her on Twitter at @mentortexts and @jenvincenttech.