As a volunteer-based organization, we’re used to wishing people well as they leave us for some other, more exotic location. (Let’s be frank: It’s usually the Bay Area.) Not to get too sappy, but it is a joy to see the volunteers we know and love move on to do exciting and wonderful things. But we’d be lying if we said it didn’t make us a LITTLE sad to see them go.
That’s why we love it when our former volunteers keep in touch! (Seriously, far-flung former volunteers! Drop us a line!) This month’s Supporter of the Month, Chris Miller, is one such person. Although Chris has left Michigan and moved on to (you guessed it!) the Bay Area, he kept us in his heart this past holiday season by encouraging his friends and family to donate to us in lieu of giving him gifts. (WHAT. A. GUY. Right?!)
That gesture of generosity was pretty special, but it only scratches the surface of what’s so cool about Chris Miller. When we decided to feature Chris as our Supporter of the Month, we sent him what we thought were quick questions. The depth and poetry of his responses astounded us. Without further ado, Chris Miller in his own words:
How did you first hear about 826michigan?
Would I be fibbing if I told you a robot jumped me in the alley one wintry night in 2007 or 08 and assigned me math homework it couldn’t finish on time?…I suspect I found 826michigan off of McSweeney’s, but my memory is a bit muddled. I do know I was new to Ann Arbor and looking for a place to volunteer. Amanda needed bodies for tutoring and happily I fit the job description.
How long were you involved with 826michigan and what programs did you volunteer for?
I started volunteering around about 2007-2008, tutoring at the State Street space. Other efforts included helping in the move to Liberty Street, folder paper, sticking labels, growing a mustache, more tutoring, sitting in the Art Fair Booth, cleaning, moving furniture, robot construction for the display window, sorting the entire basement and staffing the Robot Supply and Repair Store. More than a few bits of evidence of my presence float around the building now. Check the color of the wall above the shelves in the Robot Supply and Repair Store. I painted this blue. I also put a few blue spots on the carpet, but we got those off pretty quickly. Examine the heads of the display window robots, and you may find one old robot with a spring mustache and ball bearing eyes. This guy started out with ice skates, but has seen different accessories over time. And somewhere on the shelves Calvin and Hobbes collections should still be there, a set of books originally found in my own library. These are the tangible items I touched.
You can’t however see direct evidence with the students I tutored. I can only hope it was positive and they’re moving on in their lives with more academic confidence and realized ability. And you can’t see the direct effect of the conversations I had while working in the robot store with curious passers-by off the street. Maybe they spent money. Maybe they brought their children for tutoring. Maybe they told someone about 826, who either sent kids or gave money to support the programs. Maybe. I’ll never know.
What is one favorite memory of 826michigan?
I really can’t have one fond memory of 826, no matter how cliche that is. I do have one fond trend which turns into my favorite thing about 826michigan: The sense of progress.
I enjoyed seeing academic growth with students facing more challenging lives than others. Over the long term, I watched 826 grow under the tag-team leadership of Amanda Uhle and Amy Sumerton and their assorted cohorts. Together they shaped the organization’s future. And it’s still growing.
I remember a long day of robot construction headed by Jason. Then watching my robot live through countless permutations of display windows was a treat.
These permutations parallel the changing lives that passed through the front doors. These include pregnancies, births, proposals and weddings.
Beautiful, Chris! Thank you for the stroll down memory lane. 826michigan could not do what it does without friends like you.