Volunteer of the Month

Care to meet the elite team of supervolunteers whom we’ve honored over the years?

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FridayFebruary 2017
Rachel_Cawkwell

…”Rachel makes sure that each student’s voice is heard, that each student has the opportunity to contribute to our large and small group collaboratively written stories.”

Brad_Vonck

“Brad works with any student on any subject, and each time, he gets to know the student, developing a rapport that helps them both with the assignment(s) at hand.”

Sometimes we highlight two volunteers at the same time because they have the same last name (see Crystal Elliott and Charles Elliott), or because they have some connection outside of 826, or because they have worked together on a specific project at 826michigan. While Brad and Rachel work together on some programs at 826 (in-schools in Washtenaw County!), they also generously give their time and skills to different programs (Brad at Liberty Street Tutoring, Rachel at Field Trips, Workshops, and Family Writing Laboratories). So, you ask, what’s the connection? Why these two together?

We came up with a list of similarities:

  • They are both wonderful teachers who work tirelessly to connect with students and improve as educators
  • They both bring incredible energy and imagination to the work they do
  • They both listen thoughtfully to our students, helping them to try new things and trust their own ideas
  • They are both courageous, welcoming, and outgoing
  • They carpool together
  • They both have incredibly nice smiles
  • Once, they almost went to hear Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor speak together (while they didn’t end going together, we like to imagine a meeting of these three minds filling a room with the bright light of justice)

When we think about what Rachel and Brad are able to do each week in our programs, with their powers combined, we simply couldn’t imagine splitting them apart — they are an incredible force for good in Washtenaw County and we couldn’t do what we do without them. AND they sometimes ride in the same car! So without further ado, we’re delighted to tell you more about their collective and individual support to 826michigan students.

Watching Brad work with a student on Liberty Street brings to mind the words kindness, encouragement, enthusiasm, understanding, presence, attentiveness — it’s a wonder to behold, and a special opportunity for our students. Brad works with any student on any subject, and each time, he gets to know the student, developing a rapport that helps them both with the assignment(s) at hand. Recently, Brad was working with one of our middle school students who felt shy about sharing their writing with others and passed on the opportunity to bring the work to a wider audience. Brad talked with the student at length about their writing, about the strengths of the piece and the student’s feelings, eventually establishing enough trust with the student that they were willing to try reading it aloud and then, ultimately, to record the story for our podcast. It is with this same attentiveness that Brad helps all students to feel listened to and supported in programs (and our staff feels the same way: Brad is the fastest email responder and always gives us feedback and confirmation to questions we pose)! Thank YOU, Brad!

Speaking of attentive, Rachel uses her attention to detail and to student ideas as a field trip phenom on Wednesday and Friday mornings. Whether she’s leading our Storytelling and Bookmaking field trip, typing Choose Your Own Adventure stories, or facilitating small groups in our Screenwriting or CYOA, Rachel makes sure that each student’s voice is heard, that each student has the opportunity to contribute to our large and small group collaboratively written stories. Watching Rachel facilitate a field trip is energizing — she pushes students to make connections between ideas (Wait, would the spy really turn into a bird at this moment in the story?), challenge stereotypes, and to listen to each other when writing a piece together. Rachel has fearlessly joined into every role with the field trip program, always providing thoughtful feedback and ideas for the next time we run the session. As a leader in our programs, she’s also designed and led an original creative writing workshop about performance for our younger students! AND she has led interactive stations for families and students at our Family Writing Laboratories! Whew – thank YOU, Rachel!

Outside of our writing lab, Brad and Rachel are also two frequent in-school volunteers at our partner schools throughout Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, supporting students as they retell the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears through Mad Libs, write about their schooling experiences in different countries, and represent important life memories as graphic novels. Students enjoy working with Brad and Rachel, and volunteer duo’s excitement for stories and writing is evident. They both show their genuine interest by asking students thought-provoking questions, helping students brainstorm and talk through their ideas before jumping into the physical act of writing.

Our students aren’t the only lucky ones who get to learn with Brad and Rachel: both are teachers (or soon-to-be teachers) outside of 826michigan. Rachel is in the PhD program in English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan, where she also teaches undergraduate courses in writing. Brad is a future middle or high school history teacher who will begin his graduate studies later this year.

Rachel and Brad, your help in our programs and your enthusiasm for our students make our programs warm and powerful places to be. Thank you for everything you do in the 826 community — we wish we could be riding perpetually in your carpool, sharing in conversation, your good ideas and love of learning, and your deep generosity of spirit!

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FridayJanuary 2017

A Jill of all trades with a degree in Psychology from Ohio State University, Ani has jumped into our first semester of programming from the Detroit Robot Factory with outstretched arms and legs, like those slow-motion videos of frogs jumping from tree limb to tree limb. She has worked with students at our Wee-Bots Writing Club at the Redford Library, Boggs School After-School Writing Club, and several field trips at the Detroit Robot Factory (wearing her hard hat of course).

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ThursdayDecember 2016

If there was ever someone who embodied the concept of “whistle while you work” it is our December 2016 Volunteer of the Month Eric Anderson. Eric is a robotier, (the esteemed title reserved for our store volunteers), during the Friday evening shift at Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair. Not…

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TuesdayNovember 2016

Every literary organization and periodical has a style guide that they use to make grammar and editorial decisions. For instance, here at 826michigan, our style guide is the Chicago Manual of Style, which we all feel very loyal to. However, for this month, we are going to temporarily declare our…

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SaturdayOctober 2016

Do you ever have an enormous, looming project in front of you, the kind you can’t even believe you dreamed up, much less have plunged into? At moments, that’s what it’s felt like to be shepherding forward 826michigan’s plan to open our Detroit center. The plan was big. The plan…

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ThursdaySeptember 2016

Sometimes 826michigan feels like a magical place and it is tempting to chalk the amazing transformations that happen here up to an intangible, indefinable “magic.” The truth is that we DO know what makes magic real at 826michigan, and that is human connection (no offense, bots). This connection is made…

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MondayAugust 2016

Imagine a person with superhuman skills in an astounding array of fields, a person with an enormous heart, an ever-attuned and immensely strategic brain, and a deep well of generosity. What if this extraordinary human was a parent of two intelligent and hard-working 826michigan students? And what if she chose…

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FridayJuly 2016

A short detour here to set the stage for our July 2016 Volunteer of the Month, Cintia Huitzil, 826michigan MSW intern and Ph.D. candidate at the UM School of Social Work: Every year the 826 chapters from around the country get together for a staff development conference. As part of…

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FridayJune 2016

How could we possibly pick just ONE volunteer of the month when showcasing our Young Author’s Book Project? WE CAN’T! All five of these people were so critical to the first ever Young Author’s Book Project in Detroit that they all deserve this honor. And don’t all of the best…

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SundayMay 2016

  For the past school year, Kira Dallaire has taken on one of the longest and most-demanding internships we have: in-school intern. She was up to the challenge. No matter how many projects we throw at her, she catches and champions them in stride and style. Kira is a resident…

Liberty Street Robot
Supply & Repair
115 East Liberty Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
(734) 761-3463
Detroit Robot Factory
1351 Winder
Detroit, MI 48207
(313) 818-0255