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WednesdayFebruary 2015

Welcome to 826michigan’s tenth anniversary! In 2015, we’re celebrating ten years of 826michigan by highlighting ten people who have significantly shaped our organization since 826michigan opened its doors in 2005.  Follow along with former 826michigan Communications Coordinator Amy Wilson this year as she explores how the contributions of many individuals have contributed to 826michigan’s evolution: from a tiny operation to a full-fledged nonprofit organization serving over 3,000 young people in Detroit, Ypsilanti, and Ann Arbor.

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Jeannette Jackson

2006

“826michigan has given me great hope for the future, that there are organizations like this that exist to bring such positive, generative, productive energy to the next generation.”

 Here’s the thing about change: it happens more slowly and more quickly than you think. From day to day things seem largely the same, and yet in hindsight everything is different. You see this when you watch a beloved child grow up, or meet a friend after a long separation, or practice a skill you’ve been practicing for a long time. How can one thing turn into another so fast and only by taking the smallest and slowest of steps? In other words, how the heck did we get here?

Like many of you, I’ve watched and been part of the growth of 826michigan over some of the past ten years. And also probably like many of you, I’m pretty amazed by what I’ve seen. I’m very pleased to be participating in 826michigan’s tenth anniversary by interviewing and spotlighting ten people who represent some of the many hands who have worked together to build something larger than themselves. Each month I’ll present an 826michigan story in the honoree’s own words. I often wonder how good things really get done in this world, and part of my experience at 826michigan was learning that it’s “together”. It’s my hope that this project will illustrate that as we prepare to launch forward into our next ten years!

826michigan was established as a 501(c)3 nonprofit in June 2005, but it took a few months for us to really get started. So here we go, all the way back to 2006, for the story of the first of 826michigan’s tenth anniversary honorees – Jeannette Jackson, trusting and engaged parent to two of our earliest students, Madeleine and John Bradford.

Back then we looked a lot different. Our location was in an office park on State Street in Ann Arbor, down by Briarwood Mall, and we had yet to meet our true robotic overlords so we were a monster store (connected, of course, to a writing and tutoring lab where we held our first programs). To a parent, it must have seemed a bit strange. Although 826 centers had been around for a few years in some of our sister cities, the concept of a nonprofit organization with a kid-friendly store and free creative writing programs – planned and taught largely by volunteers! — was far from mainstream.

Fortunately 826michigan landed in a community filled with intrepid people like Jeannette Jackson, an organizational coach and nonprofit consultant with two children, and a deep interest in respectful, creative education. Through Jeannette’s eyes we see the passion, the slightly offbeat nature, and the enterprising spirit of those first years at 826michigan. Jeannette says,

“In 2006, my daughter Madeleine was 11. I saw a description of the “monster store” or something like that, and how it was connected to this writing organization in the Ann Arbor Observer. When I read it, it read like Madeleine — she had just started to explode with her writing. And I thought, ‘this is the place for her’. I brought her to one of the workshops and I thought, it was the place for her. She walked in and said, ‘wow, I didn’t know a place like this could exist!’ It was the first time I’d ever seen her excited about an outside activity.

In my head I had two thoughts. One was that this is a place for kids who like to write to be together. The other was that maybe Madeleine could learn something new with respect to her writing. I’m trying to remember if I went in thinking there would be grammar but I was quickly disabused of that, as I walked in and there were goofy chairs, and stuff all over the walls. It took literally one session before I said, ‘this is fine!’ I felt like 826michigan could help my child have the ability to tell a story — not a chunked classroom experience, but a holistic experience of engaging your imagination.

826michigan was a place where Madeleine could express herself in ways that she couldn’t express herself anywhere else. The place, the people, the interest, the respect and the appropriate boundaries that were set, and the creativity that was encouraged — she gained a lot of self-confidence in her writing and in herself. It wasn’t easy for her to go into unknown situations, but the people there just made all the difference in her comfort level and her ability to express herself because she felt comfortable. Madeleine, being a very introspective and introverted personality, didn’t really have a pack that she connected with at school. It was at 826michigan that she found her pack, a place where she felt fully accepted for who she was. I would say that her time at 826michigan was the most profound experience in her development as a writer in her teens.”

As Madeleine continued to grow as a writer in 826michigan’s programs, Jeannette’s son John joined in.

“[John] was a very reluctant writer. From the time he was in preschool he never believed he could write. I remember the first workshop I took him to at 826michigan. He was fully engaged, laughing, didn’t want to leave. He loved the fact that he could interact with these college students. He’s that kid who didn’t believe that he could be a writer, and 826michigan helped him develop the belief that he could write.”

Jeannette found herself personally affected by 826michigan’s work:

“One of my primary missions in life as far as work is concerned is to continuously work to create productive work environments because we spend so much time in them — when you’re working in a positive organization, that too spills over into your life. That’s one way to lead to a healthier society. It’s optimism, it’s hope, it’s positive energy. I’m a great believer that when you are involved with an organization that’s doing good things in the world that spills over onto you.

Every time I work with 826michigan, I feel good. So it makes my life better, from a totally selfish individual perspective!

At the systemic level I completely resonate with the 826michigan mission to build creativity and passion for wanting to write back into the schools. . .What I see in 826michigan’s process is not only the creativity but also the ability for kids to start thinking more critically — because when you’re crafting a story, you’re crafting a world, and when you’re crafting a world you’re thinking. I believe that when there’s an organization that’s doing so much good in the world, that deserves our support.

The other piece that caught my attention early on is how well the organization is run. The amount of work that 826michigan puts out for what I’ve come to understand is not a lot of money. . .it’s the amount of work, and it’s the continued innovation. The organization is always pushing forward, always thinking how are we going to do these workshops, how are we going to manage our store, where else can we go where we can really fulfill our mission? That’s really compelling! Who doesn’t want to be part of that? It’s fun.

How has being involved with 826michigan affected my life? It’s that looking forward. It’s the impact I saw on my own children.

826michigan has given me great hope for the future, that there are organizations like this that exist to bring such positive, generative, productive energy to the next generation.

* Next month: a perspective from founding 826michigan board member Keith Hood.

Amy Wilson is a writer living in New York City. From 2010-2014, she was a member of 826michigan’s staff.

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