Volunteers are the heart and soul of 826michigan, but there are some volunteers who are our heart, soul, and essential organs. They are so deeply a part of the work we do that we can’t imagine life without them. Jim Ottaviani is one of those volunteers. The entire staff was shocked when we realized that Jim hadn’t yet been recognized as Volunteer of the Month, because his work with us has been consistently outstanding. Upon further reflection, it began to make more sense: Jim has leapt over and beyond the meaning of the word “volunteer.” He is an integral character in 826michigan’s story, an organ as vital as our liver or lungs.
Outside of his record-breaking (thirteen!) years of volunteering with 826michigan, Jim is a librarian, nuclear engineer, and, according to his publisher’s profile, “the world’s preeminent writer of comics and graphic novels about science.” That’s right: Jim is both an award-winning author AND an award-winning volunteer! More importantly, we can personally vouch for the fact that Jim is a generous, kind, genuine human being. We are so grateful that he makes time every week to support our students.
Jim has worked with 826michigan students in countless creative writing workshops and in his ongoing weekly commitment to Virtual Schoolwork Support, formerly known as After-school Tutoring. Staff describes Jim as a model tutor. He is funny, serious, and creative at the same time. He has high expectations for his students, and creates environments where his students can have high expectations of him, too. When we had a student who was excited about drawing in his post-homework time, we connected him with Jim, who sat with him and talked about comics. When our Comic Creators Club was seeking his guidance, Jim stepped in to lead a session. When some students spent part of that session Googling him in the background and asking if he really works for the University of Michigan libraries, Jim was more than happy to keep going with the flow.
It seems like everywhere Jim goes, he sends out ripples of positivity. Once, Megan stopped by the Harbor Springs Book Festival office, where she discovered that Jim was a featured guest. She mentioned to a staff member that she loved Jim, and they said, “No, WE love Jim!” Another time, Catherine was at the Neil Armstrong museum, where one of Jim’s books was on display. She sent him a message, and he responded by telling her the story of how he once got a voicemail from Buzz Aldrin. The main takeaway here is that someone who has talked to Buzz Aldrin is in our midst, logging on to Zoom every week to support our students. Mind-blowing stuff!
Jim has gone above and beyond volunteer responsibilities, from creating this video to serving as our Keynote Speaker for Sweater Weather, an annual dinner benefitting 826michigan. Jim just gets what we’re about, and we love celebrating what Jim’s about.
One of our favorite pieces of wisdom from Jim came up when he was teaching us to sketch. He said that if you ask someone to draw a picture, they might get bogged down in the details, but if you ask them to just do a quick sketch, people are less scared to start. He probably said it more gracefully than that, but you get the picture: don’t let the fear of messing up keep you from trying. It’s impossible to encapsulate everything about Jim that makes him an incredible volunteer, tutor, community member, and friend, but his enormous positive impact on 826michigan cannot be overstated. We invite you to read this Volunteer of the Month profile as a sketch of Jim’s incredible 13 years of service to 826michigan. Thank you, Jim, for being part of our team. We are so lucky to know you.