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.
“There are a lot of volunteer organizations that welcome you to take on whatever role they may have created, but with 826michigan there’s lot of leeway to say, ‘I’ve noticed this issue and here’s a way I could be helpful. Can I take that on?’ The answer is almost always yes. Volunteering at 826michigan has given me a better understanding of who I am professionally and what I want to be doing in that realm. . . 826michigan helped me develop and recognize those interests, and put a name on it in a way that was really helpful.”
We’ve finally reached the point in our tenth anniversary celebration where it’s time for us to specially recognize and highlight one of 826michigan’s volunteers. ONE volunteer! Just one! Is it possible? A quick look at our Volunteer of the Month page will show you just how many fantastic folks we’ve had with us over the years–and they do number many.
826michigan is a volunteer-driven organization. And when we say that, we mean it. Volunteers at 826michigan provide direct services to more than 3,000 youth in Southeast Michigan and as a group, constitute a lean, mean, creative-writing-and-tutoring robot machine. They support students by working with them one-on-one; they bring their own ideas and experience to us to design high-quality educational programs; they help us out by straightening shelves in the Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair, folding our annual mailings, pouring wine at events, folding and stapling chapbooks, entering data, designing posters and images, playing music at fundraisers, and so, so much more. 826michigan’s volunteers are 826michigan. It’s as simple as that. And it’s been that way since day one. Some of those day-one volunteers are still with us, for which we are forever grateful. (Hi guys!)
Every individual we’ve highlighted so far this year represents a large group of people–parents of students in our programs, teachers in our partner schools, business leaders who support our work–they’ve been individuals waving from the tip of the iceberg, if you will. But there is no larger iceberg than our ten-year-strong volunteer corps.
So we’re pleased to present to you someone you may already know without knowing, 826michigan super-volunteer and Ambassador Kati Shanks. An Ann Arbor native, Kati has been with 826michigan since 2009 and in six years has served in basically every conceivable capacity, including some she conceived of herself. In 2013, when we were in the throes of the major transition that was our expansion to Detroit, Kati created the position of Volunteer and Outreach Intern to maximize her use of her organizational and educational skills. And with that, she formalized a role she’d had for a long time: a super-volunteer, who brings other volunteers to 826michigan and helps them have a great experience while they’re here.
Let’s hear more from Kati!
I was born and raised in Ann Arbor, so I first heard about 826michigan right when it opened. I thought it sounded like a really great program, but I was graduating from high school and just about to go away to college in Wisconsin. I eventually moved back home and worked as an administrator for a children’s theater group for a few years. When I went back to school, that work no longer fit with my schedule, but quitting that job left this teaching- and youth-service-shaped hole in my life. I was going to classes during the day, and working at night, so I got involved with the first semester of 826michigan’s Saturday morning ELL program. After that, I never looked back. I was really lucky that that program was getting off the ground just as I was looking to get into 826michigan. That was 2009.
I started with ELL and moved from that into workshops, then I was a summer intern. I started out in the programs area, then as I spent more time in the organization and saw how things worked and what needed to get done and who was where and what was happening, I realized that I could use my organizational skills to be more helpful. I love programming! I think it’s great! It’s the most important part of what we do. But 826michigan has so many excellent “program people”. To be that person who can sit down and say, let me just make this spreadsheet right now — that’s when I really found my niche.
One of the things that’s kept me around 826michigan is that you feel needed and appreciated. There are a lot of volunteer organizations that welcome you to take on whatever role they may have created, but with 826michigan there’s lot of leeway to say, “I’ve noticed this issue and here’s a way I could be helpful. Can I take that on?” The answer is almost always yes.
Volunteering at 826michigan has given me a better understanding of who I am professionally and what I want to be doing in that realm. At first I was doing programs internships because that was what there was to do. Then I had some conversations with staff and other volunteers about what I was truly interested in and started to go more toward that. I’ve learned that I enjoy the teaching side of things, and that I enjoy working with adults in an organizational and logistical role. 826michigan helped me develop and recognize those interests, and put a name on it in a way that was really helpful.
In 2013 I started in a new role as a Volunteer and Outreach intern, working with [Program Manager and Volunteer Coordinator] Frances Martin. That was right after she started as the Volunteer Coordinator, the first ever at 826michigan! That came about from my interest in training: working with our on-boarding process, getting all those new people into being a part of this community, practically and emotionally. 2013 was also the year when we started the Ambassadors program to formalize the role of volunteers who wanted to be more involved with community outreach. I helped create the rough bones of our strategic outreach calendar, which standardized the process of getting information about our programs out to our partners in the community. I did a lot of volunteer info sessions and presentations for student groups, along with tabling at community events. I helped with our new volunteer processing and started to think about streamlining that between Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Detroit, which is an ongoing process.
The first person I ever met at 826michigan was [Education Director] Catherine Calabro, back when she was the workshops intern. I got to work with her closely with her in that role, and we continued together as she moved onto the staff. I really enjoy that sense of moving forward with 826michigan. The mission, the heart of the organization has stayed the same — it’s friendly, and personable, and welcoming, and it’s grown so much bigger without losing that spirit. I think that’s kind of amazing. A lot of that has to do with bringing in staff members who are really dedicated to the mission and to the students.
There’s definitely challenges of going from a two-person workplace to a ten-person workplace. That’s a lot to overcome. But the staff still loves each other and they all know why they are there. Not just the staff growing, but as we’re bringing in AmeriCorps members, working with interns: the quality there is so consistent. It’s impressive. From my own experience I know that you get a lot of being involved with 826michigan, and that makes you want to give back. It builds that buy-in.
I’m definitely invested in the mission of 826michigan. I was lucky enough to have had some great teachers myself, and I benefitted from that a lot personally. I grew up in the 90s when everybody’s property values were going up, and the schools maybe-sort-of had enough money. Now more than ever, as schools are struggling, as classes get bigger, as teachers get laid off, as there less access to supplies and resources, organizations like 826michigan that can support the schools are so important.
Another aspect of 826michigan that’s important to me is the focus on one-on-one interaction between students and adults. I was kind of a weird kid growing up, myself. The community that 826michigan helps to create can give students that sense that weird is okay, and maybe a good thing in the long run. That goes a long way to making you feel more able to navigate all of the nonsense that you go through as a child. Even for students for are doing well socially and academically, just having that reminder that there are people who are invested in your success and are proud of the work that you’re putting in can be really beneficial.
One of the hardest things about living in Ann Arbor is that it does tend to be a fairly nomadic community, because we have so many students and young professionals who are moving to different points in their career. There’s a lot of movement in and out. That’s true of volunteering at 826michigan as well. You get to know new people, people come in and start amazing new programs, then they move away. You have to say goodbye to your friend, and figure out how to keep following through with a project they may have started. There’s a lot of sadness related to that. But the flip side is there’s always something new and exciting. This organization that I’ve been with now for a long time, to able to constantly see it through new eyes is really cool. When people come in to info sessions as new volunteers, I love to learn about what brought them here and what their concept of us as an organization is. Wanting to see where people are going to fit in at 826michigan. Seeing people find their own niche and take off.
For me it’s been really reassuring to see the way that people can still make friends and build communities as adults. I came to 826michigan when I was still in college but I was older than most of the people I was in school with, so I was not socially “in college”. It’s that question of, how do you make friends as an adult? We have people who graduate and come back home to Ann Arbor, people who came to Southeast Michigan for work, people who move here with a spouse. 826michigan is such a welcoming and engaging place for so many different types of people. It’s really nice to see and benefit from that.
If you’re asking me to describe how 826michigan has impacted me, my answer is: everything. Personally, professionally. I came to 826michigan as a 22-year-old. It’s been my twenties, basically. Our generation, we get a lot put on us about how we’re all disaffected and miserable. Maybe it’s because I spend all my time at 826michigan, but I don’t know anybody like that! I know people who are under-employed, who have a lot of student debt, but I also know a lot of people who are working hard to make something good.
As Kati says, there is a definite flow to the nature of life at 826michigan. As new talents come through our doors every single week, beloved old friends say goodbye and move on. And yet, there is continuity and stability in what we are able to offer to the community. What keeps it all a-flowing is our shared enthusiasm for 826michigan’s mission, for the students we serve, and for working together.
And people like Kati Shanks. Kati’s reliability, her stability, her talent, and her drive to find a place to put that talent to work have made her one of the single individuals who has had the most far-reaching impact on 826michigan as an organization. She’s really one of a kind. That said, we think Kati would be the first to say that she is also just one among many. It’s true! In creating her own place as a Volunteer and Outreach Intern at 826michigan Kati created a place for hundreds more to join, keeping 826michigan doors open to all as we continue to grow and develop and learning valuable things about herself and her own goals in the process. For this, I think Kati is an excellent example of what volunteering at 826michigan can be.
Next month, we’ll hear from a recent graduate of 826michigan’s programs.
Amy Wilson is a writer living in New York City. From 2010-2014, she was a member of 826michigan’s staff.