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.
From L to R: Jude, Megan, Calvin, Matt, and Maia
“826michigan has allowed our children to experience success, and take risks. Our children feel so proud of their work at 826michigan, and the skills they learned have translated to writing success in school too.” – Megan and Matt Sears
“The fact that I’m in a real book that’s been published by a professional publishing company makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, that my writing was good enough to deserve publishing.” -Calvin Sears
It seems we’ve come to the end of our road.
It’s 2015, and 826michigan’s programs are going strong and continuing to grow in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Detroit. Throughout this year, I’ve spoken to nine individuals from 826michigan’s past. We’ve heard stories of the organization’s development in various areas, from creating a strong Board of Directors to building trust in local schools to recruiting dedicated volunteers and staff members. We’ve learned how 826michigan has created relationships with businesses, funders, and writers.
This month I’m sharing with you a snapshot of 826michigan’s present and future, by way of the Sears Family: parents Megan and Matt and students Calvin, Maia, and Jude. Calvin, Maia, and Jude have attended tutoring at our Washington Street Tutoring Lab, Drop-in Writing at the Ypsilanti District Library, and workshops at our Liberty Street location. Calvin and Maia’s writing has been published by 826michigan in multiple chapbooks and books, and we’re sure Jude’s soon will be as well!
The Sears Family were kind enough to share with me some of their thoughts and memories of their time at 826michigan so far.
How did you first hear about 826michigan and what made you want to get involved?
Megan and Matt: When we moved to Michigan from New Mexico we were looking for extra-curricular activities for Calvin, and we wanted to find a writing class in particular since he loved to write. A friend told us about 826michigan and we have been attending faithfully ever since.
Calvin: I love creative writing, so when I found out about 826michigan, I was like, “Sign me up, now!”
Jude: I was always jealous that Calvin and Maia were old enough to do the Drop-in Writing at the library, I couldn’t wait to be old enough to do the classes too. I can’t wait until it’s my turn to be published!
What’s one of your favorite memories of coming to an 826michigan program or event?
Calvin: The Omnibus V release party was the first time my work was published, and the reception felt so official. I felt like a really big deal.
Maia: I liked the workshop with the Violin Monster. We got to listen to the monster play the violin while we worked on our own fairy tales.
Jude: I loved the class where we got to watch all the old commercials, they were hilarious! Then we got to write and film our own commercials.
What does it feel like when your writing is published in an 826michigan book?
Calvin: The fact that I’m in a real book that’s been published by a professional publishing company makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, that my writing was good enough to deserve publishing. My goal in life is to be an author, so being in an 826michigan book is one step closer to that goal.
Maia: When my writing is published by 826michigan it makes me feel like I’m proud of myself. It makes me feel like I’m really important.
What’s one thing you’ve learned at 826michigan that you think will help you in other parts of your life?
Calvin: What I learn at 826michigan helps with writing essays and stories for school. It also helps my creative thinking skills and my language has definitely improved. I’ve definitely learned to be a better team player. It’s allowed me to learn to let other people take control in group projects.
Jude: Remembering the writing I learned at 826michigan will help me when I grow up to be an author.
What would you say to someone who asked you if they should try 826michigan?
Megan and Matt: 826michigan has allowed our children to experience success, and take risks. Our children feel so proud of their work at 826michigan, and the skills they learned have translated to writing success in school too. We can’t say enough about how much we appreciate the thoughtful work and dedication of the 826michigan staff and volunteers.
Calvin: Yes! Definitely yes. If you’re the type of person who likes writing in any way, shape or form, or just being creative, there’s no reason not to try it.
Jude: I’d tell them that they should try it because the instructors are fun and the writing is fun.
Reading what Megan, Matt, Calvin, Maia, and Jude have to say about 826michigan puts me in mind of all the students I was fortunate enough to meet and work with during my own time there. When Calvin says that working with 826michigan has helped him become a stronger team player, I think about all the many times I’ve participated in or witnessed a Very Serious Discussion at 826michigan over something like, “have we incorporated enough seahorses into this poem?” or “what should happen after Dr. Pinetree reveals that she’s secretly been evil all along?” A casual observer to one of these discussions taking place at a workshop or field trip might think, “what does this have to do with anything useful?” The answer, in my honest and considered opinion, is–a lot.
When students participate in 826michigan’s programs, whether it be as an extracurricular activity or right in their classrooms through our in-school efforts, they learn how to form and express their own opinions. They learn how to work collaboratively with others, both with their peers and with older mentors (as we learned from teacher Fran Lazette. Like Jeannette Jackson’s children, they learn that they can be confident in themselves and in their voices. Like 826michigan alum Edwin Hoffman, they learn that help in school and in life is available to them at 826michigan when they need it.
All told, I was with 826michigan for five years myself. In that time I met many young people, some of whom I worked with over an extended period of time and some I only saw once or twice. Each one made an impression on me, but the strongest impression of an 826michigan student that has stayed with me actually occurred outside of the writing and tutoring lab.
It was a Saturday, in the early spring. I was running in to the Ann Arbor YMCA trying to make it for a workout before they closed. As I climbed the stairs in the main lobby, a young man, aged eleven or twelve, stopped me to ask if I had a cell phone he could use to call his mother. She was going to pick him up there, but she was late, and he was worried. I gave him my phone and waited with him. We chatted. It came out that he had stopped me because he recognized me from 826michigan’s tutoring lab–where I didn’t often work with students, but which I often walked through on my way to the bathroom, water fountain, or kitchen before returning to the basement to type furiously on something or another. (Typing furiously in the basement was the bulk of my job as 826michigan’s Communications Coordinator.)
Because he had seen me at 826michigan, this young man thought of me as an adult who could help and who would help.
Each time I remember that it just stops me dead in my tracks. For one, it’s always weird to realize that even what you do while you’re just on the way to the water fountain can come back to you in unexpected ways! But moreover, it makes me think of how–ultimately–826michigan is creating a community of people who recognize each other as people, in big ways and small.
When we acknowledge the difficulty of struggling in school and work together to improve grades and habits, we recognize the real experience of a student. When we create situations where adults can come together with young people to discuss their issues and challenges, we recognize that most likely we are all more alike than we are different. When we read a young person’s story published in an 826michigan book–how my family came to America, the scariest or happiest moment of my life, what I want the world to be when I grow up–we are recognizing that young person’s experience as something that is valid and important. When a volunteer tutor engages in casual conversation with a student who is an English Language Learner over her history homework, they are recognizing that successful communication is much, much more than knowing where to put a comma or a period. (Although we recognize that that is important too.)
This year I’ve been wondering, how does a community organization get started and keep going? There clearly are certain concrete things that must happen. Good infrastructure, strong management, the building of lines of communication, and of course, raising money. Luck and hard work also matter. But more than that, I’ve seen that 826michigan exists because there are people who have consciously chosen to be part of this community. I believe that any individual can vote with his or her time: what do you want to see happen? What do you want to make sure keeps happening? To me, it seems that 826michigan is the product of all of these individuals, those profiled this year and many more who have not been, who have invested their time in us because they believe in the importance of what we do–for creative expression, for engagement, for schools, for young people, for good.
There is certainly much more to be said about 826michigan and its next steps, and I’m sure you’ll hear all about it. But, I’m signing off for now. Thank you for following along with me in 2015, and for what you do with 826michigan. To be involved in this community is truly an honor for me. See you in five, ten, twenty-five years?
With warm regards—-ONWARD, ROBOTS!
Amy Wilson is a writer living in New York City. From 2010-2014, she was a member of 826michigan’s staff.