The center was started in April 2002 by author David Eggers and educator Nínive Calegari with the idea to pair writers who had time to spare during the day with community members who needed free tutoring services.
Today, it's grown into a network of writing centers across seven cities that tutors thousands of students.
Core programs include after-school workshops, field trips and in-school projects. All programs focus on pairing volunteers with students on an individual basis to develop their writing skills.
“There weren't a lot of places kids could go after school,” said Molly Parent, 826 Valencia's programs and communications manager. “Many of the neighborhood families were Latino, Spanish-speaking at home, and there was an especially great need for free support with writing skills.”
Because the space they chose was zoned for retail, the center had to get creative.
“We looked at the ship-like surfaces of the stripped-down space, which was a former gym,” said Parent, “and decided to open a pirate store that would purvey supplies to the working buccaneer and the books we publish of our students' writing.”
The center's success inspired a network of creative writing and tutoring centers in Ann Arbor, Detroit, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington, DC. These organizations act as individual nonprofits under the umbrella of 826 National, which supports and oversees the chapters.
“This year we'll serve 7,000 students at our Mission Center, Tenderloin Center, and at school sites,” said Parent. “Our staff is currently at about 30 people, including 8 AmeriCorps members who join us for a year of service.”
Personal success stories are abundant, and 826 Valencia now has staff members who started as students.
“Our goal is to transform a young person's relationship to writing,” said Parent.
"When we see our students sharing their writing in print with their parents, teachers, and friends, proudly saying, 'I wrote this,' that's very exciting.”
To celebrate 826 Day, drop by the block party starting at noon on Saturday right outside the center at 826 Valencia Street.