Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, and in an ideal world all children would be gathered with their families around tables groaning under the weight of turkey/ham/sweet-potatoes/green-bean salad/rolls/assorted fruit pies and so forth. Sadly this is not the case. Lots of kids will be at home alone (or entrusted to various types of care) because parents are working, in prison, absent due to marital discord, away fighting the war(s) overseas, and various other reasons. During the year, many of these kids (at least the fortunate ones), can turn to a variety of after-school and weekend programs where caring and concerned individuals act as mentors in tutoring programs devoted to improving math and reading skills. Some programs help at-risk kids in expressing themselves creatively (through performance and the fine arts); conduct excursions and field trips, as well as coordinate tours of professional guilds, and prepare older students for job internships. I became aware of 826DC a few years ago, and remain impressed by their commitment to making a positive difference in the lives of other-wise neglected kids. I was moved by the passion and commitment of the 826DC members, and asked Holly Jones, who co-founded 826DC, to share with us a few words about this dynamic little group of devoted volunteers who give so much to so many.
' I started 826DC with two co-founders shortly after I began interviewing teenagers in Anacostia for McSweeney's and Dispatches from The Anacostia series. The teenagers I met struggled to steer clear of drugs and crime, peer pressure to quit school, to quit living a healthy life, and worst of all, to quit dreaming. Time and again, I witnessed their struggle to articulate their hopes and dreams. It would take them an hour to warm up to talking about themselves, to find the words to describe their aspirations and frame their lives as remarkable as any they saw on TV. How, I asked myself, could they achieve their dreams if they couldn't express themselves and give voice to what mattered most in their lives?
The more I learned of the educational challenges these teenagers faced, the more I wanted to help them in finding the support they needed. As it turns out, other individuals in DC were dreaming of the same thing: a place where young people could come for reading and writing support. Although there were some educational organizations in DC, we thought that something different was needed. A center that didn't look like a tutoring center, but instead a place where people laughed as much as they learned, and a cool destination for the community to visit every day of the week if they wanted to do so. My co-founders and I learnt of David Eggers, and an organization called 826 National, that had established centers like the one we had envisioned, and we wanted our center to be similar to that model. We sat down in October 2007 and decided to make our dream into a reality.
It wasn't easy work as we had no start-up capital. And we didn't have a 826 affiliation which would have lent us credibility for funding and recruiting. Yet, we had an overwhelming amount of support in the DC community, and encouraged by the slogan of the presidential campaign -- " YES WE CAN," sounding all around us, we went to work!! By our second meeting, we jumped from 3 to 10 volunteer-members; filed for our 501(c)3 status, and had a name, website, and board of directors; we secured some financing, and scheduled a series of workshops in schools for the following summer. Within a year, we were publishing student anthologies, had leveraged a network of 500 volunteers to help students, and hired our first full-time staff member. In October 2010, just three years after we first met in a coffee-shop, 826DC opened our stand-alone center in Columbia Heights. There, students come in every afternoon for tutoring in a variety of subjects in workshops conducted by our staff and our remarkable Executive Director, Joe Callahan.
The programs we provide for the students at 826DC takes a lot of commitment, hard work by many people, and, of course, funding. Donations are always welcomed and, in this season of giving, we hope that you'll consider 826DC. Please visit our website at www.826dc.org, to learn more about us and the ways in which you can make a difference by volunteering, attending one of our events, or simply making a small contribution. '