Ladies. Gents. Whoever it is reading this post.
This organization is basically a dream come true for a girl who was once told by a guy she liked in middle school that she “read too much” (said boy’s appeal diminished quickly after that).
My love affair with 826 began last summer with a chance encounter and a robot. Namely, a robot that was part of an adorable display window for an adorable store — Robot Supply & Repair — on Liberty Street, just a hop skip and a jump away from Ann Arbor’s Main Street shopping area.
Now, being a lover of all things adorable, quirky, and occasionally robot-related, I decided to take a look. The result was initially disappointing (they sell robot-related products, not actual robots), but ultimately mind-blowing. This was no ordinary store. It was a front for a non-profit devoted to tutoring children ages 6 to 18, particularly in reading and writing.
Most importantly, they publish their kids’ writings. Into actual books. And. Sell. Them.
I immediately flashed back to age eight, when my second grade teacher (whom I consider a saint to this day), told us we’d be writing our own stories, and then we’d “publish” them into little paperback books. I can barely remember what the story was about, but I’ll never forget how I felt when I saw my story as a “book” (I use quotation marks because it was really just a bunch of paper stapled together with a laminated piece of construction paper). It was sheer joy.
Returning to the not so distant past of last summer, I stood there in that robot store and knew that I had to be a part of it somehow. This past January, I finally got my act together and signed up to be a volunteer. I now spend a couple of hours every Wednesday evening working with 6-8 year-olds on simple writing exercises. It’s not much, but the idea that I could be fostering a love of reading and writing to kids who are roughly how old I was when I first realized I loved to write — that means more to me than anything else.
I encourage anyone and everyone to check this organization out. The main chapter in Michigan is based in Ann Arbor but also reaches as far as Detroit. You can also find it in a few other cities across the U.S., and even if you don’t have time to volunteer, try checking out their stores, picking up one of their story anthologies, or you know, just spreading the word about how awesome they are.