826 Valencia is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping children and young adults develop writing skills and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. It was the basis for the 826 National organization, which has centers on the United States with the same goal.
Named for its street location in the Mission District of San Francisco, 826 Valencia was founded in 2002 by author Dave Eggers and veteran teacher Nínive Calegari, who both have ties to the literary and educational community. 826 consists of a writing lab, a street-front student-friendly pirate supply store that partially funds the programs, and two satellite classrooms in nearby middle schools. Over 1,400 volunteers—including published authors, magazine founders, SAT-course instructors, and documentary filmmakers—have donated their time to work with thousands of students. These volunteers allow 826 Valencia to offer all of its services for free.
826 Valencia's programming
826 Valencia's programming includes:
- Teams of volunteers visit local high-needs schools around San Francisco to support teachers and provide assistance to students as they tackle various projects, such as school newspapers, research papers, oral histories, and college-entrance essays.
- 826 Valencia offers free workshops on weeknights and weekends designed to foster creativity and strengthen writing skills in a variety of genres such as cartooning, college application essay writing, or starting a ’zine. From the playful to the practical, all workshops are project-based and are taught by experienced, accomplished professionals.
- Up to four times each week during the school year, 826 Valencia welcomes an entire class into the writing lab for a morning of custom-designed, project-based learning. Students may experience a roundtable discussion with a local author, enjoy an active workshop focused on poetry or journalism, or finalize pieces of writing for publication.
- Five days a week, dozens of students of all skill levels and interests come to 826 for free, one-on-one tutoring. Most of these students are from the predominantly Latino neighborhood in the Mission District, and few speak English at home. When their homework is finished, some children work on extracurricular writing projects; others prefer to grab a book off the shelves and do some quiet reading.
- 826 Valencia publishes an array of student-authored literary journals, newspapers, books, and chapbooks. The largest publishing project each year is the Young Authors’ Book Project. In its seventh year, the project is the culmination of a semester-long collaboration with a local, public, San Francisco high school to write, edit, and design a book that is then published professionally and sold in bookstores nationwide.
Pirate supply store
826 Valencia runs San Francisco's "only independent pirate supply store." Located in the heart of San Francisco's Mission District, the store is the front entrance of the tutoring center and has the look and feel of an authentic pirate shop. The store sells pirate clothing, eyepatches, compasses, spyglasses, pirate dice, skull flags, and secret treasures. It features handmade signs, scattered around the store, offering tongue-in-cheek wisdom, such as "Uses for Lard" (#5: "Lard Fights") and "Guidelines for New Shipmates" (#4: "No forgetting to swab"). Unsuspecting visitors are sometimes treated to surprise "moppings."
Shoppers can also find back issues of McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, books published by McSweeney's, and literary compilations written by 826 Valencia students. The books of student writing published by 826 Valencia include forewords, illustrations and interviews from public figures such as Former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom and actor Robin Williams.
The pirate supply store was originally created through necessity. After being turned down for regular use of church basements and school facilities, the founders discovered an empty store for sale on Valencia Street. The city ordinances stated that any businesses in that particular area of the city must be either retail or catering, so the Pirate Supply Store was developed as the "legitimate" business front for the writing center.
Dave Eggers commissioned cartoonist Chris Ware to design the mural for the facade of 826 Valencia's building. The mural depicts "the parallel development of humans and their efforts at and motivations for communication, spoken and written." The 3.9m x 6m mural was applied by artisans to Ware’s specifications. Describing the work, Ware said "I didn’t want it to make anyone 'feel good', especially in that typically muralistic 'hands across the water' sort of way,"..."I especially wanted it to be something that people living in the neighbourhood could look at day after day and hopefully not tire of too quickly. I really hoped whomever might happen to come across it would find something that showed a respect for their intelligence, and didn’t force-feed them any 'message'."
826 Valencia has inspired a number of other projects across the US, known as 'chapters'. In late 2004, just before the founding of four new chapters, 826 National was launched as an umbrella organization that provides logistical support to its chapters.
There are now eight chapters that make up 826 National: 826NYC in Brooklyn, New York, features a superhero-themed supply store, and another at 826 Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan is home to a robot store. The 826 Seattle writing center in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood is host to the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Company. The Boston writing center is home to the Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute. Additional 826 chapters are located in Los Angeles (826LA) and Chicago (826CHI). 826DC in Washington, DC officially opened in 2010; it was formerly the Capitol Letters Writing Center.
826 Valencia has also inspired similar projects in both Ireland and the United Kingdom.
- 826NYC, New York - Opened 2004
- 826LA, Los Angeles - Opened 2005
- 826 Seattle, Seattle - Opened 2005
- 826 Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan - Opened 2005
- 826CHI, Chicago - Opened 2005
- 826 Boston, Boston - Opened 2007
- 826DC, Washington, D.C. - Opened 2010
- Fighting Words, Dublin - Opened 2009
- Porto delle Storie, Campi Bisenzio (FI) - Opened 2014
In April 2010, as an extension of the 826 Valencia scholarship program, Eggers launched ScholarMatch, a nonprofit organization that connects donors with students to make college more affordable.
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- 826 Valencia
- Pirate Store main page
- Chris Ware's mural for 826 Valencia's facade
- 826 Valencia's blog
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