Saturday, December 18, 2010

Peg Legs and Superhero Capes

What kind of charity or cause would my protagonist support?

Forgive me for answering last week's question today, but I'm new to this blog and still getting my act together. My character Will Connelly is a San Francisco native, so I think he would donate this holiday season to one of my favorite San Francisco-based charities, 826 National (

826 National is a nonprofit tutoring, writing and publishing organization with locations in eight cities across the country. Its goal is to assist students ages six to eighteen with their writing skills, and to help teachers get their classes excited about writing. 826 National's work is based on the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.

Founded in 2002 in San Francisco, 826 National now includes sister non-profits in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Ann Arbor, Boston and, most recently, D.C. The organization emphasizes "project-based learning," which means that when a student leaves an 826 writing center, they most likely have something tangible (and very cool) to show for it, whether it's a bound book with illustrations, a newspaper or a film. 826 offers all of its services for free, serving families who could not otherwise afford the level of personalized instruction their children receive at an 826 center. In this time of financially strapped public schools, 826 fosters creativity in kids who would not otherwise be exposed to a creative writing class, much less a personal tutor.

One thing that you notice immediately about an 826 writing center is that it's a place where students are having fun. Each writing center has a store that provides a gateway to the local community -- but these are not your typical shopping establishments. The New York center is home to The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, which features a capery, where you can be fitted for a 58-inch superhero or (for junior) a 36-inch sidekick cape ( What self-respecting superhero would wear an off-the-rack cape, anyway? Public service posters in the store urge, "Stop Sidekick Abuse." This is also the place to go if you're in a need of a secret identity or you're all out of Cloning Fluid.

Other 826-affiliated stores include San Francisco's Pirate Supply Store (glass eyes, peg legs and all things piratical) and L.A.'s Echo Park Time Travel Mart, where you can purchase some very special travel posters ("Enjoy Fantastic Feudal Japan!"). The most recent addition to this little alternate universe is 826DC's Museum of Unnatural History, where you can pick up a can of Primordial Soup or a Koala Containment Unit.

Because I'm all about transparency, I must disclose that I have been providing pro bono legal services to 826 Valencia and 826 National since 2002 and I'm on the board of 826 National. But I'm not making this stuff up. It's every bit as weird and wonderful as it sounds.


Michael Wiley said...

826 National sounds like a great organization, Reece. If only I had had something like this when I was a kid, I would have gotten myself into trouble with my writing a whole lot earlier.

Reece said...

The 826 writing centers really are doing great work. And the public schools certainly need all the help they can get.