How did you first get involved at 826CHI?
Rowan: I became a volunteer 10 years ago! Like many others, I first learned of the org through Dave Eggers, who I had an unhealthy obsession with (I had to buy a second copy of A Heartbreaking Work after my first fell to pieces).
Alissa: I learned about 826CHI from an English teacher parent, and was immediately enthralled. Fortunately, they took me on as an intern the fall after I graduated college, and I learned so much from the small but mighty staff and hundreds of young people we worked with.
Gianna: I first got involved with 826CHI in 2015 after graduating from University of Iowa. I'd studied Journalism & Mass Communication, minored in Women's Studies and got a certificate in Writing. Needless to say, I wanted to fill the gap of writing that I had post-graduation! I'd heard of 826 National while at Iowa, so I decided to check out the Chicago chapter once I moved back home to the northwest side of Chicago (in the city, not the burbs!), where I grew up.
Ian: I read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius after a friend of mine quoted the snowshoe analogy in his high school graduation speech. That piqued my interest in Dave Eggers and the work he was doing, and a few years later I decided to find volunteer opportunities with 826CHI.
What has been your favorite 826 experience so far?
Rowan: Though there are countless workshops I could name, I have to say the student readings at Prologue 2017. It took place at the American Writers Museum, the room was packed and HOT, but the students brought the house down. I remember turning to the people next to me and seeing tears in their eyes. As an adult with stage fright, I'm so in awe of all 826CHI students who perform. It's always a gift to everyone in the audience.
Alissa: I think overall, my favorite part of being involved with 826 has been working with students at the writers' table in after school tutoring. So many students felt nervous or uncomfortable when starting a piece, but I loved seeing them light up as they learned how fun writing can be and how capable they are. We had one reading where a student I worked with was very hesitant to share her work, but after lots of encouragement, she got up and read. I will not forget how proud she looked when the crowd erupted in applause!
On the AB side, I love hearing the ideas fellow members bring to the table and working to make them a reality. 826 attracts so many creative individuals excited to give their time to support these students. I'm grateful 826 has created so many opportunities for us to stay involved with the organization, even when we are not able to volunteer during day-time programming.
Gianna: I've really enjoyed being on the Associate Board for the past three years. It's been fun to see the board grow and develop over the years. Prologue is also a lot of fun to be involved with. Each year we learn from the event and try to improve it and see how we can make it an even better event each year.
Ian: I just love every time I get to see the students share their work. I enjoyed the after-school tutoring when I did it but I started to discover how limited my math/science skills were.
What do you do when you aren't working undercover?
Rowan: I'm a Communications Director at Teach For America, but I also write short fiction. If you like slightly melancholic stories about alligators, missing girls, dog bites and a whole lot else, check out my work at rowanbeaird.com!
Alissa: I recently started working in major gifts at Northwestern Law School, a job that allows me to meet people on a daily basis that are deeply passionate about education. Otherwise, I'm usually biking, and recently joined Active Transportation, and try to get under cover of trees as much as possible. I'm always planning my next trip, and happy to hear about favorite places others have been.
Gianna: When I'm not undercover, you can find me doing Customer Experience at McDonald's Headquarters in the West Loop, snuggling my senior rescue dog, Tiger (#adoptdontshop) and documenting my life on the 1 Second Every Day app, which is going to feature a ton of food & drinks!
Ian: I do user experience design at Marsh (an insurance broker and risk advisor). When I'm not doing that, my friends and I have a 'mystery meal' club where every few weeks we travel around the city to discover new and different food/restaurants. To work off that food, I love to play soccer, flag football, and spikeball (and go on walks with my partner, Martha).
Any words of wisdom for aspiring spies of the month?
Rowan: The real gift of working with 826 students is that you get to be a kid again. Tap into your imagination, and you'll be able to better help them tap into theirs.
Alissa: If you're able to, spend as much time as you can working directly with the students. Serving on on the AB has been so meaningful, and allowed us to build strong connections with inspiring people dedicated to giving their time and resources supporting these students. But, for me, nothing can replace the joy of working directly with students and handing them a published book with their own words inside. Take advantage of it while you can, and find other ways to give back when you can't!
Gianna: There's always a spot for you at 826CHI! Whether you're interested in working directly with students at the writing lab, event planning for Prologue on the Associate Board or using your translation/design/editing skills, there is a place at 826CHI that will welcome you with open arms!
Ian: Leak an occasional dossier - you never know who's paying attention. But really, speaking of words of wisdom, I came across this recently and have been trying to live by it as much as possible. Adulting isn't easy! And always find time to volunteer!
Our 826 Day event on the roof of Ace Hotel Chicago was a beautiful celebration of our community from our donors to our students and everyone in between (pictured above is 826CHI supporter TASHA’s performance). Our book P.S. You Sound Like Someone I Can Trust was available in the hotel’s suites, Ace Hotel Chicago has hosted our annual love-themed print show featuring work by local artists inspired by our students writing on love, and their Senior Sales Manager, Tenasha Wilcoxon, spoke to our students in After-School Tutoring & Writing’s Speakers & Snacks series about what it’s like to work at a hotel.
The partnership between East Village Youth Program and 826CHI is a yearly collaboration to help students achieve their goal of being accepted into their college of choice and for many to be the first in their family to attend college. This fall, 826CHI staff and 12 volunteers worked with 13 high school seniors on their personal statements for college applications. The partnership continues in the Spring when 826CHI and volunteers will return to EVYP to support students as they apply for scholarships.