Congratulations, Spy! How does it feel?
Honestly, from an organization I esteem so highly as 826CHI, it feels like getting a Grammy or an Oscar. I’d like to thank the 826CHI Academy, my family, my friends, my schoolteachers, and especially Admiral Moody (though that last one might be self-dealing, because sometimes I am he).
How did you first get involved at 826CHI?
I was searching online for volunteer opportunities to promote literacy, not realizing that, even better, I would find one that promotes writing! I have a belief that until one learns to write clearly, one hasn’t fully learned to think clearly. While America’s current focus on STEM subjects is admirable, let’s also make sure that our young’uns “flower” in their thinking skills. As the world’s problems get more complex and technology tools continue to evolve, clear thinking will enable students to adapt to anything that life throws at them. That’s why I continue to be passionate about 826CHI, besides it being a ton of fun.
What has been your favorite 826 experience so far?
Definitely the field trips, and especially Storytelling and Bookmaking. Young students enter the classroom through the secret door in the shop with only their enthusiasm; three hours later they leave with a one-of-a-kind, bound book. The book evolves from a group creation that begins with a blank page and later concludes with the individual stamp of ingenuity of each student (along with Admiral Moody’s literal stamp of approval). Add to that a back cover with each student’s mustachioed “adult” photo and self-penned “About the Author,” and you end up with 20-30 bound pieces of magic. I have no doubt that if I had had the opportunity to take this field trip when I was young that I would still have the resulting novella on my bookshelf.
I love both helping individual students express themselves as well as playing the role of Admiral Moody. It’s a difficult trade-off: Since revered-but-feared Admiral Moody has never been seen, he or she can’t interact with the students except by microphone, which makes the old saying true—it IS lonely at the top. Shout out to Molly and the entire 826CHI staff that creates the environment and funding to make the magic possible.
What do you do when you aren't working undercover?
I work as a management consultant specializing in growth strategy. Take away the jargon and it means that I help businesses and other organizations find ways to grow. I also do some career coaching which, too, is rewarding. Outside of work, I love to skate, bike, eat, cook, listen to music (especially in Millennium Park), attend theater and comedy performances, write (i.e., practice what I preach)… and generally snoop like a secret agent through the streets of Chicago to see what more is out there. There is always more.
Our top agents always have the best codenames. What’s yours?
Jack B. Nimble. I love candles so much that I enjoy viewing them not only from the side but also directly from above.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring spies of the month?
1) Everyone can enjoy writing if they’re willing to give it a try, and this is especially true with children. Sometimes it simply takes time (and a lot of listening) to find the “hook” that motivates them. I continue to be amazed at what they can accomplish in a few short hours (and even a few minutes!), something they teach me over and over again. 2) Spread the word about 826CHI to your family, friends, colleagues, and even strangers on the El and on the street. The greater the number of people who know about 826CHI, the greater the impact we’ll have on improving Chicago communities, one child at a time.
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.