Maria, sitting in an empty theater
February 18, 2020

An Interview with Maria Villarreal, Our Director of Programs

826CHI is currently seeking applicants for a Director of Programs. This week, we sat down with beloved 826CHI Director of Programs, Maria Villarreal, to reflect on her four years at the helm of the 826CHI programs team and look towards the future.

1. What brought you to 826CHI, and how long have you been here?

I came to 826CHI four years ago. I had been working as Program Director for a teacher professional development program, and I was missing working directly with students, families and communities. I was lucky to find that 826CHI was hiring, and when I looked at the mission and the core values of the organization, I knew it was a place that I wanted to work.

2. What's one achievement you've accomplished here that you're particularly proud of?

I'm very proud of working with the organization as we began to shift our work to become not only more student-centered but student-led. 826CHI is a very special place in that it lives out its mission of amplifying student voice every day. In the last few years, staff learned, reflected, and changed the way we worked so that we could integrate students at every step of different processes from program to communications.

3. Can you describe a favorite day you've had on the job?

My favorite days are when students read their writing with pride and confidence in front of other people. Too often young people don't have the opportunity to be creative in their writing, let alone get their work published. Anytime a young person, who has taken on all of the steps in the creative process to complete a piece, reads it in front of others brings me so much joy. I have witnessed firsthand what it means to a young person to be heard and to be seen. 826CHI does this on a daily basis, and so all days students feels uplifted have been my favorites.

4. What is something you're going to miss about 826CHI?

I am going to miss the magic that comes with being a third space/haven for young people. One of the silliest and most magical things that happens at 826CHI is when students walk through the secret door. The audible awe from students as they see the door open is just the beginning of their adventure with 826. The door transports them to a safe, brave, and creative space where they are encouraged to be themselves and tell their story. I can only hope to carry some of that magic with me everywhere I go.

5. Do you have any advice for candidates applying to join the programs team at 826CHI? What disposition and expectations should this person bring to their work?

As always, I have tons of advice! Anyone applying to this position should be ready to learn from everyone—from staff, to educators, to families, but most importantly from students! Know what it means to hold space for young people and for others. Know what partnership and collaboration means to you and to others. Be able to express gratitude and appreciation to everyone you encounter. Be creative, think outside the box, and have fun!

6. What’s next for Maria Villarreal?

I'm excited to return to the classroom and teach young people every day! I'll be teaching 11th grade AP Language/English at Noble College Prep. I'll also be rounding out the year as a Teaching Artist at 826CHI's Teen Writers Studio, so I'll be around!

Want to join our team as the Director of Programs? Find out more about the position & apply here.