So I’ve been thinking about more ways to be involved in my community and literacy has always been the thing I’m most passionate about. For the last couple of years I’ve walked past this place in my community called the Time Travel Mart that has an additional sign that says 826LA and something about a tutoring center. Well, I liked the tutoring thing but what does that have to do with time travel? Bewildered, I walked past several dozen times. Literally. I just didn’t get it.
A few weeks ago, walking home from our local Farmer’s Market and pushing my youngest in a stroller, I finally popped my head in. There’s a strange looking tin-man-like robot in one window, dinosaur eggs in an incubator, novelty items from the past like Silly Putty and the game Simon, t-shirts, posters. Some really cool, nostalgic stuff. But I was still confused.
I walked around and could hear kids in the back. There’s a little curtain but I peeked in and saw a couple dozen kids, reading, writing and working on projects. The tutoring center! Now, being a former teacher, I had this reaction inside my brain and my excited and erratic thoughts resembled something like this: I want to help! I used be a tutor in college! I even had business cards! I used to be a teacher! I can do this! Where do I sign up?
Whooooa, Amanda. Slow down. You have two kids, one who’s a very active toddler, your only babysitter just had her own baby a week ago and your husband works a lot. Do you have time for this? Can you really commit to this?
I came home and did some research. I was surprised to learn that the children’s book author Mac Barnett was involved in opening the first 826LA, a nonprofit, that opened in Echo Park. My kids and I love Mac Barnett’s books! He wrote Extra Yarn! And Leo A Ghost Story! (Mac- if you’re reading this- why are there burglars in both of those books?) Anyway, I clicked around and was led to a TED Talk with Barnett called “Why a good book is a secret door.” His genius shows early on as he tells a story about his summer as a camp counselor. He also speaks about his involvement 826LA and delves further into the backstory. The organization really began in San Francisco with Dave Eggers and the storefront there was a pirate shop that sold pastel eye patches and citrus so that one doesn’t get scurvy. It’s hilarious. No really, it’s worth a listen.
I continued on my quest for knowledge and also listened to the TED Talk with Dave Eggers. Talk about passion. This guy had a vision to help kids in his neighborhood. Knowing the struggles that many of these kids face, he wanted to be a champion for literacy in his community. And 826 Valencia was born. Today there are several 826 chapters across the country in cities like New York, Boston and Washington DC. Dave Eggers- you did it! It’s inspiring.
The truth is, I’m not sure this is the season in my life where I can devote much time to a place like 826LA. I do know that I really want to and when my kids are just a few years older, I can make a bigger commitment. In the meantime, I can keep encouraging my own kids to read and be a champion of literacy for them. I can continue to take them to the local library and let them choose books that they find interesting. I can take my littlest one to various story times offered throughout this fine city. I can read to my boys every day. Every day.
And I think I’ll pop in 826LA again soon and ask some questions. Perhaps I can commit to going every other week for a couple hours. I can start small for now. Every little bit helps. Are you local? I implore you to do the same.