Youth Literacy Day!

There are few organizations that I like more than 826 National (and all of their regional affiliates, for that matter). The organization combines writing, community and pirates. Few places/people/things/nouns have established such an utterly perfect Venn Diagram.

In honor of National Youth Literacy Day on August 26, 2011, 826 National invites you to try your hand at writing projects like those offered to students at 826 centers nationwide. Founded in 2002 by award-winning author Dave Eggers and educator Ninive Calegari, 826 centers provide under-resourced students, ages 6-18, with opportunities to explore their creativity and improve their writing skills. The organization marks National Youth Literacy Day on August 26 as a way to celebrate the power of reading, writing, and self-expression.

826 National will be publishing entries beginning August 22, 2011 in their online Writing Gallery. Authors of the organization’s favorite entries will receive a gift bag full of 826 National merchandise. Projects include writing a haiku with 8-2-6 syllable lines, a short comprised of 82.6 words, and an 826 character news story.

For more information and to submit your poem or story, please visit

826 National is a nonprofit organization that provides strategic leadership, administration, and other resources to ensure the success of its network of eight writing and tutoring centers whose goal is to assist students ages six to eighteen with their writing skills. Our work is rooted in the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success. Last year, with the help of 5,000 dedicated volunteers, our centers—which are located in Ann Arbor, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.— served 24,000 students.

And if you’re interested in the 826 Vancouver movement please let me know, as powerful people are doing powerful things as you read this. It’s time to get inspired, folks!

826 Vancouver (A Modest Proposal)

Trust me. I’m going somewhere cool with this.

On Monday afternoon I was skimming a newsletter from up-and-coming twitblog, The Tyee. Two stories caught my attention. The first was about a supercool Downtown Eastside writers collective called Thursdays, which just released its fourth chapbook, Storybox. The second was about the BC Library Association’s teen reading club, TeenRC, getting cut by the BC Liberal government (it’ll be gone in September). So that got me thinking of Canada’s literacy rate, which, as it turns out, is tied for 21st in the world – fun fact, Georgia (not the state, the country) is number one, and, well, there is a direct correlation between literacy and propaganda/communism/the-Eastern-Bloc/Tonga. According to a 2008 report by the Canadian Council on Learning, if current trends continue, by 2031 Canada will have disturbingly low literacy rate. Canada is expected to have more than 15 million people aged 16 and over – representing about 46 per cent of the population – with skills below the internationally accepted standard of literacy required to cope in a modern society, the non-profit corporation projected. And, according to a 2011 report by the Recent Findings Institute, Stephen Harper’s government canned the Canadian Council on Learning.

On Tuesday evening my wife and I watched The Princess Bride. Michelle had never seen it, which – clearly - is pretty weird. Anyway, The Princess Bride is a movie about a book.

And, obviously, this got me thinking about Dave Eggers and the 826 National campaign. Because,  with leaders like ours, our communities need to take matters into our own hands.

In a nutshell, here’s what 826 National does:

826 National is a nonprofit tutoring, writing, and publishing organization with locations in eight cities across the country. Our goal is to assist students ages six to eighteen with their writing skills, and to help teachers get their classes excited about writing. Our 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.

It all started with 826 Valencia and the Pirate Supply Store. You can check out the links for information, but there is this beautiful moment in Mr. Eggers’s TED-Talk where he says (and I’m paraphrasing), “…and then something really funny happened; the Pirate Supply Store started to make money!” Of course it did. And, somewhere in France, Johnny Depp gets a royalty check…

In my opinion, we need an 826 chapter here in Vancouver. And here’s a letter to that effect:

Dear Dave Eggers and the 826 Team(s).

Thank you, my friends. The very idea of 826 National makes my heart smile.

I’m a big fan of what you’ve started and an even bigger fan of what your project has become, Dave. And I think that one can make a very strong case for Vancouver being the next location for an 826 chapter. Sure, Vancouver isn’t located in “the United States” and I’m not an “American” but, here’s the thing: Barack Obama isn’t American either. Besides, I’ve read most of your website and I’ve even got a few American friends (plus three that I don’t even like but who would be great at this) who would be happy to help out with the project.

You don’t even need to ask, Dave. I’d be happy to take on the Executive Director role for 826 Vancouver. In fact, I’ve even brainstormed some supercool ideas that totally jive with your innovative storefront business model. Here are the ideas:

  1. The Recent Findings Institute – we specialize in, you know, making stuff up – like facts and findings – and disseminating it so that these “recent findings” are seriously cited by hapless media outlets around the world.
  2. Happy Ninja Yoga Studio – where positive, smiley ninjas – or aspiring ninjas – come to relax and increase strength and flexibility.
  3. Gumboot Greeting Cards – you know how greeting cards kinda sorta suck? Well, these ones don’t – and, hey, our creative clients can totally contribute to the products in our storefront!

I’m also not opposed to a conceptual combination of some or all of the above ideas either. We’ll talk about it. Our team could also specialize in digital storytelling for kids and youth (ie. blogging and social media management) as well as professional storytelling (ie. creatively making boring career topics much, much more exciting). After all, it’s important to combine creative adventures with real-world experience and goals. Right?

In all seriousness, the 826 project is made of the most inspiring stuff. As far as community-building initiatives go, the positive impact your team is making on young people – not to mention unsupplied pirates – is truly invaluable. And such positive, meaningful and literary waves, I truly hope, will continue to be contagious around America and the world (or at least Canada/Vancouver).

Readers, if you’re interested in starting an 826 chapter – or a literarally-focused non-profit like it – and you live in San Francisco (which is where 47.8% of the Daily Gumboot’s readership lives) then check out this upcoming seminar that outlines some strategies for engagement, volunteer recruitment and retention, and an overview of their unique business model.

And if you live in Vancouver and are interested in the 826 concept, well, you know where to find me.

Masthead photo courtesy of Arria Belli