During the past few weeks, I’ve gotten to know a lot about the great organizations based in the Mission. One of the most impressive organizations is 826 Valencia, a nonprofit that works in aiding local kids ages 6 to 18 with literacy and writing.
To start off, 826 Valencia was co-founded by Dave Eggers in 2002. Eggers is a well-known novelist who wrote A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, for which Eggers was a nominated finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Eggers is also the founder of McSweeney’s Publishing which is located in San Francisco. In 2002, he opened up 826 Valencia after realizing that students don’t get enough one-on-one attention at school, that teachers are greatly outnumbered in classrooms and that he knew a lot of writers, journalists and editors that had free time to give back to the community. He decided to use 826 Valencia as a way to connect these writers and editors with students that need help in school.
After choosing the location and starting to get the project underway, it was pointed out that the area was zoned for retail. This meant that Eggers had to sell something to be able to occupy the space. In his TED Talks video, Eggers said that while he was reconstructing the space, someone said that the space reminded them of the haul of a ship. Then someone suggested to sell supplies to the working buccaneer, or pirate. And thus, the Pirate Supply Store was born at 826 Valencia.
The store is filled with fun knick-knacks like eye patches, pirate flags and treasure chests of different sizes. You can even buy a wooden leg for $75. The space invites interactivity and play with a fish theater that consists of three chairs and a fish tank, a tub of lard, dozens of cabinets that hide fun surprises like a wooden crocodile and a huge metal vat where kids can search for treasure like gold coins. What started off as a joke became an actual source of income for the nonprofit. According to the store manager, Caroline Kangas, the Pirate Supply Store also became a way to build connections between people in the community and the organization.
A huge pirate flag divides the Pirate Supply Store from the tutoring area at 826 Valencia. Here students can get help with any homework after school. 826 Valencia also has schools come on field trips where kids can have fun creating stories that are professionally illustrated and then bound.
In the TED Talks video, Eggers said that the organization has over 1,400 volunteer tutors on their roster. One volunteer, David Brownell, has been volunteering with the nonprofit for 9 years. Brownell told me that he once tutored a second grader who had to learn a list of vocabulary words for class. The student didn’t know any of the words because English wasn’t their first language. He remembers having to think of different ways to explain what the word ‘swan’ meant.
“My mother once told me the best way to get a kid to read was to give them a flashlight and tell them they couldn’t stay up all night reading.” – David Brownell (volunteer)
“Beyond all that, it’s all going to a good place. It’s not just money for money’s sake.” -Caroline Kangas (store manager)