826michigan is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping school-aged students develop their creative and expository writing skills, and is part of the 826 National network of writing centers founded by writer Dave Eggers. Each year, 826michigan serves over 3,000 students in Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, and Detroit, hosting after-school tutoring in all subjects and teaching creative writing classes in their writing labs, community centers, libraries, and schools. 826michigan celebrates student writing in professional publications throughout the year and hosts writing-focused field trips from public school classes multiple days a week. All of this is made possible by the dedication of volunteers and interns who run these programs and work directly with students, providing essential one-on-one support.
Volunteering at 826
Volunteering with 826michigan connects invested adults who care deeply about education and writing to others in their communities. Volunteers work directly with students or behind the scenes; they lead or help as support staff in creative writing workshops and field trips, tutor students weekly in all subjects, support teachers in classrooms, copy-edit our publications, staff our robot storefront, and design chapbooks. Some programs have flexible sign-ups, while others, like tutoring, ask volunteers to make a weekly commitment of two hours to working with our students.
MFA faculty, fellows, alumni, and students in the Helen Zell Writers’ Program have long supported the work of 826michigan as volunteers and writers. MFA students and fellows have volunteered their time and skills to design and teach some of our most innovative writing workshops for young people in the community. Some of the lesson plans have received national recognition through publication in our lesson plan anthologies and partnerships with other writerly organizations. Faculty members have volunteered to lead and design sessions of our “How to Write Like I Do” writing workshop series for adults, an opportunity for community members who care about writing to connect, share ideas about craft, and raise funds and awareness for our work.
As a volunteer at 826michigan I led creative writing workshops for elementary-school writers. I planned my lessons around different kinds of inspiration: a smell, a secret, a surprise. Sometimes it was hard for me to come up with a new way in — I worried my lesson (with its associated inspiration) was too hard, too easy, too trite. But the young writers were unafraid. Everything was fresh. They didn't even think in terms of inspiration. For them, the point was making something they liked. The point was joy.
—Mindy Misener MFA '14
826michigan is always looking for help with all aspects of programming and there are frequent volunteer orientations held in Ann Arbor and Detroit. All that is required to get started is a volunteer application, a 1.5 hour information session and a 1.5 hour training session.
Interning at 826
Interns are volunteers with a heightened level of responsibility who oversee the day-to-day operations of 826michigan programs (typically 10-15 hours of help a week for a semester or an academic year) with staff support. 826 interns help with all aspects of nonprofit management including developing and leading lesson plans, coordinating volunteers, creating social media content, and grant writing. A full list of internships is available online, but 826 can also work directly with interns to develop a hybrid project that matches their skill sets and helps them to develop new strengths.
Best American Non-Required Reading Series (BANR)
The Best American Nonrequired Reading series is a yearly anthology of fiction and nonfiction selected annually by high school students between the ages of 14 and 18 in California and Michigan through 826 Valencia and 826michigan. These volumes are part of The Best American Series. For many years, Helen Zell Writers' Program MFA interns have led 826michigan's Best American Non-Required Reading Editorial Board, nominating pieces of writing for the board (made of teen students from local schools) to review and facilitating weekly lively discussion on what it truly means for a piece of writing ot be non-required.*
Interning for the BANR series at 826michigan was a broadening and relatively stress-free experience. Basically every week you get to discuss your favorite new short stories with a group of the most brilliant teenagers you’ll ever meet. It’s fun and it’s rewarding and there’s pizza.
— Matt Ray Robison MFA '14
MFA faculty, staff, and students have also formed teams for quirky 826michigan fundraising events like the Spelling Bee for Cheaters, wherein participants raise money to “buy” cheats during a hilarious and rather difficult adult spelling bee. MFA students and alums designed, led, and emceed one of 826michigan's most beloved theatrical events, Five Bowls of Oatmeal, in which elementary, middle, and high school students drafted and revised one-act plays which were performed by professional actors to a wide audience on U of M’s campus which included the students and their families. In addition to this programmatic support, the Helen Zell Writers' Program generously sponsored this playwrighting several years in a row. MFA students and fellows have also led in-school programs and drop-in writing in each of the three cities served by 826michigan, using their talents and love of writing to create a thrilling space for students to take risks, learn, and grow as writers.
*826michigan's BANR program is currently on hiatus, but actively seeking support in order to start up again!