My Cause

The Write Life

by Katie Morrell

The Cause: 826 Valencia offers free writing programs to San Francisco’s underserved youth, ages 6 to 18. The organization serves more than 6,000 students a year out of its Mission headquarters (826 Valencia, the charity’s namesake), Tenderloin branch and at writing centers in Mission High School, Buena Vista Horace Mann (K–8) and Everett Middle School. Programs are run by nearly 2,000 volunteers and include field trips for classes, after-school tutoring, workshops and in-school projects. It’s dedicated to publishing dozens of books written by children each year. “We also have our Message in a Bottle podcast,” says Executive Director Bita Nazarian. “It’s part of a field trip and within four hours, students produce a podcast.”

Founders: Dave Eggers and Nínive Calegari

Budget: $3.3 million per year

Key Supporters: Acton Family Giving, Advisors of the Walnut Fund, Marc and Lynne Benioff and Bothin Foundation

Inspiration: In 2002, author Eggers and teacher Calegari decided to create a nonprofit to help kids learn to write. But upon finding the location at 826 Valencia, they realized it was zoned for retail and decided to convert the front of the space into a pirate supply store and offer a writing lab in the back with one-on-one tutoring. Ten years ago, 826 National was formed as a separate group to help other cities establish similar programming, and today there are six chapters across the U.S.

The Impact: “We hear from parents about how much their son or daughter’s confidence has grown,” Nazarian says. “The thing that sets us apart is that there is a spirit of joy and whimsy in everything we do, and the end product is high-level. It is amazing to talk to a 9-year-old who has been published four times already. It validates them in a magical way.”

Get Involved: Volunteers don’t need to be writers. “We are just looking for professional likers of children,” Nazarian notes. Donations are also appreciated: $50 pays for an afternoon of face-to-face tutoring; $250 gives a teacher a session of classroom support; $1,500 pays for a field trip.


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