What do you get when you combine writing and robots?
- A perfect day
- My dream job
- Excited students
- All of the above
You don’t have to be an ace at multiple choice to guess 4).
826 National is a nonprofit organization that offers writing classes, tutoring, and other innovative programs to engage students and improve their writing skills. Founded in 2002 by writer Dave Eggers, the flagship San Francisco store (which boasts a pirate storefront) has expanded to New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Washington DC, Seattle, and Ann Arbor. Focusing on “under-resourced” youth, 826 National provides one-on-one attention to students ages 6-18. (Seems like a lot’s been happening in Ann Arbor these days!)
So what’s so special about 826 Michigan? It’s located in the Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair store, behind a red curtain. I haven’t even been there, and I can say that it’s already sounding like the most inspiring writing environment I can imagine. Note to self: fill writing desk with robots!
The folks at 826 Michigan are pretty darn smart. They know that if they advertised the writing by itself, they wouldn’t get quite the same response as their current storefront, which advertises a full range of robot construction supplies, including a build center. “A lot of what we do is try in many ways to really takeaway the stigma of trying to get help,” says Amanda Uhle, executive director of 826 Michigan.
The plan has worked. Since 2006, the 826 Michigan’s budget has increased from $160,000 to $350,000, largely because of the robot store, which contributes about $75,000 a year to the organization. 826 Michigan has served at least 2,500 students since its inception.
Some of the writing projects incorporate sci-fi and robots. The video below shows a “Michigan Science Theater 826 Workshop Production” in which 826 Michigan students developed dialogue and sound effects for a video clip. “Robot is Tobor spelled backwards!” I’m loving what kids are working on these days.
826 Michigan will bring its free classes and programs to Detroit public schools, leveraging the Detroit Metro community for volunteers. Eventually, they hope to open a center in Detroit and to work with local universities.
Seems to me that a place where kids come for the robots but stay for the writing might just be raising the next crop of GFR writers. Just so long as they’re not too good…