MAKING A DIFFERENCE: 826LA helps local student writers become published

LOS ANGELES — Not many 6 to 18 year olds can can say they’ve been published.

But there are more than 300 in Los Angeles that can can claim the title of published writer thanks to 826LA.

Since 2005, the nonprofit has supported students throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District and around the country, helping them build confidence as creative and expository writers.

“At the heart of what we do is bring volunteers to work with students one-on-one,” said Marisa Urrutia Gedney, director of in-schools programs and college access. In many under-resourced and overpopulated classrooms, she said, it’s difficult for teachers to give their students personal attention, especially when it comes to their writing.

“Writing is difficult for anyone of any age, and we tell the students that. It takes a certain level of confidence to take what’s in your heart and in your head and write it down,” she said.

Executive Director
Joel Arquillos

The intimate support “really helps students share their ideas so they have more confidence after they finish a writing assignment.”

Through its numerous free programs, more than 9,000 economically disadvantaged students in L.A. are taught how to write everything from poems, chapbooks and short films to stories, magazines and comic books during its weekend workshops.

During the week, students can take advantage of after-school and evening tutoring at two of 826LA’s writing locations in Echo Park and Mar Vista. There, volunteers help students with writing, reading and homework in all subjects.

“Our volunteers also go to schools where they work with teachers directly in the classrooms,” Gedney said. Because it’s not always possible for students to take a field trip to one of 826LA’s sites, volunteers drop into classrooms to support teachers with projects and provide students more one-on-one attention for writing assignments.

As for the many high school students working on their college applications, volunteers offer them help with their personal statements. This college-readiness work, Gedney said, is critical to what the nonprofit does.

“Personal statements help students write about their triumphs and trials,” she said. While students’ college applications show their academic successes, they don’t offer a glimpse into the realities of their lives.

By guiding them through their essays, they’re making “college writing more equitable.”

In 2013, the organization decided to extend this idea of equitability to South L.A., where they opened the Writers Room at Manual Arts High School.

There, students have a creative space where they can explore their writing voices and get college access support. It now serves more than 700 students every year and, as a result of this added support, more seniors are getting accepted into four-year schools.

As the nonprofit steadily grows, so has students’ enthusiasm for writing.

“So many times, once we publish a book of student writing, kids often say they want to be a writer. They say they want to be keep writing and get published,” Gedney said.

Kids frequently carry their published writing in their backpacks all year and show their teachers and classmates the work they’re so proud of, she added.

And this zest for writing that 826LA sees in its students is an energy it hopes to expand to more kids.

“Our hope is to increase capacity and bring in more volunteers into all our programs and centers to support more than 9,000 students a year,” Gedney said.

“We are always excited when people take interest in the work we do because it’s rewarding, exciting and fun.”

INFORMATION BOX

Executive Director: Joel Arquillos

Years in operation: 13

Number of employees: about 24

Annual budget: $1,744,809

Location: 1714 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 90026

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