The organization has already started writing programs with a book of personal essays.
Wynterlyn Smith (left) works with student Isabel Jaramillo to express herself through writing. As students are tutored in the art of writing, the organizers of 826 hope they find a voice for themselves.(UNT Dallas)
When author Dave Eggers leased a space in 2002 to found the first 826 writing center in San Francisco, the permit required him to sell something. Rather than move buildings, Eggers took a creative approach and turned the center into a “pirate supply store” selling writing tools and trinkets with a nautical theme.
Now 826 writing centers across the country each have their own theme. But tucked behind the whimsical storefronts lies the infrastructure to increase literacy and tell the stories of cities like Dallas, said Doug Keller, 826 National’s network growth director.
The University of North Texas at Dallas, with the help of other Dallas organizations focused on education, is working to bring an 826 writing center to the city. It would be Texas’ first of the nationwide community centers that tutor students in writing and publish their work.
Cynthia Perez, assistant director of external relations and development for UNT Dallas, is leading efforts to bring 826 to the city. She said the writing center will be a pivotal after-school resource that underserved kids need, but traditionally haven’t been able to access.
“Whether it’s for after-school programming, academically, socially, emotionally, it’ll be transformational for students,” said Perez, who formerly ran the Hispanic Families Network, a grant-funded community program organized by The Dallas Morning News and Al Día. “It’s not just tutoring kids and helping them with the writing, it’s getting them to express themselves, to share their stories, to amplify their voices — to empower them.”
Students have very few places to express their views on society, Keller said. Without that space, he said, a vital perspective is missing.
“Youth voices [are] critical to a healthy civic dialogue specifically within education and all the areas where youth are impacted,” Keller said. “We hear from the people who are most deeply impacted by the decisions we’re making and young people should be a part of that decision.”
Hearing from students consistently allows educators and government officials to better understand what students’ needs and how to meet them, Keller said.
“What I see is a shift not just for students and their own confidence but the way adults understand the youth in their community,” Keller said. “Rather than that stranger-kid-who’s-up-to-no-good stereotype, instead it’s an understanding of the issues that matter to students.”
Perez said there’s an extensive process that comes before establishing the writing center. 826 Dallas must be an independent nonprofit with successful events and programming before it can become an official 826 chapter. In two years she hopes 826 Dallas will be a fully recognized chapter, and the writing center will be built and operational.
6:00 PM on Aug 12, 2020