This past year, eight 826 staff members traveled across the country to visit and learn from 826 chapters in the 826 Chapter Exchange Program. Started in 2019, the 826 Chapter Exchange Program was created by 826 National to provide an opportunity for 826 staff members to create meaningful relationships, foster Network unity, and promote shared learnings in order to better serve our students. 

“One of my memorable moments was was meeting Elis in the Boston Teacher’s Union Writers’ Room, and the revelation of how Elis welcomes students to the space with a heartfelt, caring feelings check and time for all the students to be heard,” shared Cristeta Boarini, 826 MSP’s Education Director. “It was a good reminder of how and why we’re in this work.”

Below meet Denise Ervin (Program Manager, 826 michigan), Michelle Espinoza (Program Coordinator, 826 Valencia), Cristeta Boarini (Program Director, 826 MSP), Monique Lomax (Director of Human Resources and Operations, 826 Boston), Asiyah Herrara (Teaching Artist, 826 Boston), and Celia Wickham (Director of Development and Communications, 826CHI) to learn more about their experience below!

Program Manager, 826 michigan

What did you hope to learn during your visit, and what did you end up learning?

I wanted to observe and participate in programming with older students at 826 MSP to better prepare and expand on future programming at 826michigan.  In particular, I wanted to see 826 MSP’s Writer’s Room (housed in South High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota), the YABP (Young Author Book Program) session, and Young Authors’ Council (composed of 7-12 grade students).  

Smiling Black woman in glasses holding up an "826 MSP" postcard in front of a framed illustration

I participated in each of these spaces and provided support during a 2nd-grade field trip centered on poetry, which is one of the great loves of my life.  In short, I hoped to learn about how these spaces were built and function day-to-day, but I actually found much more! [clearfix]

What were you surprised to learn or find out about on your visit?

My biggest surprise was the demographic makeup of the population served by 826 MSP, which included a large East African and Indigenous population.  Interacting with these students were my most memorable moments and gave me a new idea of what it means to meet students where they are.  

Two female students in front of a white board with one arm raised

Most memorable moment(s) on your trip?

On my first day, I had the opportunity to talk to Khayaal, a student who has served on the Writers’ Room Advisory Council throughout their entire high school career. I gained insight into the way the room serves students and how events are planned to maintain and increase engagement throughout the year.  

During one of the YABP sessions, I supported 826 MSP’s Program Director, Cristeta Boarini, and Ms. Shelby with “Revision Bingo” and had the opportunity to proofread a student story by Chlo, where she used a dream sequence to build suspense for her characters.  I shared space with the Young Authors’ Council, where a group of gifted young writers openly shared losses and triumphs from their life maps.

In each scenario, I was taught the power of a safe space to nurture vulnerability and creativity. [clearfix]

How will this visit impact your work at your home chapter? What learnings will you share with your team and integrate into your work?

As I return to my work, I look forward to sharing the artifacts I collected (such as the poetry worksheets and tutoring prompts) along with the wisdom gleaned from those who have traveled the road I am just beginning to walk.  I come back with ideas for integrating youth autonomy and decision-making, renewed passion for completing the YABP, and an increased desire to impact the lives of all the young people 826michigan affords me the opportunity to teach.  

Program Coordinator, 826 Valencia – Mission Bay location

What did you hope to learn during your visit, and what did you end up learning?
I chose to visit 826 New Orleans because their after-school program supports students who are in a similar grade level as ours. As the new lead of the after school program at Mission Bay, I wanted to learn more about programs, outside of the Valencia chapter, and how they’re supporting students in their learning, share program resources, and find ways to implement them into next school year’s programs. [clearfix]

Two women - one White and one Black - smiling in front of student artwork and a sign that says "826"

What were you surprised to learn or find out about on your visit?
Coming from a big chapter with a lot of staff, it was surprising to see the size of the New Orleans team compared to ours. I loved seeing how involved their volunteers are in the program and stepping up during the session while the program manager was checking in with another student.

Most memorable moment(s) on your trip?
I really appreciated having had this opportunity to be able to see the impact the New Orleans team has had working with their students and the wonderful relationships they’ve created with their students, families, and partners in the community. We don’t always get the opportunity to collaborate across other chapters, let alone in person, so I would encourage others to go out and explore/learn about how other 826 chapters are supporting their students. [clearfix]

Smiling woman at a table with four young female students.

Program Director, 826 MSP

What did you hope to learn during your visit, and what did you end up learning?

A diverse group of four people in front of an 826 Boston sign - one man (masked) and three women (two masked)

826 MSP is at an exciting time with our growth, and with that in mind, I knew I wanted to visit 826 Boston, whose Writers’ Rooms model could offer us a roadmap for sustainable, community-centered growth.

I specifically wanted to learn how Boston starts up a Writers’ Room, especially long before the ribbon-cutting at a new school. For example: how strategic relationships start, what non-negotiables must be in place, what fundraising schemes have worked, etc. I definitely got all that great knowledge, but also got to see a more holistic picture of how certain programming (like field trips and YABPs) can help fuel long-term relationships that make for strong Writers’ Rooms. [clearfix]

Most memorable moment(s) on your trip?

Photo of student writing

I had two amazing memorable moments. 

The first was meeting Elis in the BTU Writers’ Room, and the revelation of how Elis welcomes students to the space with a heartfelt, caring feelings check and time for all the students to be heard. It was a good reminder of how and why we’re in this work. 

Second, I had a blast talking with Americorps member Lewis at the Burke Writers’ Room. Lewis was in the process of starting up a WWE bout/script-writing club. He was super knowledgeable about the content, had come up with clever lesson plans and had lots of cool, alternative ways to publish/broadcast the students’ work. I wouldn’t necessarily use the curriculum, but what impressed me was that Lewis had tapped into something that Writers’ Room students clearly loved and found a clever, engaging way to tie that love to writing. [clearfix]

Director of Human Resources and Operations, 826 Boston

What did you hope to learn during your visit, and what did you end up learning?

Monique Lomax - Director of Human Resources and Operations at 826 Boston | The Org

I wanted to visit 826 Valencia due to some similarities within our AmeriCorps program as well as meet with their program managers and my fellow counterpart, Benita, their HR manager. I wanted to learn more about how a chapter their size builds and sustains their programs and people as well as talk to those on the admin team who create the policies that shape the 826 Valencia community. [clearfix]

Students in blue uniforms facing a wall of small fairy doors

Most memorable moment(s) on your trip?

Some of the most memorable moments were definitely experiencing the kid magic by participating in field trips and after school tutoring. It was great to see the mission of 826 fulfilled from coast to coast–literally![clearfix]

Teaching Artist, 826 Boston

What did you hope to learn during your visit, and what did you end up learning?

Woman in hijab standing in front of an eclectic storefront (826 Valencia, Mission Bay)

I wanted to visit 826 Valencia to learn more about their YLAB (Youth Literary Advisory Board) Program and how it was structured compared to ours at 826 Boston. Their program focused on empowering students to take on leadership roles within the organization and their community. It was fascinating to see the different approaches each chapter takes in order to serve their communities. One major takeaway from my visit that I hope to integrate into my work at 826 Boston is the importance of mentorship in programming.

At 826 Valencia, mentorship took many forms and was evident in almost every program I observed, from “reading buddies” to tutoring requirements for YLAB members. It was inspiring to see how this emphasis on mentorship has allowed students give back to their community. and form lasting bonds with younger peers. [clearfix]

Students working at a desk

Most memorable moment(s) on your trip?
One of my most memorable moments was meeting students in the writers room who eagerly made me a page-long list of must-visit restaurants in San Francisco. My visit to 826 Valencia was an enriching experience that broadened my understanding of the different approaches and programs offered by 826 chapters.[clearfix]

Director of Development & Communications, 826CHI

What did you hope to learn during your visit, and what did you end up learning?

Smiling woman in glasses standing in front of eclectic room (826LA)

It was also incredibly invaluable to develop new collaborative working relationships with the staff at 826LA, who I will continue to be in contact with as our Development and Communications team continues to develop its processes and strategies. It was wonderful to be able to exchange our ideas and share knowledge with each other, from HTML for Classy campaign pages, to Salesforce reports for donor tracking.

I was also able to develop working relationships that would be of benefit to the rest of my team in Chicago. For example, in speaking with the Store Manager at 826LA about their artist-in-residence program, where local artists create installations in the storefront at the Echo Park location, I will be able to continue this dialogue with our own Store Coordinator and connect the two of them around this exciting idea, as we continue to revitalize our storefront. [clearfix]

Most memorable moment(s) on your trip?

As a Development and Communications staff person, it felt really rewarding to work more directly with the programming side of things and engage with the students and volunteers. It felt very heartwarming to see the similarities between the students at 826CHI and 826LA, full of excitement and enthusiasm for 826’s programs.

Get monthly student writing, teaching resources, and 826 news.