Written by Hanna Lee

Gerald Richards is the CEO of 826 National, a nonprofit organization that provides inventive programs for under-resourced students throughout a network of eight writing and tutoring centers. Having worked with another San Francisco area nonprofit, Richards joined the 826 National staff a year and a half ago because he felt his background and MFA in creative writing were a perfect fit for the organization. “I was so excited by the atmosphere and energy at 826 National,” Richards recalls. “The position brings together all of the different facets of my life, skills and interests and wraps it up in a bow.”

826 National’s writing and tutoring centers offer students between the ages of 6-18 years old with opportunities to explore their creativity and improve their writing skills. The nonprofit primarily works in areas where at least 50% of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. All of the offices are in walking distance to public transportation, providing easy accessibility for students. Participants in 826 National’s writing programs typically discover the nonprofit through the occasional community outreach flier or general word of mouth. “A lot of parents will find out about the free tutoring and writing programs and will strongly encourage their children to become involved,” Richards explains. “Sometimes we’ll work with teachers directly or they’ll come to us with a particular student who could use the extra help.”

Volunteer tutors at all eight of the centers range from college students, graduate students, retired teachers and retired business executives. 826 National never organizes volunteer recruitment events and prides itself on being a grassroots nonprofit with over 7,000 volunteers nationwide. Volunteers provide everything from afterschool one-on-one tutoring to classroom assistance and lowering the student/teacher ratio.

The organization’s programs in the classroom offers the type of personalized one-on-one attention that teachers in under resourced schools might not always be able to give. The payoff from volunteer afterschool tutoring for students is extremely effective and evident.  Approximately 95% of students in after-school tutoring for a year report they felt confident in their ability to complete all of their homework. Additionally, 51% of students improved their scores on The Test of Written Language (TOWL) writing assessment after doses of 826 programming.

826 National’s creative writing program is the backbone of the organization. Studies show that creative writing helps build self-esteem.  “Students build confidence to tell their stories and hone their skills as writers through creative writing projects,” Richards says. “You will need writing for every job you will ever have. Writing really is at the beginning and the core of everything.”

The nonprofit publishes all of their students’ work produced in their writing workshops so they can take them home. Their ability to create fiction is a constant inspiration for Richards. “It’s amazing to me how true and faithful children are to their imaginations. For example, there is a 7th grade boy in San Francisco, Santiago, who has been writing fiction about a giant Octoupus since he started with us in 5th grade,” recalls Richards. “It’s amazing to hear the way he talks about his stories and to see the great love and care he puts into them.”

Classes of students can take a field trip to an 826 National office and spend the day creating their own books. Tutors initiate a character plot line and students in the class each finish the story.  The nonprofit binds the individual books and even includes an author’s photo for each child to take home. “Creativity is undeniably connected to so many aspects of innovation in technology, science and math,” Richards says. “We’re building a platform so students can understand the connection between writing and the million other disciplines and possibilities out there for them.”



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