Wednesday, March 25, 2009

826 CHI

In my quest to visit all of the tutoring and mentoring programs in the Tutor/Mentor Connection Program Locator, it's always nice to see what other programs there are in the neighborhood. This week, I'm exclusively visiting programs in our zip code (now 60642, formally 60622). Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of visiting 826 CHI, a truly unique and wonderful tutoring program with a focus on writing.

826Chi is one of six sites throughout the country where students learn about the joys of writing, along with getting homework help. The original site was in San Francisco/Valencia, California, and was founded by Dave Eggers, the renowned author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and What is the What. At the original site, the zoning required there be a store and Mr. Eggers started a pirate store as a joke. Quickly, he realized that the store was a wonderful reason for people to come in and find out more about the tutoring program at the site. It also removed the stigma that some students have about going to a tutoring program. After 826 Valencia expanded to New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Chicago, the idea of the store was repeated. If you're walking down Milwaukee Avenue in the Wicker Park/Ukrainian Village Neighborhood in Chicago Chicago, be sure to head into the Boring Store, and you will not only be able to buy supplies to become a secret agent, but also books published by 826 CHI, with writings by the students they work with.

826 CHI has several different components to their curriculum. The tutoring component happens Monday through Thursday evenings from 3:00pm to 5:30pm, where students come in to get help with thei homework. Many students come all four evenings, but most tutors only come one day a week. Many of the tutors are writers themselves and usually have more flexible hours, allowing them to come in during the afterschool hours. The one stipulation is that before they start on their homework, they have to do 10-15 minutes of writing about anything they want. This helps them focus on their homework and helps them develop their writing skills.

After 5:30, there are writing workshops that the students can sign up for. The workshops can be about anything that can relate to writing. Usually the topics are ideas of the tutors. So for example, last night a group of students went to an art gallery and wrote about the artwork that they saw. Other workshops have included writing about knitting, writing about a certain type of music, and much more.

826 CHI also teams up with schools around the city and has them come to the center to learn about creative writing. Volunteers come to help host the students and students will complete a book written by them at the end. 826 CHI also has had a partnership with Schiller School, in the Cabrini-Green neighborhood, where they come in every week and do a writing workshop there.

I'm always more than happy promote upcoming fundraisers that programs are hosting. 826 CHI is hosting a "prom" with the theme "Robot Armageddon." The attire will be thrift-store (think 80's prom dresses and tuxes) or robot. It's going to be Saturday April 25th at 8pm at the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse. Tickets are $30 for admission, food, and beverages. To find out more visit the 826 CHI website.

Also, special thanks to Mara O'Brien for explaining to me the ins and outs of the program, and Patrick Shaffner for telling me more about the Boring Store and Robot Armageddon prom!

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