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Education with Imagination: 826LA innovates student services

The Echo Park Time Travel Mart

If you’re a time traveller about to go gallivanting into the medieval times, you should stop by the Echo Park Time Travel Mart to pick up any last-minute chain-link armor or bottled humors.

The playful time travel-themed storefront doubles as the entrance to the main room of 826LA, the Los Angeles branch of the national 826 non-profit organization that provides both on and off-site writing and tutoring support for kids ages 6 to 18.

Each branch has an idiosyncratic storefront, eccentrically themed and stocked. They follow a tradition stemming from the original site’s pirate supply store at 826 Valencia – conceived because the building happened to be licensed to the organization as a business.

The whimsical storefronts attract community members who learn about the 826 upon exploring the interior while sales from specialty items alongside student work help fund the non-profit organization.

Off-site, 826 helps local public school teachers develop or work with existing curriculum to facilitate the student progress.

Former high school teacher Joel Arquillos’ social studies class at the Galileo Academy of Science and Technology in San Francisco was

one of the first that 826 teamed up with to provide in-class support for four years.

Arquillos, a 39-year-old Eagle Rock resident, remembers when his class participated in 826’s Young Authors Book Project in 2005.

Over the course of the school year, students wrote and published a collection of family legends, titled “Home Wasn’t Built in a Day.” Actor and comedian Robin Williams funded the project, wrote the book’s forward, and much to students’ disbelief, attended the kick-off event and final release of the book.

Now the executive director of 826LA, Arquillos said that on top of providing the in-class support, and free community workshops and after-school tutoring services on-site, 826LA hopes to improve outreach to high school students by offering them services tailored to their needs.

One way Arquillos said the organization hopes to do so is through direct communication. Michelle De Leon, a 16-year-old student at Downtown Magnet High School in Los Angeles, serves along with fellow high school teenagers as part of 826’s Youth Advisory Board.

De Leon has experienced first-hand the resources 826LA offers. She and her friends approached the organization with a proposal to publish a fashion magazine.

826LA did not only provide tools to print the magazine, but brought in professional writers and editors to guide them through their first publication, even throwing them a launch party for the magazine’s debut.

826LA’s impressive services consistently go above and beyond. The organization manages to encourage students to develop their creative writing skills with fun, engaging activities, and tangible results. According to Arquillos, in just five years, 826LA has served over 10,000 students.

In an 826LA field trip, classes come out to the writing lab where they’re met by the voice of Mr. Barnacle, a particularly finicky editor – played by an unseen volunteer – who hates clichés and demands original work.

A professional artist illustrates the stories as volunteers type them up. In two hours or less, each student leaves with a bound book as a published author.

Paulina Aguilar, 826LA intern and fourth-year UCLA sociology student, volunteers an average of 15 to 20 hours a week at 826LA East, the organization’s Echo Park location.

Aguilar said she feels lucky to have found a venue that allows her to connect with students and enjoys fostering their creative growth.

“We’re all there to be cheerleaders, encouraging them and complimenting them along the way,” she said.

From her first visit to 826LA in March, she immediately saw how committed the organization is to serving children and knew right away she wanted to be a part of it. Almost half a year later, Aguilar said she still remembers feeling a child-like amazement at the quirky and unique space.

As De Leon put it, “Impossible doesn’t exist here. There’s always room for more.”

Get involved!! Learn more at 826la.org

Education with Imagination: 826LA innovates student services

The Echo Park Time Travel Mart

If you’re a time traveller about to go gallivanting into the medieval times, you should stop by the Echo Park Time Travel Mart to pick up any last-minute chain-link armor or bottled humors.

The playful time travel-themed storefront doubles as the entrance to the main room of 826LA, the Los Angeles branch of the national 826 non-profit organization that provides both on and off-site writing and tutoring support for kids ages 6 to 18.

Each branch has an idiosyncratic storefront, eccentrically themed and stocked. They follow a tradition stemming from the original site’s pirate supply store at 826 Valencia – conceived because the building happened to be licensed to the organization as a business.

The whimsical storefronts attract community members who learn about the 826 upon exploring the interior while sales from specialty items alongside student work help fund the non-profit organization.

Off-site, 826 helps local public school teachers develop or work with existing curriculum to facilitate the student progress.

Former high school teacher Joel Arquillos’ social studies class at the Galileo Academy of Science and Technology in San Francisco was

one of the first that 826 teamed up with to provide in-class support for four years.

Arquillos, a 39-year-old Eagle Rock resident, remembers when his class participated in 826’s Young Authors Book Project in 2005.

Over the course of the school year, students wrote and published a collection of family legends, titled “Home Wasn’t Built in a Day.” Actor and comedian Robin Williams funded the project, wrote the book’s forward, and much to students’ disbelief, attended the kick-off event and final release of the book.

Now the executive director of 826LA, Arquillos said that on top of providing the in-class support, and free community workshops and after-school tutoring services on-site, 826LA hopes to improve outreach to high school students by offering them services tailored to their needs.

One way Arquillos said the organization hopes to do so is through direct communication. Michelle De Leon, a 16-year-old student at Downtown Magnet High School in Los Angeles, serves along with fellow high school teenagers as part of 826’s Youth Advisory Board.

De Leon has experienced first-hand the resources 826LA offers. She and her friends approached the organization with a proposal to publish a fashion magazine.

826LA did not only provide tools to print the magazine, but brought in professional writers and editors to guide them through their first publication, even throwing them a launch party for the magazine’s debut.

826LA’s impressive services consistently go above and beyond. The organization manages to encourage students to develop their creative writing skills with fun, engaging activities, and tangible results. According to Arquillos, in just five years, 826LA has served over 10,000 students.

In an 826LA field trip, classes come out to the writing lab where they’re met by the voice of Mr. Barnacle, a particularly finicky editor – played by an unseen volunteer – who hates clichés and demands original work.

A professional artist illustrates the stories as volunteers type them up. In two hours or less, each student leaves with a bound book as a published author.

Paulina Aguilar, 826LA intern and fourth-year UCLA sociology student, volunteers an average of 15 to 20 hours a week at 826LA East, the organization’s Echo Park location.

Aguilar said she feels lucky to have found a venue that allows her to connect with students and enjoys fostering their creative growth.

“We’re all there to be cheerleaders, encouraging them and complimenting them along the way,” she said.

From her first visit to 826LA in March, she immediately saw how committed the organization is to serving children and knew right away she wanted to be a part of it. Almost half a year later, Aguilar said she still remembers feeling a child-like amazement at the quirky and unique space.

As De Leon put it, “Impossible doesn’t exist here. There’s always room for more.”

Get involved!! Learn more at 826la.org

Mixed Review for L.A. Gang Tours

Mixed Review for L.A. Gang Tours

Final Call, News Report, Charlene Muhammad, Posted: Feb 01, 2010

LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) – Former gang-members have teamed up with a non-profit outreach organization to offer a look at the inner city by conducting gang tours in South Central Los Angeles.

L.A. Gang Tours are designed to raise awareness about the lifestyle of inner city gangs and address the urgent public safety issue presented by gang violence, according to creator Alfred Lomas. The tour costs $65 (down from $100) per adult to get on the bus. Creators of the tours say they want to use the money to create jobs and investment opportunities for micro-lending in some neighborhoods.

The tour has already created 10 jobs and organizers say their immediate strategy is to hire youth from four gangs participating in a cease fire that allows the tours. The groups agreed to no shootings or retaliation shootings between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. when the busses pass through, said tour organizers.

“Public safety is paramount because without freedom from violence, no other freedoms can exist. … We’ve taken rival kids that would never have an opportunity to see each other outside of probably jail or a gang shooting and this is balanced out with two Hispanics, two Blacks and so on, and so forth,” project coordinator Lomas told The Final Call.

Tour guides Lomas and Fred “Scorpio” Smith gave a brief history of the origination of some of L.A.’s gangs, including the Crips, Bloods and Florencia 13, during a recent tour for reporters. They also highlighted their personal experiences with gangs, and how they entered into intervention and prevention.

Mr. Lomas pointed out historical sites in Los Angeles, as well as notable government facilities. The bus cruised the outskirts of the L.A. River Bed, which was heavily graffiti-tagged, the L.A. County Jail, Olvera Street (considered the birthplace of Los Angeles, Chinatown, Skid Row (which has the largest concentration of homeless population in the U.S.), the Metropolitan Detention Center, several housing projects, and Florence & Normandie, the flash-point intersection of the 1992 rebellion after the acquittal of officers involved in beating motorist Rodney King.

Before stops at the New Life Church of God in Christ and the Pico Union Graffiti Lab, Mr. Lomas explained the different types of graffiti tags and offered a partial viewing of the documentary “Crips and Bloods: Made in America.”

The media route was mostly industrial explained Mr. Lomas, saying tour organizers wanted to maintain the dignity of the residents. The tour has been criticized by those who feel it will negatively display Black and Brown youth and their communities like animals in a zoo.

“It’s going to be nothing like that,” said Mr. Smith, a gang intervention worker in the Jordan Downs Housing area in Watts. “A lot of people have a different view about Watts, South Central, Echo Park, that if you go over there, they are just animals, but we will show it’s nothing like that.”

Rather, he said, tour guides will show the Watts Towers, where the Black Panther Party started, and where the Crips and Bloods street gangs started. During tours people will not be allowed to exit busses at all and no cameras or video/audio recorders will be allowed, according to Mr. Lomas.

According to Kim McGill, an organizer with the Youth Justice Coalition, an advocacy group for incarcerated youth and their families, some youth expressed concerns that these poor communities will serve as field trips for researchers, suburbanites, and Whites. They argue the tours should provide an understanding of urban complexities and a critical analysis of racism.

“Also, it leads to a lot of exaggerations of communities so that you kind of glorify or beef up people’s already preconceived notions about how violent communities are and how everyone’s kind of gangster. As opposed to a situation where you’re really holding wealthier communities accountable for the fact that conditions exist because wealth is not shared, because resources are not equal, because there’s racism in the system, etc.,” Ms. McGill told The Final Call.

Vicky Lindsey, founder of Project Cry No More, a support group for mothers and families who have lost loved ones to gang violence, believes the project is an opportunity for employment and exploitation. Such tours should bring youth contemplating joining gangs up close and personal with the pain involved in the activity, like crying mothers and rehabilitation centers for gunshot victims, said Ms. Lindsay.

“Are they going to go into actual war zones … or gang funerals where family members and people are hurting? In which way is this tour going to impact a youth to say, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to follow gang violence?’” she asked.

“Anything that will help our young people get out of a negative situation is always good, however, on the streets of L.A., you must have a license to operate (LTO) …without the LTO it will be hard to have a successful gang tour. But if the tour creates some form of economics for the hoods that the tour will impact, this is a good thing,” said Ansar Stan Muhammad, co-founder of the gang intervention and prevention Venice 2000/H.E.L.P.E.R. Foundation.