About Us


Talented, hard-working, dedicated, caring — these are just a few of the rock-solid qualities the people of 826 possess.


Jessica Partch BlairDevelopment Director, began swabbing the decks as a volunteer at 826 Valencia in 2002 when fish were considered royalty (long live Karl!) and Mr. Blue was still finding his voice. Over the years, she led After-School Tutoring, wrote grants, and planned events, all while working full time as a fundraiser for WestEd, The Trust for Public Land, and Foundation for Youth Investment. As a philanthropic matchmaker, err…Development Director, Jessica brings together organizations that are changing the world and people with resources who want to join in the fun. She has seen 826 Valencia change the lives it touches firsthand, and she is proud to be part of the team.

Marcus Farage, Programs Associate, is a true-blue believer in the lasting power of ink, graphite, crayon, and finger paint! Whether he’s typewriting or cave-painting, he cherishes a tangible and transformative storytelling process that feels most vivid with the absence of a delete key. Before coming on at 826, Marcus completed an MFA in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University and has worked for several other fantastic local organizations including the San Francisco Bike Coalition and KQED Public Radio. This year, you’ll find him working with 826′s wonderful Workshops and In-school programs, eyes ever-peeled for new caves to decorate.

Jorge Eduardo Garcia, Programs Director, commutes from Oakland by swimming the cold waters of the bay with a swimmer’s satchel full of oranges. Besides addressing scurvy in the pirate community of the Oakland/San Francisco maritime channel, he has spent fourteen years working as an organizer, educator, teacher, case manager, advocate and mentor to Oakland youth of all ages. His BA in Sociology was earned at Claremont McKenna College, and his DJ title in backyards, ballrooms, and cafes from LA to the Bay. He tinkers, laughs, and volunteers at the EastSide Arts Alliance, an Oakland cultural arts center and performance space of which he is a founding member.

Lauren Hall, Grants Director, was raised in the south and studied Social Justice and American Studies at Hendrix College in Arkansas. Before moving to the Bay Area, she worked with a  nonprofit in Arkansas called The Women’s Project where she coordinated a summer program for young women focusing on self-sufficiency and creative expression and learned the art of grant writing. Her writing about community organizing was published in the Journal of Social Policy and Lessons from the Field: Organizing in Rural Communities. She’s worked with 826 off and on since 2005, serving first as an intern, later as Development Director, then as Programs Director. Lauren is the editor of 826′s I Live Real Close to Where You Used to Live, and is a board member for the Bay Area Girls Rock Camp. She is an avid San Francisco Bay sailor.

Caroline Kangas, Pirate Store Manager, was drawn to 826 Valencia and San Francisco from a different kind of gray in her hometown of Seattle. Here she still spends a lot of time in coffee shops, wears a lot of layers, and talks about the weather more than is really necessary. The University of San Francisco built upon her foundation of life experiences to create a well-educated person who loves to chat about community gardens, Borges, summer camp, thrifting for the color pink, travel, french bulldogs, Sarah Ruhl, leftovers, and fierce lady pirates. Or anything, really.

Olivia White Lopez, Volunteer and Intern Coordinator, hails from central Florida, a land of oppressive heat, mangrove trees, and manatees. Following an illustrious career as the sometimes-anchorwoman, sometimes-weatherwoman and sometimes-camerawoman for her elementary school’s morning show, WHAM! (What’s Happening at Miles), Olivia pursued the all-at-onceness of her multiple identities as an undergraduate student of Studio Art and Anthropology/Sociology at Agnes Scott College. Prior to her current role, she managed the sales of wholesome pirate wares at our very own Pirate Supply Store, and volunteered and interned with 826. She has also previously served as a Dalton Gallery Fellow and the student chair of the metro-Atlanta undergraduate arts symposium, Collage. Also (this one time) she lived in a nunnery.

María Inés MontesDesign Director, has a BFA in graphic design from California College of the Arts and nearly ten years of experience working for various advertising and design firms. Before coming to 826, she was the Art Director at Carol H. Williams Advertising in Oakland, where she directed mail campaigns, promotional materials, signage, and web sites.

Bita Nazarian, Executive Director, earned both her B.A. in English literature and her M.A. in Education from UC Berkeley. She has been an educator in the San Francisco Unified School District for eighteen years, serving as a Peer Resources Coordinator, English teacher and department head, instructional coach, assistant principal, and principal. She currently supports new school administrators by facilitating a class for UC Berkeley’s Leadership Support Program. Bita fell in love with 826 when the organization established its first Writers’ Room at Everett Middle School in 2003. As a teacher committed to meeting the needs of the 150 eighth graders who walked into her room every day, she was blown away by the kind and skilled volunteers who nudged, wooed, enchanted, and challenged her students to be better writers. Knowing that every teacher deserves this bounty of support, she rallied to establish a second Writers’ Room at James Lick Middle School, a school that made significant gains during her leadership. Along with her work with 826 at nearby middle schools, Bita joined 826 Valencia’s Board of Directors in 2006 and served on the board for five years, three of them as Board President. Inspired by all of our student publications, she has begun to craft a mental novel with the snippets of conversations she hears on her walk to work. She is honored to be a part of such a creative and impactful organization.

Molly Parent, Programs Manager, has been involved with 826 since 2009, as an intern and as a volunteer before joining the staff in 2012. She graduated from UC San Diego with a degree in Literature/Writing. Previously, Molly has co-owned a food co-op, spent summers devising elaborate twists on capture-the-flag in the forests of New Hampshire, and taught babies how to swim. When not at 826, she can usually be found organizing literary events, dreaming up and executing the perfect day-trip, or gesturing wildly about books over tacos.

Christina Villaseñor Perry, Programs Director, grew up in the sunny South Bay. She ventured east for college, where she studied Social Anthropology at Harvard University.  Seeking a more agreeable clime, Christina began her career as a Special Educator in Los Angeles.  She then taught at Everett Middle School in San Francisco for five years.  Christina recently enjoyed a trip to the Caribbean shores of the Yucatan Peninsula, where she swam alongside whale sharks, witnessed nesting sea turtles in the moonlight, and mingled with iguanas amidst Mayan ruins.  She is thrilled to be aboard 826 Valencia, while continuing her involvement in local public schools.

Amy Popovich, Production Coordinator, was raised in Northern California and studied at UC Santa Barbara before completing an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London. Despite the thriving literary scene and superior culinary opportunities, this California girl fled the London fog for the more familiar fog of San Francisco, which she now calls home. Before joining the design staff at 826, Amy volunteered as a writing tutor beginning in 2009 and as a designer in 2013. She has worked for a variety of publishing ventures, most recently running the production department at Night Shade Books, where she faithfully delivered Science Fiction and Fantasy to the masses on a monthly basis. When she’s not making books, you can usually find her at Mission Yoga, where she manages The Sun Room and trains at Quantum Martial Arts.

Jazmanika Smith, Programs Assistant, was born and raised in San Francisco.  She recently relocated back to the Bay Area after completing her BA in the Sociology-Social Service Track from California State University San Bernardino. If she’s not running errands for cantankerous Mr. Blue, you can find her in a corner, reading a book or writing poetry. Jazmanika loves laughter, exploring, and learning. This year you will find her here on our pirate ship assisting with field trips in the morning and After-School Tutoring in the afternoon.

Board of Directors

Joya Banerjee is a Program Officer at the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, a private family foundation based in San Francisco, where she oversees a grant portfolio that advances the sustainable management of California’s water resources. Prior to joining the foundation, Joya was an attorney at Latham & Watkins and worked for the New York City Mayor’s Office. Joya graduated from the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration, and she received a Juris Doctor degree from Columbia Law School. She lives in San Francisco.

Michael Beckwith, Treasurer, is a principal at Maverick Capital, a global investment firm founded in 1993, where he is the Sector Head overseeing the firm’s global industrial and energy investments. Michael rejoined Maverick in 2009 after serving as General Partner of Sequoia Capital, LLP. Michael originally joined Maverick in 2004 after serving as a Senior Vice President at Andor Capital Management and having worked at Robertson Stephens in equity research. Prior to working in the investment world, Michael was the associate director of the Summerbridge AmeriCorps Teaching Program—a federally funded program that was part of Summerbridge National (re-named Breakthrough Collaborative). Michael received a B.A. from Middlebury College and a JD from Harvard Law School. Michael is currently a Board Member at Central Montana Resources, a privately held natural resources company.

Barb Bersche is a partner and the former president of McSweeney’s Publishing, as well as a founding board member of 826 Valencia and the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation. On her own time, Barb has been a designer (with a Grammy-nominated box set called Alan Lomax in Haiti), and a New York Times best-selling children’s book author, as well as a consultant to other creative agencies and nonprofits. She is also a member of the Marin County Search and Rescue/Mountain Rescue team.

Jim Lesser is one of the few Executive Creative Directors in the advertising industry who is the President and CEO of a major agency network office. In the fourteen years he’s been at BBDO San Francisco the office has gone from five people to winning gold at Cannes and the Effies in the same year. He has worked with some of the world’s best brands from Target to Chrysler to Bank of America. He began his career as the receptionist in a New York agency before being promoted to copywriter. As a result he always believes that a great idea can and often will come from anywhere. Especially the new receptionist. Jim has served on the Boards of BBDO New York and Dwell Magazine. He spends as much time as possible in the mountains hiking with his wife and two sons.

Matt Middlebrook, President, is Senior Vice President for Development with the Los Angeles-based retail developer Caruso Affiliated. In his role, Matt oversees all new development projects for the company from acquisition to the start of construction. Matt joined Caruso Affiliated in 2004 overseeing government relation and communications strategies in seeking approvals for new development projects before taking over as head of development earlier this year. Previously Matt served as a political and communications strategist, working closely with elected and corporate leaders including United States Senator Dianne Feinstein, whom he served for many years both as a campaign and Senate aide, including as her Deputy State Director. Following his tenure with Feinstein, Matt became a campaign consultant and among other campaigns, he managed Jim Hahn’s successful election as Mayor of Los Angeles in 2001. Matt served as a Deputy Mayor in Los Angeles from 2001-2003 before returning to San Francisco. Upon returning to the Bay Area, Matt became a Senior Vice President with the international public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard, leading the Bay Area’s public affairs group. Matt graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in Political Science.

Olive Mitra came to the United States from Calcutta, India and grew up in western New York where he began to develop a love for music, art, theater, and literature. After attending Oberlin College and then receiving an MA in Poetry from the University of Rochester, Olive came out to San Francisco to be a musician. Olive plays extensively throughout the Bay Area with several bands, he has composed scores for short films, silent films, and an original musical, and he has both music-directed for Killing My Lobster and played with the Shotgun Players. In 2004, he received his teaching credential and a Masters in Teaching from the New College of California. He currently works at June Jordan School for Equity, a revolutionary public school in San Francisco’s Excelsior neighborhood, teaching English literature, economics, and creative writing. In 2006, responding to a lack of arts instruction at the school, Olive co-founded the June Jordan School for Equity arts program. In the spring of 2011, Olive was the collaborating teacher with 826 Valencia’s Youth Authors’ Book Project and is currently piloting a creative writing course in conjunction with 826 Valencia.

Dave Pell spends the first half of each day writing the NextDraft newsletter and iOS app where he covers the day’s most fascinating news. The newsletter is syndicated by Time. During the second half of his day, he is the managing partner of Arba Group, a family-owned company that invests in early stage Internet startups. Dave has deep experience in education, having taught high school in Brooklyn and Boston. He has degrees from UC Berkeley and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Dave lives in Marin with his wife and two children, Herschel (7) and Octavia (5).

Meg Ray is the owner of Miette Patisserie and a tutor in the 826 after-school program. She grew up on Whidbey Island where her childhood was spent baking and reading books. She founded Miette in 2001 to pursue her love of pastry and her devotion to the literary arts led her to 826 Valencia. She is the author of the best-selling cookbook named after her bakery. She also a member of the San Francisco Ballet Auxiliary, a fundraising group that nets over one million dollars a year to the ballet. She lives in Oakland.

Andrew Strickman, Secretary, leads Brand and Creative Services at Move, Inc. home to Realtor.com one of the top real estate sites on the Web. Prior to Move, Andrew headed Yahoo!’s award-winning global experiential marketing team, creating rich opportunities for consumers to experience the Yahoo! brand in the offline world. Andrew spent eight years as a partner at Ammo Marketing (acquired in 2006 by London-based Aegis Media). At Ammo—The Original Influencer Marketing Agency—Andrew led the development of creative word-of-mouth program strategy for clients like Brown-Forman, Volvo, Philips, AT&T, Blurb, Method Home and Miller Brewing. Pre-marketing career, Andrew spent more than fifteen years as an award-winning entertainment and pop culture journalist for such publications as Rolling Stone, Details, The Village Voice and many others. During ten years of volunteering at 826 Valencia, Andrew has worn nearly every hat at the writing center—he was a deck-swabber in the early days when the roof would leak, he taught workshops on critical writing and persuasion, he was a fundraiser and founding member of the 826 development committee, and most importantly, Andrew co-led the drop-in tutoring program on Sundays for eight years.

Vendela Vida is a workshop teacher at 826 Valencia. She received her MFA in writing from Columbia University, and she is the author of the novels The Lovers, And Now You Can Go, and Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name. Vendela founded the award-winning Believer magazine, and she co-wrote the screenplay for the feature film Away We Go, directed by Sam Mendes.

826 Valencia Co-Founders

Nínive Calegari is a veteran public school teacher and served as the Executive Director of 826 Valencia until 2007 and the CEO of 826 National until 2010. Before teaching in her family’s hometown in Mexico, Nínive worked at Leadership High School, San Francisco’s first charter school, where she also served on the Board of Directors. She holds a Masters of Education in Teaching and Curriculum from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. Nínive, along with two co-authors, published Teachers Have it Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America’s Teachers. In 2007, Nínive was awarded the ‘Daring Dozen’ award from the George Lucas Foundation, recognizing her for effective work in education. Nínive also founded and serves as president of The Teacher Salary Project, a nonprofit designed to build the political will necessary to transform how US society values effective teachers.

Dave Eggers is the author of seven books including A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, What is the What, and most recently A Hologram for the King. He is the editor of McSweeney’s and the Voice of Witness series, which is designed to illuminate contemporary human rights crises through oral history. He has co-written two screenplays: 2009′s Where the Wild Things Are and Away We Go. He was named one of TIME Magazine‘s 100 Most Influential People in 2005, and received the 2007 Heinz Award and the 2008 TED prize. His book Zeitoun received the 2010 American Book Award, and A Hologram for the King was named one of the ten best books of 2012 by The New York Times.


The staff at 826 Valencia is small compared to the output. There’s absolutely no way we could create hundreds of publications and serve thousands of students annually without a legion of volunteers. This group of superstars works in all realms, from tutoring to fundraising and beyond. They range in age, background, and expertise but all have a shared passion for our work with young people. Here is a sampling of profiles from some of our true-blue regulars.

Jon Adams is a freelance illustrator, designer, and writer who prefers making stuff to sleeping. He’s the creator of Truth Serum – the Eisner-nominated series of graphic novels and a weekly comic which you can read at citycyclops.com. He’s also done work for clients like Wired, McSweeney’s, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Check out his portfolio at hisportfolio.com

Candace Chen began volunteering at 826 Valencia during the summer of 2005 and has been an after-school tutor on Tuesdays for several years. Her favorite subject to tutor is math and she loves rereading her favorite books from childhood with the kids. She is finishing a PhD in history at University of California, Berkeley, and she enjoys baking, crafts, and music.

Burt Meyer is an after-school and summer program volunteer, and was wondering what he would do when he retired from a career as an attorney. Since his mother always wanted him to be a teacher and he had helped two daughters with their homework, he jumped at the opportunity to join 826 as a volunteer in 2004. It was a wise choice and has been a wonderful experience. However, since the last math class Burt took was in 1957, he has some difficulty tutoring fifth grade and above in math. On the brighter side this deficiency has enabled him to meet and converse with the many talented younger tutors who do understand math. Together with the students, Burt is developing a knowledge of math and other contemporary school subjects.

Risa Nye is a Bay Area native. Risa has a Master’s in counseling from the University of California at Berkeley, which she managed to get while raising two small children and producing a third. She is the proud co-editor of Writin’ on Empty: Parents Reveal the Upside, Downside, and Everything in Between When Children Leave the Nest, which, for one brief, shining week, made the San Francisco Chronicle’s Bay Area Best Sellers list. Her granddaughter, Madeleine, is the best grandchild ever.

Amie E. Nenninger loves reading, writing, and problem solving, and she puts these skills to use daily as an educational and developmental tutor and 826 volunteer. Amie graduated from the University of Illinois, spent a year volunteering in schools with AmeriCorps, and studied Australian literature as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She has been at 826 Valencia since the days when Karl was king, and she enjoys training junior detectives and spreading the good work of 826 to far-flung states across the nation.

Soraya Okuda first got involved with 826 when she was graduating high school, as an intern in the summer of 2009. 826′s unique model of helping kids with literacy/writing/general creativity somehow appealed to a great majority of her interests. She is a full-time student and part-time pirate store representative, and she will cheerfully sell you sand. She loves long walks on the beach, lemons, learning, helping children and senior citizens, and all things 826. Her goal in life is to be a happy, motorcycle-riding, adorable old lady (preferably with teeth).

Tim Ratanapreukskul was born in Los Angeles but has led a multi-regional lifestyle since high school. When Tim was a teenager, he lived and studied in Japan, and went on to live in various parts of the East Coast. The promise of higher education brought him to the Rhode Island School of Design where he studied apparel and graphic design in his undergrad and architecture for his master’s degree. Although Tim is artistically inclined, he has admittedly terrible taste in music. About a year ago, Tim came to San Francisco’s Mission district for the sunshine, but since then has discovered so much more to love about the neighborhood: free yoga, homemade bikes, mandated composting and recycling, cheap Mexican food, the Muni’s J-line, and 826 Valencia.

Karen Wagstaffe is a big fan of 826 Valencia and of all the amazing people who work and volunteer here. Recently semi-retired from her days as the stay-at-home mom of Michael, Emily, Matthew, and Megan, and happily adjusting to an empty nest, she also has a faint recollection of having been a lawyer a couple of decades ago. She has served a stint or two as Mrs. Blue, and since 2005 has come in on Mondays to help the folks in the back office with just about anything.


826 Valencia thanks our many supporters who have donated since December 1, 2013.


Caerus Foundation • Frances Hellman & Warren Breslau • James M & Karen Wagstaffe • Kochi Foundation • Lampert Family Foundation • Louise P Atcheson Trust • Michael Moritz & Harriet Heyman • Rose and David Dortort Foundation • The Walther Foundation • Williams-Malone Foundation

Ship’s Master

Andrew Strickman & Michal Ettinger • Dave & Virginia Pell • EMIKA Fund • Gail & Ian Jardine • Jeffrey & Jeri Lynn Johnson • Maverick Capital Charities • Mike Wilkins • Scandling Family Foundation • Shalini & Kamini Malhotra • Shauna & Michael Stark • Walter and Elise Haas Fund


Alea Woodlee • Anthony Bertuca • Barbara Gurkoff • Barbara Parkyn • Bill Graham Memorial Foundation • Carol Francis & Steve Chapman • Chase Tingley • Cramblit Family Fund • Dandelion Chocolate • Dave Eggers & Vendela Vida • David Foster Wallace Literary Trust • Dominique Bischoff-Brown • Ellen Laguerta Uy • Ivan & Maris Meyerson • Jacob Farkas • Jeffery Veen • John Eidinger • John Herschend & Marleen Schroder • Jordan Kurland • Joya Banerjee • Liz Hume & Jay Jacobs • Marjorie Traub • Mark Risher • Merle & Leslie Rabine • Michael & Kirsten Beckwith • Michael Bien & Jane Kahn • Miguel De Avila & Maria Jesus Morga • N & K Hawley • Neil Katcher • O’Reilly Media, Inc. • Paul Haahr & Susan Karp • Philip Jackson • Rivendell Bicycle Works, Inc. •  Sarah Morrison • Sequence • Shepard & Melissa Harris • Steven Nathaniel Wolkoff Foundation • Tami Anderson • The Carl Gellert and Celia Berta Gellert Foundation • The Donald and Carole Chaiken Foundation • The Stephen S. Smith and Paula K. Smith Family Foundation • Tim Wirth & Anne Stuhldreger • Tracy Chapman • Tulsa and Simone Fund • Whole Foods • Will Scullin • William Morrison


Mahea Campbell • Matthew Rivitz & Blythe Lang


Adams Nye Becht LLP • Angus MacLane • Bruce & Risa Nye • Campbell Judge & Kimberly Ellis • Carol Hazenfield • David & Carla Crane • Eric Heiman • Gloria Lenhart •  Jason & Emily Cheng • Kahle/Austin Foundation • Kimberly Walker • Lisa Nahmanson • Marsha Robertson • Matthew Sonefeldt • Meryl Brod • Michael Duckworth • Michael S. Kwun & Sigrid Anderson • Peter & Lisa Westley • Sarah Hoagland • SATE Foundation • The Gelfand Family Foundation, Inc. • Toby Paterson • Velos Mobile LLC


Adam Klein • Alden Bourne • Alexandra Sharabianlou • Alice Evans • Alice Yu • Allene Sieling • Allison Turner • Amy Cohen & David Williams • Andrea Perry • Anna Wick • Anne & Jorge Lopez • Anne Chiramberro • Audrey Heller • Avery Burdette • Barbara Bersche & David Katznelson • Barbara Konecky • Barbara Spicer • Barry McGee • Benjamin Jacobs • Bi-Rite Market • Brandon Chalk • Bryce Corkins • Carola Shepard • Carole Sirulnick • Cassandra Benjamin • Celia Sack • Charlene Maltzman • Charles Schwab Foundation • Christina Ruiz-Esparza • Christopher Chow • Christy Susman • Cornerstone Research, Inc. • Daniel James • Davia Nelson • David & Jane Hartley • David Aaronson • David Glasser • David Kinsbourne • David Kobe • Debra Armstrong • Earl & Christine Siems • Ed Cohen • Elaine Kane • Elizabeth Ferguson • Ellen Levin • Ellen Perelman • Emily Brodman • Enrico Casarosa • Feralee Levine • George Beckwith • Gerald Ambinder & Audrey Ferber • Helaine & Rudy Melnitzer • Howard Harband • James Hsu • Jan Schreiber • Jennifer Padget • Jesse Kellerman • Jilanne Hoffman • Joe Doctor • Joel Dubin • John Wiley & Sons, Inc. • Jonathan Abrams & Martine Krumholz Family Chartiable Fund • Josef Muskatel in memory of Bronislawa Bardach • Joseph John • Joshua J. Mahoney • Joshua Robison • Joyce Zavattero • Julie Down • Julie Rappaport • Karen & Stuart Gansky • Karen Rowan • Katherine Joiner • Kaye Reeves • Kayvaan Ghassemieh • Kelly Johnson • Kenneth Eddings • Kerry Kretchmar • Kim Wade • Kimberly Lau • Linda & Kit Hinrichs • Lisa Dungan • Marc Engel • Marie Barrett • Mark Perry & Adele Mouzon • Mark Plakias • Martin & Maria Quinn • Mary Taugher & F. Martin Booth • Matthew Ephraim • Matthew Kelemen • Maureen Gates • Medea Isphording & Bruce Bern • Michael Ginther • Michael Silverman • Michelle Long & Calista Nicholson • Mike & Ellen Turbow • Mike Napolitano • Myla Long • Natalie Beckwith • Natalie Inouye • Norma Cole • Olive Mitra • Peter Finch • Phil & Vanessa Siino Haack • Qualcomm Incorporated • Ramya Raghavan • Rivendell Bicycle Works, Inc. • Robert Stein & Jessica Pers • Sally Randel • Shirley Gordon • Tania Stepanian • Thomas Rogers • Vaughn Shields • William Collins • William Donahoe & Kristin Klein • Yasar Ozberkmen