Our Volunteer Engagement and Support Team, also known as V.E.S.T, is a group of super-dedicated volunteers, with wide-ranging skills, that provide ongoing support and guidance to new—and current!—volunteers at 826 Valencia. These amazing folks also bring valuable feedback to our staff so we can keep improving your volunteer experience, making it the most satisfactory and enjoyable as possible. Keep reading to know more about this fabulous group, and find out who volunteers in the most programs and who is Captain Blue’s best friend!
Meet our V.E.S.T members!
Susan Birnbaum has been volunteering with us since 2015, dedicating over 150 hours to our students, primarily at our Storytelling and Bookmaking Field Trips at the Mission Center. She brings her enthusiasm and unwavering commitment to our programs on a daily basis. A dedicated volunteer, Susan goes above and beyond for our community, supporting our students and volunteers. She seeks out organizations that focus on youth, creativity, and education, and is involved in several nonprofits that support projects created by students, nurturing their ideas and imaginations in the process.
Ed Cavagnaro started out as a regular tutor in our summer programs in 2015 and went on to dedicate himself to The Straight-Up News at Everett Middle School, Mission Magazine at Mission High, and tutors annually for the Young Authors’ Book Project at John O’Connell High School. He is also a staple tutor in several of our Tenderloin programs and used his expertise as a radio producer to help us shape and launch our Podcasting Field Trip program. On top of all that, Ed has also helped plan and lead several podcasting workshops for high school students at our Mission Center, and taken it upon himself to edit the final products. Needless to say, when he was brought up as a nominee for the Volunteer of the Month, staff lined up to sing his praises.
Jess Hemerly grew up in rural eastern Pennsylvania but left her hometown to attend college in the Big Apple. After graduating (and taking on many unsatisfying jobs) she decided to enroll at UC Berkeley, earning her Master’s degree in Information Management and Systems garnering several honors for her prodigious research. A freelance culture critic in her spare time, her writing has appeared in 7×7, Make, and The Onion, as well as on several local music blogs. Jess currently works in technology public policy, focusing on transparency and accessibility. As a life-long writer in both her personal and professional life, she savors the opportunity to help the curious young minds at BVHM.
Jonathan Koshi—known to most by his last name, Koshi—was born and raised on the sunny beaches of Oahu. At the age of 18, he left his tropical paradise to experience the northeastern seasons and attend school in Rhode Island. After college, he settled in the Bay Area where he has been residing for 15 years. He has worked as a user-experience designer for several companies but now spends his days as a freelance consultant for early-stage companies and his evenings engrossed in various art projects. His artistic work has appeared at several galleries in San Francisco, including Secession Art & Design and Campfire Gallery, and in the classroom of BVHM, where he has become popular with the kids for his on-demand drawings of various things the kids love, including cartoon mashups and penguins.
Gloria Lenhart loves San Francisco the way only an East Coast transplant can. She arrived in San Francisco just in time for the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. When she’s not helping with field trips at 826, you can find her leading walking tours around the city for San Francisco City Guides. In 2014, she launched the City Explorer San Francisco app offering downloadable tours of SF neighborhoods for smartphones and tablets, where you can find sunken ships routes in the financial district, hidden gardens downtown, and more. And proceeds from the app benefit 826 Valencia.
Kavitha Lotun came to 826 Valencia in the summer of 2012 after spending five years teaching young students in London, England. One day while exploring the Mission District and pining after the buzz of her classroom, she stumbled upon the 826 Valencia’s Exploring Words Summer Camp, which ended up being a way to meet students in San Francisco and learn more about their schools and learning styles. She loved it so much she eventually joined the 826 staff team as Programs Coordinator for the field trips program! But as her family expanded, she stepped down from her role and welcomed the chance to volunteer once again. She can now be found leading the Storytelling and Bookmaking Field Trips, tutoring at BVHM, or volunteering at the Podcasting Field Trips in the Tenderloin.
Michael McNamara began his 826 Valencia volunteer adventures in April 2016, and as we write this, he is about to reach 100 hours of volunteering! Now, he can be found most Monday mornings steering Captain Blue’s ship through the whirlwind of stories that is the Storytelling and Bookmaking Field Trips. But he is a fan of other programs too, “I also enjoyed my experience at last year’s Young Authors’ Book Project. Working closely with two high school seniors writing creative short stories at Burton High, coupled with my work with Field Trips, inspired me to move forward in becoming a future high school English teacher here in the Bay Area.”
Tim R. studied architecture, apparel, and graphic design at the Rhode Island School of Design, and you can guess in which of these fields he has degrees. He has been a tutor, volunteer designer, and “snack lady” with 826 Valencia since 2010, and the rest is history. He speaks a bunch of languages and has lived, traveled, and studied in colder, far-flung climates. The sunny Mission is now his home, where he loves the Muni J-line, free-ish yoga, and mandated composting. His design alter-ego is Subject-Object.net, through which he has also produced retail goods, focusing on the informational, the anecdotal, and the PBS in all of us. Some of those “Objects” have found their way into the Pirate Supply Store, where he now also works part-time.”