We’re excited to honor our exceptionally talented team of volunteers through a Volunteer of the Month series. Each month we choose one volunteer to highlight in our newsletter and on our website. Are you excited to join our team of volunteers? Fill out a volunteer application to get started!
March 2018, Henry Roark
Henry’s smiley face has been one of the highlights of our Sundays at the Mission Center. His consistent presence is a great support to students and volunteers alike since he is also a member of our Ambassador Program! His commitment to writing inspire all of us, and we couldn’t be more grateful for his dedication to our students! Program Manager, Kiley McLaughing, can’t stop praising him, noting that “He goes above and beyond for his community by reaching out to lapsed volunteers and encouraging friends to attend orientations as well.” Read more about Henry.
February 2018, Dina Martin
Dina is a beloved member of our volunteer force, leaving her mark in almost every 826 program. In-Schools’ Program Manager, Ryan Young, notes that “She never backs down from a challenge and always approaches tutoring with a positive attitude.” When not at 826, she enjoys practicing Italian, taking writing classes, and going out to dance. If you ever volunteered with us, you probably crossed paths with her, since she is always around, brightening up our days. Read more about Dina.
January 2018, Susan Birnbaum
Susan has been one of the shining stars of 826, with over 150 hours of volunteer work! Her enthusiasm and commitment are deeply contagious, inspiring staff and students every day. She is also a member of our Volunteer Engagement and Support Team (V.E.S.T), welcoming and guiding new tutors as they navigate our programs. You can find her leading our Storytelling and Bookmaking Field Trips at the Mission Center, making sure Captain Blue approves our students’ stories. Read more about Susan.
December 2017, Olga Rodriguez
A longtime tutor at Buena Vista Horace Mann, Olga has been an immense support for our English Learners, setting them at ease with her warm smile and genuine presence every day. She believes in the power of education to change students’ lives, especially if that involves creative assignments that are sure to flourish new stories and make everyone dance. As she recalls, “One of my favorite memories is from an end-of-the-semester reading that turned into a dance party full of laughter.” Read more about Olga.
November 2017, Randie Bencanann
An amazing volunteer since 2015, Randie has been a constant presence in our programs and In-School projects. A retired social worker, she always enjoyed being around young people and learning from their stories. She also dedicates her time to help high school seniors apply for college scholarships at our partner organization ScholarMatch. Come to our Tenderloin workshops or to our After-School Tutoring program and you will likely see Randie encouraging students to put their thoughts on paper. Read more about Randie.
October 2017, David Fisher
David has been a dedicated volunteer helping our students and brightening up our days at the Tenderloin Center with his presence. Students love to work with him as he cracks jokes and keeps them engaged and on track with their assignments. In our Program Director Jillian Wasick’s words, “He encourages students to generate ideas before drafting and motivates them by praising their efforts.” Read more about David.
September 2017, Michael McNamara
Michael began his 826 Valencia volunteer adventures in April 2016, and as we write this he is about to reach 100 hours of volunteering! When asked why he decided to volunteer, Michael said, “I stumbled upon 826 Valencia’s Field Trips program through a fortuitous Google search, attempting to find some way to engage with local communities and utilize my passion for arts and education.” You can find him steering Captain Blue’s ship at our Storytelling and Bookmaking Field Trips or at the Young Authors’ Book Project. Read more about Michael.
June 2017, Kasra Omid-Zohoor
A Bay Area native and tech worker dedicated to supporting his community, Kasra started volunteering in our Sunday Drop-in Tutoring program in 2012, where he is our resident math whiz. He had just finished grad school, where he taught classes as a teaching assistant for two years. Looking to keep teaching and connect with his community, he says he “sought out the Pirate Supply Store like Aladdin on his quest for the lamp.” Kasra believes in leading by example, and brings his warmth and encouragement to the writing lab each week, along with a book to read and discuss, of course! Read more about Kasra.
May 2017, Peter Albert
One of our most warm and welcoming AST tutors, we’re so thankful to Peter for his commitment to our students. In his own words: “I am a father of two (now adult) children, raised by my wife, me, and the SFUSD in San Francisco. I retired last year after working as an architect and city planner for thirty-two years, doing a lot of quality-of-life work with communities. Even though the City has asked me back to help with community planning on an urgent basis, I still manage to protect Monday afternoons for working at 826 Valencia, helping students finish their homework so they won’t have to worry about it at night.” Read more about Peter.
January 2017: Adriana del Mar
Former design intern and publication cover art extraordinaire Adriana is the graphic designer behind our coloring book, Let’s Get Pizza Instead!, our new series of poetry books with Bessie Carmichael Elementary, the chapbooks Superkiddos! And Where We’re From, and the 24th edition of our Quarterly, along with a slew of other publications. Right now she is completing her MFA in Graphic Design at Academy of Art University but still making time to create beautiful covers for 826 and go salsa dancing. Staff who have collaborated with her say she’s “on the ball, incredibly creative, has a huge warm heart, and is a joy to work with.” Read more about Adriana.
November 2016: Jim Emerman
Jim is a former teacher and has worked for many years with Encore.org to tap into the skills and experience of older generations by connecting them with meaningful volunteer work. Since last spring, Jim has been a regular tutor in the Writers’ Room at Buena Vista Horace Mann, where he is particularly adept at meeting students where they are to provide individualized attention. Jim is also a great community builder, forging strong relationships with students and taking the lead as a mentor to newer volunteers within the program. Read more about Jim.
October 2016: Jessica Lin
Jessica joined the 826 Valencia community just this school year, but has already become a regular in our Storytelling and Bookmaking field trips. Staff who have had the pleasure of working with Jessica report that her enthusiasm and engagement with students have quickly made an indelible mark on the program. Not only is Jessica a fabulous support tutor, but she is also an accomplished illustrator, lending her talents to titles like The Stealthy Kracken and the Gorilla Set Sail to the Rainbow World and Trouble on Super Mysterious Island. Read more about Jessica.
September 2016: Edmund Cavagnaro
Ed 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 the 2016 Young Authors’ Book Project at John O’Connell High School. Ed is also a staple tutor in several of our Tenderloin programs, and in fact used his expertise as a radio producer to help us shape and launch our Tenderloin Podcasting Field Trip program. On top of all of that, Ed has also helped to 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 Ed was brought up as a nominee for Volunteer of the Month, staff lined up to sing his praises! Read more about Ed.
June 2016: Joel Brown
Joel has given his time and considerable tutoring talent to our Writing and Publishing Apprentices workshop on a consistent basis for an incredible eight years. As a tutor, Joel is uniquely talented at connecting with students and bringing out their most creative ideas, and the relationships of trust and creative collaboration that he cultivates with students extend over years— he has tutored multiple students throughout their entire high school careers, during which his life has changed as well. Read more about Joel.
May 2016: Jayme Brown and Wren Brennan
Over the past year we have watched Jayme and Wren cultivate a community centered around Sunday Drop-in Tutoring in their shared role as point tutors. They enthusiastically greet students, tutors, and parents who walk into the Writing Lab, asking them how they are and how their week has been. They expertly pair students and tutors, encouraging quiet students to open up and distracted students to focus. We are incredibly lucky to them in our Writing Lab every Sunday. Read more about Jayme and Wren.
April 2016: Gregory Hosono
Gregory Hosono hails from Palo Alto, CA. He is a voracious reader (currently in the middle of a Haruki Murakami reading challenge with his best friend), a tea drinker (often with strangers), an avid Bay Area sports fan, and a habitual user of parentheses. He takes great pleasure in handwriting letters to his friends (and also taught a weekend workshop on letter writing). He is not too old to use Snapchat (though some of the students in the evening tutoring program Pathways have tried to convince him otherwise). It is not uncommon to see Greg gliding around Pathways with a TI-84 calculator in one hand and a volume of Shakespeare’s complete works in the other. He hopes to pursue his two academic passions—classics and computer science—in college. Read more about Greg Hosono.
January 2016: Tracy Liu
Upon completing her internship, Tracy Liu continued volunteering with 826 Valencia, designing the last two issues of the 826 Quarterly, the Straight Up News, and a store window display featuring our 2015 scholarship winners. During her internship, she lent her distinctive style and humor to countless projects, including laying out many a monthly newsletter and undertaking the massive task of conceptualizing the branding of our entire 2015 Bookeaters’ Bash—everything from the invites, to the auction paddles, to the programs, and more! Read more about Tracy Liu.
December 2015: Richtan Batac
Rich started volunteering with 826 Valencia in 2013. He was born and raised in the Bay Area, where he was exposed to an influential group of instructors who inspired him to follow in their footsteps. Ever since his first project with 826, he knew that he wanted to keep coming back. He feels honored to share priceless conversations and experiences with students—especially when randomly referencing things like Justin Bieber, because whether you love him, hate him, or prefer no comment, let’s admit it: a mere mention of that divisive name invites us to giggle and puts us in a mood to keep doing whatever we’re doing. Rich vows that 826 not only helps students discover their own potential, but also helps tutors discover their own as well. Read more about Richtan Batac.
November 2015: Johann Schiffer
When asked why he volunteers at 826 Valencia, Johann said, “I love the eclectic variety of programs that 826 Valencia has to offer, from helping middle school students explore the blues and haikus in the Tenderloin, to assisting high school seniors with personal statements in the Mission, to lending a hand to aspiring playwrights as they write their own monologues, and later perform them in front of an engrossed audience.” We’re touched by Johann’s kind words about his tutoring experiences, and are equally lucky he found the 826 community. Read more about Johann Schiffer.
October 2015: Elizabeth Kert
“In 2012, I started tutoring in the after-school program at BVHM. My 22-year-old son is a graduate of Buena Vista, and the school holds a special place in my heart. It has been very gratifying to work with some of the same students as they move from 3rd to 4th to 5th grade. With all of the students, there is so much growth between their September assignments and those they write in the spring. I love seeing how proud they are to present their finished chapbooks, and to read aloud to the families who attend the book launch parties.” Read more about Elizabeth Kert.
August 2015: Louise Shultz
When asked to recall her favorite 826 memory, Louise states, “The Young Authors’ Book Project is a yearly cherished memory for me. During the first year I tutored for that project we worked with International High School. Those students had only been in the U.S. for three years or less and it was incredible to hear their stories. 826 sets high expectations and the kids always meet and exceed those expectations. The books that come out of the Young Authors’ Book Project are just so beautiful. It’s such a rewarding experience for both the tutors and for the students.” As a retired public high school teacher, Louise values the time spent working one-on-one with students. Read more about Louise Shultz.
July 2015: Nikhil Wadhwani
Nikhil Wadhwani started volunteering with 826 Valencia this April, and quickly made an impression on our staff as an incredibly involved and invested volunteer tutor. He began his volunteer experience with 826 as an After-School Tutor, helping students with their writing, math, and science homework. This summer Nikhil has also signed up regularly to support our Exploring Words Summer Camp. We are deeply appreciative of the generosity of spirit he has shown our students, interns, and staff—particularly for lending his time by signing up for multiple shifts a week in a variety of our programs! Read more about Nikhil Wadhwani.
June 2015: Millie DeBenedet
Volunteer and actress extraordinaire, Millie co-teaches one of our most beloved workshops, Finding Your Funny Bone — a collaboration she spearheaded between Killing My Lobster and 826 Valencia which teaches kids the fundamentals of sketch comedy writing. Each workshop ends in a performance of the students’ work, and every time Millie goes above and beyond as she directs a professional show with actors from Killing My Lobster. In addition to being a volunteer at 826 Valencia, Millie DeBenedet is an actress and director here in the Bay Area. She received her BFA in Acting from DePaul University’s Theatre School in Chicago, Illinois. Read more about Millie DeBenedet.
May 2015: Kavitha Lotun
A dedicated volunteer since 2012, Kavitha Lotun has worn many hats during her tenure at 826 Valencia. A veteran educator, she’s supported a range of 826 programs, including tutoring students in After-school Tutoring and Exploring Words Summer Camp and helping the stories of countless Field Trip classes receive the stamp of approval from Blue, 826 Valencia’s notoriously cranky editor and arbiter of literary taste. Most recently, she has brought her invaluable knowledge of 826 programs to her work as one of the inaugural members of the Volunteer Engagement and Support Team (VEST), 826 Valencia’s brand new volunteer leadership committee. Read more about Kavitha Lotun.
April 2015: Karen Wagstaffe
Karen Wagstaffe is a cherished member of 826 Valencia’s development team. She’s been supporting our work for years, showing up Monday afternoons to draft grant reports and narratives, input program evaluation data, proofread, copyedit, lend ideas and insights, support the scholarship program, and so much more. When not at 826, Karen can be found reading, gardening, seeing movies, helping her partner with a new business venture, partaking in the abundance of cultural and culinary opportunities in San Francisco, traveling to visit her kids, and doing lots of exercise in order to keep up with two grandchildren. Read more about Karen Wagstaffe.
March 2015: Donna Williamson
Donna Williamson has been a Storytelling and Bookmaking field trip volunteer for six years, starting with typing and bookbinding before she found her sea legs as captain leading the field trip on Tuesdays. In addition to igniting young imaginations via storytelling, Donna is involved in the ‘Tiny House’ movement, and is also pursuing her passion for filmmaking. “Being surrounded by the engaged and dedicated interns and staff at 826 keeps me feeling young and connected. Coming to the Mission every Tuesday is the highlight of my week and it is rewarding to still be contributing to a student’s learning experience now that my kids have all left home.” Read more about Donna Williamson.
February 2015: Bill Poole
Bill has volunteered as a writing tutor for Storytelling and Bookmaking Field Trips, Exploring Words Summer Camp, and most recently at Mission High School, helping students put together Mission Magazine. Bill grew up in New England and spent ten years as a registered nurse—working mostly with children and adolescents—and came to San Francisco in 1980 for a job at UC hospital. For several years he traveled, researched, and wrote the Detours column in the San Francisco Chronicle magazine. Most recently Bill has worked for 14 years as a writer and editor for The Trust for Public Land, eventually editing their magazine, Land & People. Read more about Bill Poole.
January 2015: Christine Herrin
Christine started off as an 826 Valencia design intern in 2013. One of her favorite design projects, that year’s winter mailer, helped seal her love for hand-lettering — one of her favorite internship memories is the day María sent her out to a cafe to “get inspiration and draw.” How fun is that? Really, really fun — just like all the people at 826 — and that’s why Christine remains a design volunteer to this day. She’s helped out by designing two issues of the 826 Quarterly, and a couple chapbooks, too. She absolutely loves and values her time as a volunteer at 826, because really, where else do you meet such interesting, passionate, just-as-dorky-as-her friends with a lot of heart? Read more about Christine Herrin.
December 2014: Aidan O’Flynn
November 2014: Ian Evans
Every Tuesday afternoon for the last eight years—16 semesters!—Ian Evans has served as a point person in our after-school tutoring program. In this volunteer leadership role, Ian welcomes students ages 6 through 14 who are seeking homework help and matches them with new and returning tutors. “My mom and grandma were public school teachers, and I’ve always gotten personal satisfaction in sharing knowledge and helping people learn. 826 is a perfect place for this. I’ve been able to get to know and help out so many amazing kids, and at this point I’ve seen many of them grow up and move on to high school and college. But it goes way beyond just helping out with math homework. I’ve been lucky enough to hear their stories.” Read more about Ian Evans.
October 2014: Jess Hemerly and Jonathan Koshi
Jess Hemerly and Jonathan Koshi have been volunteering in our Buena Vista Horace Mann Annex since its launch last fall. According to BVHM Program Manager, Ashley Varady, this dynamic duo offers, “unique skills and expertise as tutors, and epitomize patience, flexibility, and a willingness to help out with a smile.” Jess has been a steady support for our young writers, helping the BVHM students on every step of the writing process. Jonathan, or Koshi as he’s known in the classroom, is popular among students for his artistic abilities, frequently drawing alongside the students to help them develop the characters and plot twists that populate their narratives. Read more about Jess and Jonathan.
June 2014: Shannon David and Austin Hoffmann
Shannon and Austin took to the helm of the Valencia Bay-farer in Spring of 2012. They hardly knew each other back then (and hardly knew what they’d gotten themselves into!), but after teaming up to plan and teach the last 10 or so issues of this beloved in-house newspaper, they operate like a well-oiled machine almost all of the time. The Bay-farer is a mainstay of 826 workshops, and while it’s quite a task to keep the legacy alive, this dynamic duo has assumed the responsibility with courage, grace, and a respect for deadlines. If you had to pigeonhole them, you could say that Austin keeps things interesting and Shannon keeps them on track. Read more about Shannon and Austin.
May 2014: Will Georgantas
Will Georgantas began copyediting 826 Valencia’s student publications in April 2012. After receiving his MFA in fiction writing from Columbia University in 2000, Will became a staff copy editor* at Esquire magazine, then in 2003 cofounded a writing-focused public high school in the South Bronx, the Bronx Academy of Letters. Since 2007, he’s been dividing his time between copyediting books for publishers including Random House, Simon & Schuster, and McSweeney’s, and writing songs and performing with his band, Thunderegg. Read more about Will Georgantas.
April 2014: Darryl Forman
Darryl Forman has been volunteering at 826 Valencia since she retired from her career as a financial-services writer in 2011. She lives in San Francisco with her adorable dog, Romo, and is working on her second book. Her first book, The Unleavened Truth, published by Untreed Reads Publishing, is a compilation of humorous essays. Darryl enjoys the in-school programs where she works one-on-one with students to help open up their imaginations to enhance their story telling. When not cajoling creativity from students, Darryl likes to walk around her beloved Bernal Heights neighborhood with Romo, cheer for the other Romo at Giants’ games, and challenge authority. Read more about Darryl Forman.
March 2014: Gloria Lenhart
Gloria Lenhart says that helping with 826 field trip program is the highlight of her week, but she also has a lot of other things going on. She’s a San Francisco City Guide who gives free tours of North Beach and Financial District. Her website,www.mysfpast.com, provides information on these tours including where to find downtown rooftop gardens and pocket parks called POPOS (Privately Owned Public Open Space). Her memoir, Planet Widow, was published in 2006 by Seal Press in Berkeley and she is currently working on a historical novel that deals with the politics in San Francisco around the time of the 1906 earthquake and fire. Still, she shows up at 826 every Tuesday morning, taking her place behind the keyboard to help shape a bunch of crazy characters and setting dreamed up the young writers into a cohesive story. Read more about Gloria Lenhart.
February 2014: Carmela Marquez
Carmela can often be found in 826 Valencia’s kitchenette, cracking jokes and slicing apples for our After-School Tutoring students. Carmela is also the mother of Osvaldo and Sofia, a former and a current student of our After-School Tutoring program. Her kids have been enrolled in 826 Valencia’s programs for ten years—almost the entire time we’ve been open! During this time, Carmela has prepared snacks for our students, made frequent runs for food donations on 826’s behalf, and participated in our Parent Leadership and Advisory Board. She’s an invaluable volunteer and we appreciate her immensely. Read more about Carmela Marquez.
January 2014: Melissa van Gelder
Melissa van Gelder, a San Francisco native and (somewhat) recent graduate of UCLA, has been volunteering at 826 Valencia since moving back to the City in September of 2013. Through her participation in the Bay-Farer, Straight Up News, fieldtrips, and 826’s brand new after-school program at Buena Vista Horace Mann, Melissa has racked up over seventy hours of literary volunteer-dom. More importantly, though, as a cornerstone of 826’s efforts with the 3rd and 4th graders at BVHM, Melissa has inspired countless stories (read on to discover the secrets of “Melissa Island”), given out hundreds of stickers (not to mention high fives), and played an invaluable role in shaping the experiences of the wacky and wonderful young minds at BVHM. Read more about Melissa van Gelder.
December 2013: Anthony Severini
While Anthony Severini has been to France, Italy, and Spain, he is more than the sum of the places he’s seen. In the past year, Anthony has volunteered over 700 hours all over San Francisco. Along with his commitment to 826 Valencia, he’s supported the Stern Grove Festival Association with every single Sunday concert in the 2013 season, helped plant new plants at the St. Mary’s Park Living Library, volunteered at the Saint Cyprian’s Episcopal Church and the Old First Presbyterian Church, and tutored at CoderDojo, an event hosted by GitHub, which teaches elementary-school children how to code. Read more about Anthony Severini.
November 2013: Carolyn Schultz
When Carolyn Schultz began After-school tutoring at 826 she quickly mastered the art of finding a fellow tutor who could help students with math homework. Carolyn zoomed in on college essay tutoring since she herself was bribed by her grandfather not to go to college, which he firmly believed turned young women into spinster school teachers. She accepted a red Ford Falcon convertible instead and began her higher education as the youngest executive secretary in NYC around the time the real Mad Men was happening. Read more about Carolyn Schultz.
October 2013: Tim R.
Tim, who gives his time to 826 through design, tutoring, Ikea runs, and so much more, spends so much time with us, that it’s hard to imagine 826 without him. In 2010, Tim R. walked into 826 Valencia’s Pirate Supply Store and asked, “How do I become part of this?” The rest, as they say, is history (or myth, or fibbery, or mocking sarcasm, depending on which minute you ask). He hails from SoCal and has lived, traveled, and studied in colder climes and other far-flung places. He studied design on the East Coast, which helped to forge a certain steel-woolly Woody Allen quality out of a sun-soaked attitude. Read more about Tim R.
September 2013: E. Eastman
E. Eastman is a stylish man, but look deeper and you’ll also find an amazing tutor who wears many hats at 826 Valencia. In just the last year, E. has worked on the Young Authors’ Book Project, tutored for the Young Authors’ Workshop, and led multiple workshops (here’s just one) of his own to impart his writing passions to young people. He is also one of the pioneering volunteers of our brand new Writing Club at Buena Vista Horace Mann. Read more about E.
August 2013: Lucy Kirchner
Lucy has been staying up late with the always amazing, often stirring, and hilarious writing of 826 students since 2007. She has hung doortags, illustrated chapbooks, designed posters, proofread final-hour manuscripts, and even snuck her cat onto a book cover disguised as a monkey.Her most recent work can be spotted in the pages of the collaboratively redesigned 826 Quarterly. Lucy has loved working alongside María and the 826 editors, and while she isn’t seen during daylight hours often, you may catch her slinking in the back door to pick up book manuscripts from time to time. Read more about Lucy.
July 2013: Bear Toffoli
Bear is an avid cookbook reader, a word warrior (i.e. poet), a music junkie, a fromage fanatic, and an all-night dancer. He began volunteering with 826 Valencia in 2011 for the Exploring Words Summer Camp tutoring students in the fine art and craftsmanship of being a wordsmith. He gets the most enjoyment from watching the “a-ha!” moments and seeing students come up with their own creative writing ideas. Read more about Bear.
June 2013: Jody Worthington
Jody Worthington is a graphic designer, a hula hooper, a metal DJ, and a friend to cats. She began volunteering with 826 Valencia in 2008, creating event posters, laying out the Bay-Farer, Straight-Up News, and chapbooks. Jody’s favorite project with 826 has been working with Maria to design the Young Authors’ Book Project for the past four years. She feels lucky and honored to have collaborated with some amazing designers and illustrators, to work with the incredible 826 family, and to see the look of elation on students’ faces as they see their work professionally designed and published for the first time. Read more about Jody.
May 2013: David Brownell
David Brownell began tutoring with our After-School tutoring program in 2005. He became interested in tutoring and working with youth when he saw volunteer caregivers working with children at his daughter’s daycare. A two-time Harvard graduate, a writer, and a copy editor, David loves volunteering with us and is proud to see two of his students going on to college next fall. This father, grandfather, and much beloved staple in the writing lab is an exemplary volunteer. Read more about David.
April 2013: Kim Connor
Dr. Kim Connor is a professor in the School of Management at the University of San Francisco. She is a published author and Associate Editor for the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. Despite a demanding schedule, Kim makes her way to 826 Valencia nearly every Thursday to guide students in the adventures of storytelling. Kim has also tutored students on the Young Author’s Book Project‘s editorial board and consistently supported our fundraising efforts so that we may continue to provide free programming for our students. Read more about Kim.
March 2013: Benilda Taft-Kiewek
Benilda Taft-Kiewek is a longtime San Francisco resident. Born and raised in Mexico by an eccentric, multinational family, as a young woman she came to live in the United States, where she married and raised a family. Her five grown children are working in professions they love, and her five suburban grandchildren love to visit her in San Francisco. Read more about Benilda.