July Volunteer of the Month: Summer camp superstar

Nikhil WadhwaniNikhil 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!

We spoke with Nikhil to get the inside scoop on his volunteer experience thus far.

“I was surprised,” he said. “Initially, I came to 826 because I was interested in creative writing. But then I saw students were just as eager for help with math and science. All around me, I saw tutors helping wherever they saw a need, and volunteers filling-in unexpected roles. I was hooked.”

Nikhil has studied biology and creative writing. He is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and the Masters of Science Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University. This summer, he lent us his knowledge of neuroscience to help develop this year’s Exploring Words Summer Camp. He taught the staff at 826 Valencia about the brain and neuroplasticity. “The program director explained to me 826’s partnership with the San Francisco Exploratorium and the desire to teach kids about observation and how the brain learns, so that they can better learn skills for writing. I thought, Wow! that’s pretty innovative.”

Nikhil teaches narrative workshops for doctors, nurses, and social workers, to help healthcare professionals develop skills for listening and interpretation. “By studying literature, we can learn to listen better, and respond to patients’ needs with more effective care. I love the similar spirit I’ve seen at 826 Valencia. They’re open to new styles of learning and education. They engage students, not with a single method, but with a treasure trove of tools.”

Nikhil has always had a love for writing and literature. “In school,” he said. “The teachers who helped me the most were often my English professors. They took an interest in my stories, my struggles, and my roots. That’s what inspires me so much about 826. By working with kids and their stories, we can help them see what is so valuable and special about themselves. I think in medicine or literature, we help others by bringing out the best of the people we serve. You don’t always have to be an expert in order to make that kind of a difference. There are lots of ways to help people. Everyone has something to offer.”

Nikhil grew up among the oranges and farms of the California Central Valley. He is a rock climber, a tea aficionado, writes Asian American fiction, plays the flute, performs stories, and makes a mean masala chai.

To read about all of our featured volunteers, visit the Volunteer of the Month gallery.