Three cheers for our February Volunteer of the Month, Maura Kealey!

We’re so thankful for our committed volunteers, who brave the wet San Francisco winter to support our students. And one of those fantastic folks is our February Volunteer of the Month, Maura Kealey! She is a longtime volunteer for our Young Authors’ Book Project, dedicating her time to providing great feedback to students and holding them to high standards. Here’s what she has to say about her experience with the 826 Valencia’s volunteer community.

What is one of your favorite moments (memories, experiences or anecdotes!) from volunteering with 826 Valencia?

Watching an eighth grader’s eyes light up as she had an epiphany: “don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.” Exactly what was keeping her from writing—any mistake and she had to start each sentence over from the beginning. Hearing another eighth grader explain that the most valuable thing she learned in our tutorial was when to use Black English in her writing, and when not to. And seeing D., who had resisted writing for as long as he could hold out, but finally succumbed to describe the City as he saw it. And marveling at his finished sentences, shared: “I really like this.”

What makes tutoring fun is each day to be part of how students work and learn, even when nothing momentous happens, it is all pretty interesting.
 
What led you to become part of our volunteer community?

My brother Peter had come by 826 Valencia’s storefront when Dave Eggers was giving haircuts. When I quit my full-time union job and started consulting, I had free time. I love kids, and I love writing. Peter suggested 826. The Young Authors’ Book Project at International High School in 2012-2013 was my first venture. I loved it.

From 2013 to 2017, a hiatus, when consulting work, unfortunately, made volunteer scheduling impossible. But then, in the winter of 2016-17, I found myself making picture and poetry books for friends and relatives—even writing children’s books—and as I was running out of recipients, remembered that 826 publishes books of student writing. Voila! With Kiley McLaughlin, Angelina Brand, and my brother Peter McDowell, now also a volunteer, we created two workshops for middle schoolers: “I Am A Camera: Write the City You See” and “Found in Translation.”
 
Given a choice of the three, which would you choose: pirates, pufferfish, or woodland creatures? Why?

I would refuse to choose because the volunteer can always question the categories until they are explained at 826! Let me make my case:

First, we need pirates. They are our raison d’être here at 826 Valencia. But pufferfish have a right to exist because evidently, they do. Unless they are imaginary? Then what’s not to like? And “woodland creatures” covers a huge terrain. I look forward to exploring it.
 
What would we find you doing when not volunteering at 826?

Walking around San Francisco taking photographs. Reading. Other activities too numerous to mention! Also, when I’m in the middle of a project at 826, like this year’s YABP at Galileo High School, I spend time thinking about how to make each student’s writing work, even when I’m not there. Creativity is absorbing.
 
What is a piece of advice you would give a new 826 volunteer?

Have fun with each student! They are unique. I am amazed by each new student I work with.
Get comfortable with who you are as a tutor—you are not their teacher, you don’t have that authority, but at the same time, you are an adult, not their peer. I find students are pretty good at getting into a comfortable and productive working relationship with their tutor. Ask questions to other tutors and 826 staff. I learn a lot from my peers.
 
Volunteers like Maura are the heart and soul of our programs, and with the opening of our new Mission Bay Center we will need even more amazing folks like her to join our 826 family. Get involved!
 
Read more about our previous Volunteer of the Months.