Meet our Volunteer Ambassadors!
Have you met our Volunteer Ambassadors yet? If you’re a longtime volunteer, you probably have! And if you’re just getting started, these are the folks to know.
The Ambassadors are volunteers in our programs who wear a lot of hats. In addition to tutoring and supporting our students, they’re there to welcome and get to know new volunteers and share what’s awesome, challenging, and rewarding about this work.
Keep reading to get to know these fine folks, and keep an eye out for them the next time you’re volunteering! And if you’re interested in becoming an Ambassador yourself, reach out to our Volunteer Engagement Director Anton Timms to learn more.
Susan Birnbaum, Storytelling and Bookmaking Field Trips
Susan has been a volunteer for years, seeking out organizations that focus on youth, creativity, and education. She is involved in several nonprofits that support projects created by students, nurturing their ideas and imaginations in the process. According to her, these opportunities encourage and validate original thinking and creativity. “826 Valencia is at the top of the list for me, for promoting these crucial aspects through a variety of amazing and well-thought-out programs.”
When asked about her volunteer experience at 826, Brittany Carico shared, “826 not only encourages students to use their creativity but also teaches them that it is valued. Being able to work with such a wonderful team of people that care about the joy student’s can experience while learning is one of the best parts of my week.”
Ed Cavagnaro started out as a tutor in our summer programs and went on to dedicate himself to projects such as The Straight-Up News, Mission Magazine, and the Young Authors’ Book Project. He also 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.
Nadia Chkinef, Podcasting Field Trips
In Nadia’s own words, she volunteers with 826 because “The volunteer community truly embodies genuine compassion and inclusion for every single student who walks through their door.” And when asked to share a bit of advice for new volunteers, she said, “Don’t feel discouraged if your nerves get the best of you! Rest assured that you are not the only one and we’re here to support you in any way that we can.”
When asked about his experience with 826 Valencia, Billy shared: “Creative writing workshops were a great introduction to 826 Valencia. I was reminded of what it’s like to have an infinite imagination when a student wrote a story about flying mobile phones that taste like jelly donuts. The energy and dedication of the 826 staff and other volunteers make it easy to follow in their footsteps.” When he is not volunteering, Billy reads up on trends in the geometry & geology space to ensure his tutoring knowledge is up-to-date.
Maggie Grainger, Mission Center Workshops
When Maggie first happened upon an 826 Valencia volunteer booth at a tabling event, she knew instantly she wanted to get involved. She started as a Sunday tutor back in 2013, before finding her calling on the Valencia Bay-Farer newspaper staff. She was instantly blown away by how passionate the students were about their articles, their range of topics, savvy interview techniques, and the excitement they all shared when they saw their byline for the first time. In 2016, the 826 staff approached her about taking on the head tutor position at the Valencia Bay-Farer, and she says it was a no-brainer.
Matt Krieger, Storytelling and Bookmaking Field Trips
Matt volunteers at 826 Valencia as a way to give back to the city he loves. And it brings him great joy to do so. Matt also finds joy taking long urban walks, baking cakes from scratch, hiking Pt. Reyes, hosting pizza & poker parties, visiting the San Francisco Musem of Modern Art (SFMOMA), going to magic shows, listening to Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday on vinyl, and occasionally splurging on good seats at San Francisco Playhouse. To make ends meet, he pieces together a living as an Airbnb host and as a freelance copywriter/creative director for nonprofit organizations.
Gloria Lenhart loves San Francisco the way only an East Coast transplant can. When she’s not volunteering at our field trips, 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, where you can find sunken ships in the financial district, explore hidden gardens downtown, and more. Proceeds from the app benefit 826 Valencia.
When asked what made her join our volunteer community, Kate shared, “I came to 826 because of my interest in creative writing, but I stayed for the community of volunteers and the unique programs. The Storytelling and Bookmaking Field Trip is a fun, special, collaborative experience—always a highlight of my week. Watching a unique story come together in a few hours and seeing the pride of ownership on the kids’ faces when their ideas show up on the page is incredibly rewarding.”
Henry Roark, Sunday Drop-in Tutoring
Henry still remembers making the decision to bite the bullet and devote himself to developing his writing skills in high school, to which he recalled, “It didn’t come easy, but I went out on a limb and applied to work at my school’s writing center, enjoyed it, and got the chance to continue at the one in college. I took a course there that really helped me feel more agency and empowered with my writing and I hope to help others feel the same way through volunteering at 826.” When not tutoring at 826, you’ll probably find Henry biking around town, and if you bump into him don’t hesitate to say hi!
Natalie is a new volunteer and ambassador at 826 Valencia. She is new to the Bay Area coming all the way from Australia! She just completed her high school teaching degree and enjoys working with students at our Mission Center field trips and In-School Programs. When asked to share a bit about her volunteer experience, she shared, “826 Valencia provides so many fantastic opportunities for young authors, and I love reading the funny, heartfelt, important words that the kids come up with! Writing opens up so many doors, and I feel privileged to be able to do my part in helping students develop as writers and people.” Welcome to the family, Natalie!
I started volunteering at 826LA before moving up to the Bay Area. I love being involved in my community and facilitating creative projects. I feel especially grateful that I get to learn from students and other volunteers. I remember being at the 826LA’s Mar Vista location during the Write On! camp when I paired up with a student who didn’t want to speak or participate at all. I watched how an intern interacted with the student. The intern was asking the student yes or no questions. “Do you like pizza?” The student shook her head no. “Do you like hot dogs?” She shook her head no. “Do you like breathing?” The student started shaking her head no, stopped midway, and cracked the biggest smile. It really showed me what an asset it is to have a streak of humor in what we do. My advice to new volunteers is to be yourself and to always ask for help.
Tim studied architecture, apparel, and graphic design at the Rhode Island School of Design, and has been involved with 826 as a tutor, volunteer designer, and “snack lady” since 2010. 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.”
Donna Williamson, Storytelling and Bookmaking Field Trips
Dona enjoys volunteering as a way to help students from underserved schools, who would not have access to those extra activities and experiences otherwise. When asked to share a bit of advice to volunteers, she said, “Take advantage of the opportunity to stretch yourself in a way that is new and different from other ways of volunteering. It is very satisfying to reinvent yourself and exercise skills that you may not regularly get to use.”