Let’s celebrate Taylor Norman, our December Volunteer of the Month!

It’s been an intense year so far, and through it all, our Writing Centers have remained a fun and safe space for the young authors of San Francisco. And people like Taylor Norman, our December Volunteer of the Month, have helped us keep programs running smoothly. If you’ve stopped at our Tenderloin Center on Thursdays, chances are that you’ve crossed paths with Taylor in one of our after-school workshops.

Taylor’s support has been vital in engaging and challenging students to foster a love of books and creativity. Read on to understand why she is our Volunteer of the Month.
 
What is one of your favorite moments (memories, experiences or anecdotes!) from volunteering with 826 Valencia?
 
One week, our table—me, Iman, and Asma—was writing about the merits of Hot Takis vs. Hot Cheetos. Hot takes abound whenever this topic comes up, so things were naturally getting heated. When I mentioned I’d never had Hot Takis, the girls couldn’t believe it: “Why not?!” “I don’t know,” I told them. “I guess it’s just not really a type of food I… have ever thought about eating.” “You can get them like, you know that store down there [pointing vaguely toward Civic Center]? There,” Asma informed me. She was right—but since I wasn’t really in the market for a new snack food, I forgot about it.
 
The next week, the girls were squirrelly from the minute they came in. “What’s up, guys?” I asked them, but they just giggled and distractedly worked on the day’s assignment. Until the program lead passed out snack. Rustle went the backpacks, whisper went the girls—and then they pointed underneath the table. “Look!” I peeked under the table to see a sneaky hand holding up a bag of Hot Takis, poking up from a brown paper sack. I couldn’t believe the girls had remembered about my Taki deficiency and had figured out a way to first buy the Takis, then smuggle them in, while keeping the secret from me. It was the best snack I ever had. Way better than Hot Cheetos.
 
What led you to become part of our volunteer community?
 
I’m an editor of children’s books, and while I love my job, one of the things I find most frustrating about it is the lack of connection I, as the editor, have with our end “consumer”: the reader, the kid. Between me and that person who I’m ostensibly making books for lies a vast expanse of gatekeepers: my Sales department, my Marketing department; the buyer at the bookstore; the librarian; the teacher; the parent. I started tutoring at 826 to traverse that distance, in some small way, and I am bettered every day for it. I’m constantly reminded of what it means to read as a kid, what a privilege it is to be a reader as a kid: for so many kids, a book is scary, a challenge, a representation of their own difficulties. It’s easy in publishing to forget it can take a long time for books to become “friends” to a kid. Our work at 826 to help kids not see books as foes is the first and most important step towards keeping books intrinsic to their whole life.
 
Do you prefer pirates or pufferfishes, and why?
 
My fourteen-year-old self who had a secret handshake with my best friend that was about 35% a tribute to Captain Jack Sparrow says pirates, but my adult self spends too much time with fish-adorned worksheets at 826 Valencia not to say puffers.
 
What would we find you doing when not volunteering at 826?
 
Reading or dancing. I read books more obsessively now than I did when I was a kid, alarmingly. But dancing is where I turn my brain off.
 
What is a piece of advice you would give a new 826 volunteer?
 
These kids are listening to everything you say, whether they look like they are or not, and they take everything to heart. Do tell them they are doing a good job; do react to their story ideas with as much honest enthusiasm as you can muster—you might be the rare adult giving them that positive feedback, and that really does make a difference. Also, just talk to them like they’re humans. That’s what they are first.
 
We’re so grateful for volunteers like Taylor. And with the opening of our third center (spring 2019!) we will need even more folks to join our 826 family. Get involved!
 
Read more about our previous Volunteer of the Months.