By Sharon Chin

SAN FRANCISCO — A best-selling Bay Area author and a former teacher teamed up to create a fun non-profit organization that marries education and creativity.

The result: imaginations take flight and children fall in love 

The non-profit, 826 Valencia is a creative writing lab for underserved kids aged 6 to 18 where children discover the power of words.

“I like to write about how I want to help the homeless,” fourth grader Keira said.

The tutoring program was founded 14 years ago by former teacher Ninive Calegari and author Dave Eggers. 

Eggers works include his best-selling memoir, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” and “A Hologram for the King” which later became a feature film.

The pair designed the organization to inspire kids to write and support their teachers.

“I was so excited to work at teachers’ behest and bring them resources and [Eggers was] excited to bring his publishing skills and writing skills,” Calegari said.

Today, nearly 900 volunteers provide children with free individual tutoring and workshops and at different schools. Students write their own books, magazines and newspapers that get published and showcased.

Calegari added, “We book places like City Hall or the Fort Mason Center — all these difference places so the kids really feel that we think their voices and work is important.”

There’s also a unique story behind the non-profit’s name, 826 Valencia — it’s the center’s actual address in San Francisco.

Calegari and Eggers opened a pirate store at that location because the area was zoned for retail but if you go to the back of the store, there you’ll find the writing lab. 

The program is funded by store sales, grants, sponsorships and individual donations.

More than 5,000 students, like 10-year-old Jayden, reaped the benefits providing him with stronger writing skills.  

“Writing was a difficult thing for me, and still at school I have a little bit of trouble, but I’m getting over it, thanks to this,” said Jayden. 

The non-profit opened a new center in the Tenderloin and it’s gone national, with several chapters serving 30,000 children last year. 

Bita Nazarian is the executive director of 826 Valencia and credits the founders for the non-profit’s success. 

“[Calegari] is, like, very thoughtful and passionate about what needs to be made right in the world,” and added “what inspires me about [Eggers] is his ability to think outside of the box.”

Nazarian said this program has expanded beyond the United States; dozens of cities around the world, including Paris are now using parts of 826 Valencia’s program. 

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