The 826 Valencia Center in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District nearly always elicits a double take. There aren’t many corner stores where you can buy a message in a bottle, shop for a giant squid ink pen, or climb a two-story indoor treehouse. The corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Leavenworth is where students from across the city gather after school and, with a little help from volunteer tutors, tell their stories.
“The goal of 826 Valencia is to transform a young person’s relationship to writing,” says Lauren Hall, director of grants and evaluations for the writing nonprofit. By sparking creativity, the organization helps “young people see writing as a tool and a place of power.” And the surrounding whimsy and wonder of the space is no accident. In fact, it’s essential to the way the nonprofit approaches the power of literacy. The purpose isn’t just to get kids writing, it’s to get them excited about it. So it’s crucial that the environment stimulates students’ imaginations from the moment they walk in.