Time Travel and Tutoring: How to Grow a Nonprofit One Time Traveler at a Time

March 13, 2013

By Joel Arquillos

Like you, I woke up this morning and headed to work. Unlike you, my office is a ‘lab’ fronted by a Time Travel Mart. In this mart, we sell everything the good folks in the community need to enjoy safe and successful time travel: Mammoth Chunks, Robot Milk, Viking Odorant, and Hair Tonic. What sort of a nonprofit has a storefront? The kind that wants to form a deep bond with the community while creating a ‘portal’ for the thousands of young people who come to us each day for tutoring, writing support, homework help, and more.

Our founders, author Dave Eggers and teacher Ninive Calegari knew first hand that the way to engage young people in literacy, and more specifically in writing, was to spark their imaginations while connecting them with one-on-one support. From the first storefront at 826 Valencia to the network of locations in 8 major US cities today, this sense of humor, innovation, and desire to provide environments where young people can feel safe exploring and creating have become the very foundations on which the organization has continued to grow.

The first 826LA location opened in Venice in 2005 in a decommissioned police station. That space was great, but didn’t give us the opportunity to have a storefront, so we opened a second 826LA in Echo Park in 2008 fronted by the Echo Park Time Travel Mart. And this past fall we moved 826LA in Venice to Mar Vista and opened a second store, the Mar Vista Time Travel Mart. These communities share a similar mix of families who need tutoring and afterschool services and individuals looking for ways to engage with the former. One catalyst for these two populations to come together has been the storefronts. The crazy merchandise mix and themed environment gets our students into that creative mind-space while it creates a dialogue with the people in the community who are looking for a way to share their time and skills with the up and coming generation. The Time Travel Marts have been working not only as a fundraising vehicle, but also as a great way to recruit high-caliber volunteers who go above and beyond to create this safe, creative, and dynamic environment for the youth we serve.

This past year we were able to work with more than 10,000 students through our on-site afterschool services, fieldtrips, workshops, and in-school support services. Back in the ‘lab’ we have our curmudgeon editor, Mr. Barnacle, as well as our volunteers working with kids on journalism, creative writing, songwriting and, during college application season, personal statements. We also have ‘Dead Author’ readings featuring artists from the theater group, Upright Citizen’s Brigade, and the fun goes on. But there is something disarming about having fun: it removes the boundaries between the folks who have the skills and those who need them. It has allowed us to create an accessible and sustainable model that is school, but is not school, where there are no stigmas, only transformational partnerships.

Joel Arquillos is the executive director of 826LA.



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