Some of my fondest memories from childhood revolve around the stoop of our apartment building on 140th Street in Harlem. Ours was one of the few tenements at the end of our side of the street (the buildings on the other side of the street had been burned out or abandoned years before). Some of the families that lived there had lived on the block the longest—since the 1950's and 60's. Because of that, our stoop became the de facto center of the neighborhood—at times a meeting place, sometimes the kitchen for a summer party, and when it was just us boys, the bridge of a battle ship.
The stoop linked all of the families and people on the block together. It made us a community with everybody looking out for everyone. If I was doing something I wasn't suppose to, which was often, my grandmother knew because another grandmother or mother on the block was watching out for me. People made sure we went home directly from school instead of wandering onto another block. And it wasn't unusual to hear a scream of, "Is your homework done?" if one of my friends ventured onto the stoop too early after school.
It was our neighborhood, full of block parties, friends, and people helping people. Unfortunately that sense of neighborhood, that feeling of community disappeared. Maybe it was the times, or the drugs or violence—or it could have been all of those things. Either way, it disappeared. And not just on my block, but on blocks in urban cities across the country. Somehow the neighborhood became "the hood" and that abbreviation made being neighbors a bit more ominous.
But over the last few years, urban neighborhoods have been coming back. Humans by nature long to be connected to each other, and we want to help each other when it’s needed. Nonprofits across the country have been getting people from neighborhoods to volunteer to build and tend gardens, construct houses, or, in the case of 826, help the young people on the block with their homework and writing. At 826 we believe there are caring adults who want to volunteer in their neighborhoods to help kids succeed.
How do we do it? If you live in one of the cities where there is an 826 chapter—San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Seattle, Ann Arbor/Detroit, Chicago, or Boston—you may have walked by one of our centers without knowing it. You may have wondered aloud why there's a superhero store selling capes in Park Slope or spy supplies being sold in Wicker Park. We purposely set up our centers in neighborhoods where a tutoring and writing center is unusual. We created spaces where students could readily get help with their homework or writing from people willing to lend a hand. In a world filled with issues, 826 asks you to leave issues at the door and just help a student.
Our whimsically-themed storefronts act as gateways to the neighborhood, allowing us to invite students, parents, and volunteers in and see what happens inside. If you happen to stop by on a day that afterschool tutoring or workshops are in session, you can see and hear from the sound of laughter and joy going on in the back room (or somewhere hidden behind a transporter) that this is no ordinary place; it’s more than just a shop or tutoring center. You get a feeling that something special and different goes on here and you want to get involved. Walk into an 826 center and see for yourself.
Last year our eight chapters worked with more than 31,000 students with the help of 5,000 volunteers. These volunteers are people from the neighborhood who have the time and the desire to do something to help a young person and their community. Each 826 center is a place where people can get involved in the educational success of the young people they see every day. Our centers are places of learning and places of fun. Seldom do we hear those two words in the same sentence, however, with 826 those words are used together all the time.
826 National chapters are excited to team up with GOOD and celebrate Neighborday. It’s a chance for all us to celebrate that neighborhood feeling I got when I was a kid on my stoop. 826 is excited to showcase what we do and offer our neighbors the opportunity to come get a dose of the magic. We invite you to come to our neighborhood, ask questions about our programs, and I hope, fill out a volunteer application to get involved.
Hang out with your neighbors on the last Saturday of April (a day we're calling "Neighborday"). Click here to say you'll Do It, and we'll send you GOOD's Neighborday Survival Guide and a bunch of other fun stuff.
Photo courtesy of 826 National.