Cheryl KleinBy Cheryl Klein

Throughout the fall, volunteers worked one-on-one with elementary school students in the Tutoring program at 826LA, a nonprofit organization with writing centers in Mar Vista and Echo Park and at two Los Angeles high schools. The prompt: Write about your memories, both happy and difficult.

It all started with a birthday, the cake, the people, and ended with a gift. This birthday changed everything…the gift was a DOG! wrote Grace T.

My cat Mochi has black and white spots. He smells like cat food, soap, and fish mixed together. He makes a funny noise when he talks to birds, Nathalie C. described.

Last year, my mom went through a depression because her brother, my uncle who I didn’t know very well, died of COVID. We made [an] ofrenda to honor him, wrote Fatima G.

Between school closures, personal losses, family stress, and economic hardship, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a troubling toll on American children. For sixteen years, 826LA has helped students who attend under-resourced schools with their academic and writing skills. The organization aims to make learning fun, by harnessing and celebrating students’ natural creativity. The students they support overwhelmingly report that their confidence grows when they work with encouraging tutors. Now more than ever, volunteers, staff, and educators see the urgent need for students to have a safe space to process their experiences.

826LA offers several free programs: Tutoring, Field Trips, Workshops, and In-Schools writing sessions, which often focus on college access for high school students. Writing is the common denominator.

“When students write their stories, they own their experiences,” says Jaime Balboa, 826LA’s Executive Director. “Writing isn’t just an academic skill, it’s a life skill.”

826LA, which supported more than 3,400 students last year, relies on a force of more than 400 trained volunteers to provide the individualized attention that helps students thrive. The organization is funded by a combination of grants, individual donations, and proceeds from its unique storefronts: the Time Travel Mart—with locations in Mar Vista and Echo Park—sells convenience items for time travelers, from Invent the Wheel kits to Victorian iPods, along with books authored by 826LA students.

After volunteering at 826LA’s annual Great Los Angeles Personal Statement Weekend, Ned, a volunteer said, “Every student is different. That’s what makes it so much fun…. It’s really, really wonderful working with them because they’re serious about what they want to do, and I give them someone to hear what they’re saying, and help them express it.”

Cheryl Klein is Senior Communications Manager at 826LA. To volunteer with 826LA or to donate, please visit