“826LA – Always Traveling Through Time”
Silver Lake Blog
June 24, 2016
We caught up with Joel Arquillos, Executive Director of 826LA, a super cool non-profit organization helping out young Angelenos in various ways, from creative writing to tutoring, in both writing labs and at schools. It’s an incredible opportunity for our future generations to find their voice at a young age, write stories, and have them published. 826LA – Always Traveling Through Time!
In addition to workshops and events, 826LA runs two Time Travel Marts in Echo Park and Mar Vista, selling everything from posters, time travel supplies, and student publications. With a slogan like “Whenever You Are, We’re Already Then,” you know you’re in for a whimsical experience.
Joel Arquillos, Executive Director of 826LA
How long have you lived in Los Angeles?
8 years. We moved here in 2008.
What are your thoughts on how the Eastside is changing, specifically Echo Park?
There are certainly some great new restaurants and places to shop, but it’s clear these places are attracting a new clientele. Since 826LA works with students whose families are struggling financially, we see first hand the impact the changing demographics is having on Echo Park residents. Parents tell me all the time how expensive it is to live here and how they’re not sure if they can stay in the community. It really pains me to hear these stories. I want to make sure these families are not pushed out. They’re an essential part of the fabric of this community and need to be supported and cared for. It’s so important to 826LA to be able to offer our services completely for free to our students. But we’re also impacted by how the neighborhood is changing since we pay rent for our building and as the neighborhood improves, our costs increase, too.
What are your favorite local spots for dining and relaxing in Echo Park?
Echo Park Lake is my favorite spot. I love taking walks around the lake and having picnics with our students and staff out there. We used to run these fundraisers we called the Paddle Boat Regatta on the lake. We would attract hundreds of our volunteers to race each other in the paddle boats as way to build awareness and raise much needed funds for our programs.
826LA – Always Traveling Through Time
How long have you worked with 826LA and what is your role?
I’ve been the Executive Director since 2008.
What makes this organization stand out amongst others?
There are many fantastic organizations in Echo Park and all over Los Angeles offering services to youth and families. I’d like to believe that one of the things that makes 826LA unique are our storefronts. We have the Echo Park Time Travel Mart as well as the Mar Vista Time Travel Mart. These storefronts sell merchandise for time travelers who may need a toga if they’re on their way to the Greek or Roman era or a robot toupee to cheer up their ‘other’ family member in the future. We also sell the books we publish by our students. We have over 100 publications created by our students in our writing labs and in the LAUSD schools we work with. All the funds we raise in our stores and online help us pay for the free services we provide. The stores are also portals to the creative and whimsical world we want our students to explore when they’re with us. The stores also help us recruit the many volunteers we need to provide our free services.
How can families get their children involved?
Go to our website, or visit one of our locations!
826LA – Always Traveling Through Time
Is there a book that is a go to for an inspirational story, both for younger children and teenagers?
I recently had the opportunity to interview Newberry Medal Winner, Kwame Alexander, for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books who has a collection of books for our students 12 and up. I highly recommend The Crossover. It’s a beautiful novel written entirely in verse and deals with the topics so many young people are struggling with. But, I would also recommend any and all of the books written by the students of 826LA. All are available at our stores and online here.
What are some of the challenges the students strive to most overcome?
Since we target students who go to public schools and lack the financial resources to get the support they need (medical, educational, extra curricular), we come across a lot of challenges that make the lives of our students really hard. One of our programs focuses on helping students write their personal statements for college. So many of the students we work with are eager to be successful and want to attend great schools, but they often lack the grades, extra curricular experiences, SAT/ACT qualifications, and support to compete against students from better financial situations (the student to guidance counselor ratio for LAUSD schools is about 400 students to one counselor).
When we help them tell their stories, we discover why so many find hard to compete. Many of these students are supplementing their family income by working one or two jobs after school. Others live in one-parent homes, foster homes, and you often encounter students who are parents and trying to graduate on time. In most cases, our volunteers are the first to hear about some of these challenges when helping these students craft a personal narrative that will show the admissions officers why they’ve struggled and why it’s critical they attend college. It’s quite an emotional experience. But the reward come when we hear back from the students saying that with our help and guidance, they made it into college.