When summer faded in September, school started and welcomed me into another year of learning. At UCLA, I enrolled in a civic engagement class focusing on service learning in Los Angeles, placing students in organizations throughout the city.
At the time, I was unaware of 826LA and its commitment to serving lower income communities. The class assigned me to 826LA in Mar Vista where I participated in After-School Tutoring on Thursdays. No book or lecture from class could eclipse the experience of sitting between two students from different schools, creeds and backgrounds and listening to them engage with one another and others. The clarity and creativity of their thoughts astounded me and continue to do so today. One student drew a figure of his own creation, connecting the details of the body with this character’s story. I knew I wanted to return and see and hear more.
So, I stayed. Now as an intern, I witness the other face of 826LA every day while working here with the office space piled high with volunteer handbooks and tasks abounding at every moment. I am still learning, albeit in a way I never foresaw in the beginning of September. Most importantly, I learn not only the job, but about the people passing through these doors. The community formed through this place gives me hope for a better world where these students, their families, and the volunteers all benefit from meeting each other.
Being there when a student finishes her first book in Barnacle’s Bookworms and watching her develop into an astute reader…these are the moments that give sustenance for volunteers like me to always return. I feel the students and volunteers share the brief time together as a way to learn from one another. When I arrived at 826LA, I didn’t know what awaited me, an experience new students also face here. I realize as we go on and the space and faces around us turn as familiar as our homes, this place always retains a charm of adventure around the corner.
Melissa writes stories in her head, realizing that she must actually type them down to have proof of their existence. She attends UCLA, pursuing a degree in biology. For two years, she has been the Fiction Editor of UCLA’s journal for the arts, Westwind.