Eric Stolze has been part of the 826LA family since he stepped through our Echo Park doors back in 2008. Going on a decade of friendship, Eric has done it all—intern, volunteer, Great Los Angeles Personal Statement Weekend tutor, the grumpy Mr. Barnacle during 826LA Field Trips, event host committee member, fundraising participant extraordinaire, and Time Travel Mart store clerk. It’s hard to imagine 826LA without Eric close by!
How and when did you first become involved with 826LA?
When I first moved to LA in 2008, I was exploring Echo Park trying to find a way to feel at home. I felt a sense of community and neighborhood the moment I stepped into the Time Travel Mart and left with a flyer in hand. A few weeks later, I got my orientation and started as an intern!
Any favorite or memorable 826LA moment(s)?
The fundraisers have always been a great way to celebrate a great group of students and volunteers alike, but as I’ve focused mostly on field trips over the years, my favorite moments as a volunteer have always been when younger students at Storytelling & Bookmaking Field Trips are presented with their books for the first time. It never fails to get an astonished and excited response, literally every time.
Has an 826LA student ever said or done anything that has stuck with you?
When I worked with high school students writing their personal statement essays for college applications, the first student I worked with had ended his draft with, “I was not born to waste my life,” and I still have that written on an index card over my desk.
Since you’re a writer, is there any advice (writing or otherwise!) you’d like to impart on our young authors?
Since it takes time and attention, and you have to choose to do it over other things, make it feel like a reward instead of a chore, whether it’s something you do while listening to your favorite music, do in a group with your favorite people, or just do it at the end of the day to bring out some thoughtfulness and reflection before the next.
You’re an incredible supporter (fanboy?) of 826LA events! (The Half Half Half Half Half Marathon and Let’s Do the Time Warp! just to name a few!) What keeps you coming back?
The people! 826LA seems uniquely gifted in its ability to magnetize intelligent, creative, and empathetic people together into a volunteer base that has offered me some of the greatest friendships of my life.
What’s it like playing the role of the persnickety Mr. Barnacle of Barnacle & Barnacle Publishing during 826LA Field Trips?
Therapeutic! Where else can you talk to people like that and call it “volunteer work”? In all seriousness, part of the fun of the character is the way the students’ words and attitudes melt his icy heart to reveal the silly, soft man-child within. When he finally admits he loves everybody, the mixture of laughter and cheering is an incredible sound to behold.
What’s it like sometimes being the first person newcomers encounter at the Time Travel Mart? Any memorable/funny/puzzling moments?
It’s fun to look at people’s astonishment when they walk in and realize that it is, indeed, exactly what the sign says (some people just come up to the door and peer in, afraid to come inside), but there are some people who are so obsessed with these stores that they’ve made visiting each of them into a vacation goal! Geeks after my own heart. And yes, a couple of people have come in to have very, very serious conversations about “real” time travel.
Ok, rapid-fire time:
Hot Cheetos or Takis? Both! “The Devil’s Trail Mix.”
Oxford comma or no oxford comma? Oxford commas. People that go to college there are smart for a reason.
The past or the future? The future… hopefully?
In honor of Eric’s dedication to 826LA, here he is hamming it up at 826LA events to support our students and programs through the years:
Interested in becoming the voice of Mr. Barnacle during an 826LA Field Trip? Sign up to become a volunteer here.
Read more pieces from our Writing the Way at 826LA blog series here.