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Writing the Way at 826LA: Mark Koro’s ‘Critical Role’ as an 826LA donor and supporter

Mark Koro is an 826LA supporter who was instrumental in raising $100,000 for 826LA through our 2018 Critical Role x 826LA: Support the Next Generation of Bards!” matching campaign. He also happens to be a huge fan of Dungeons and Dragons and a self-described “Critter.”

From D&D player and “Critter” to 826LA supporter

I learned about Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) when I was in grade school back in the late 1970’s (yes, I’m old). My 7th grade history teacher Mr. Cruver was our initial Dungeon Master, and after a year, my friends and I formed our own group, carrying the game into high school and beyond. The campaign ended when I moved to San Diego in 2000 and I lost touch with D&D. In many ways, I felt like the aging kids in the Chronicles of Narnia—I had finally grown up and was not allowed to return to the magical worlds of D&D because I had to be an adult. Thanks to watching Critical Role a couple of years ago, it rekindled the light of being young and the idea that “playing” is ok.

I learned about 826LA from watching Critical Role in 2016. I found the Geek and Sundry YouTube channel, and lo and behold, I discovered the Critical Role series, which was a set of recordings from a live stream on Twitch.tv showing a group of talented actors playing D&D. At the end of each show, they would talk about this charity, 826LA, and read the chat handles and messages of people that donated live. This was a very unusual and interesting aspect of their show.

As I researched 826LA, I became a fan of the mission and the very focused scope in the community. I decided to donate to 826LA myself. Afterward, meeting [826LA Executive Director] Joel Arquillos and seeing how 826LA actually operated hooked me.

Philanthropy is a thing that can be an arms length activity that “people should do”—the word itself sounding like an uninteresting activity. I never liked donating to something I did not know about, and I am so glad I met Joel. He embodies the compassion and dedication that is indicative of 826LA as a whole.

Through his love of Dungeons and Dragons and the online series Critical Role, Koro rallied alongside Critical Role fans (self-described “Critters”) from around the world to support 826LA in an epic fundraising campaign, matching up to $50,000 in donations for $100,000 in total. “Critters” rose to the challenge, raising $50,000 in just 26 days.

“In today’s world, I think we need more positive efforts like 826LA to foster the spirits of young people to help lead the world to a better place in the small ways—step by step.”

I cannot help but think about the cast of Critical Role’s dedication to helping others. A group of soulful and creative friends have shared a special part of their lives through Critical Role that has grown a community of soulful and creative fans that just raised $50,000 for a charity fostering a future of soulful and creative adults. That is just damn amazing.

I had an opportunity to visit the set of Critical Role and saw firsthand the amazing human nature of each and every Critical Role cast member. What I saw on the stream was only the tip of the goodness iceberg that I saw in person. I had no idea how successful the fundraiser would be, and you never want to assume anything—even though in my heart I knew the Critters were a very giving community.

I hope the funds raised by the Critical Role and 826LA: Support the Next Generation of Bards! $50,000 matching campaign will help 826LA find new ways to unlock future imaginative minds that will create their own Critical Roles in new ways we have not even thought of yet.

I jokingly told the gang that the fundraising campaign is helping a young person today become a famous writer, actor, director, producer, etc. that will guest star in 20 years on the 1000th episode of Critical Role. In today’s world, I think we need more positive efforts like 826LA to foster the spirits of young people to help lead the world to a better place in the small ways—step by step. 826LA has that special environment and anything we can do to help it along is worth every penny.

Storytelling and imagination tie 826LA to the D&D world

D&D is fundamentally a game of storytelling and imagination. Critical Role takes that to an incredible level with the inspired mind of Matthew Mercer creating a world in which the other amazing players interact, improvise, and add to the story in their unique ways. The sum of their D&D games becomes something far more: a tale worthy of a best selling book, blockbuster movie, or groundbreaking TV series.

The fan base—the Critters, and I—see within 826LA that same imaginative spirit that Critical Role embodies. 826LA is fundamentally about teaching, mentoring, and guiding future storytellers who may not have the chance otherwise to succeed at their dreams.

Additionally, there is core kindness and joy to the members of Critical Role, and it is reflected in the Critter community. I recently watched a group of 826LA students learn to play D&D from the cast of Critical Role and 826LA volunteers during a three-part 826LA D&D Workshop that showcased that kind, fun, and joyful attitude resulting in smiles all around. The overlap in communities was staring right at me.

“Putting ink on a piece of paper to write a check takes very little effort and is so intangible and ephemeral—helping a charity with our hands, minds, and ideas in person is far more rewarding and is often much more sustainable for the charity.”

The idea to have D&D storytelling brought in to 826LA as a teaching and learning tool was created by Joel, the cast of Critical Role, and myself over dinner last year. Out of that came the fundraising campaign idea. But these were not ideas thought of in a vacuum or alone—it was the interaction that resulted in the ideas.

Money is not the only thing that can help charities—volunteering, getting to know those that run the charity, etc. can be equally, if not more, important. Putting ink on a piece of paper to write a check takes very little effort and is so intangible and ephemeral—helping a charity with our hands, minds, and ideas in person is far more rewarding and is often much more sustainable for the charity.

Koro’s advice to 826LA students: “Remember to play”

In learning all the things that 826LA teaches, remember to use your inventive gifts to have fun; remember to play. It is why I love D&D—it uses our imaginations, storytelling, etc. but ultimately is a game with friends. 826LA is a similar community of friends, teachers and families—learn, be creative, etc. but enjoy each other and have fun!


Interested in getting involved with 826LA? Become a one-time or recurring 826LA donor here.

Read more pieces from our Writing the Way at 826LA blog series here

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