826LA is a family affair for siblings Melisha, Sahan, and Tharindu, who have grown up with 826LA programming for more than half of their lives. Tenth-grader Melisha, age 14, and seventh-grader Sahan, age 13, have been coming to 826LA for eight years, graduating from 826LA’s ELL Camp, Field Trips, and After-School Tutoring (AST) program to Tuesday/Thursday Night Tutoring (TNT). Their younger brother, fourth-grader Tharindu, age 9, was first introduced to 826LA at the age of four, and has now been part of 826LA’s AST program for three years. Together, Melisha, Sahan, and Tharindu share their family’s 826LA story.
Sahan: I was in second grade at the time, and my class had a Field Trip at 826LA. It was at 826LA’s first location at the SPARC building in Venice, and I was excited. They said the building used to be a police station (The Social and Public Art Resource Center, the SPARC building, is formerly the Venice Division of the Los Angeles Police Department). I thought, “Oh my god, what a cool space! Are there still prisoners?”
And I heard this random voice come out of nowhere. I thought, “Is that just me, or does everyone else hear her?” It was the weird voice of Mrs. Barnacle. She told us stories, we made books, and it was a really fun time. I told my parents about it, and they let us go to English Language Learners (ELL) camp that summer.
Melisha: The first time I experienced 826LA was at ELL camp when I was eight or nine. I was scared of the SPARC building because it was really big, and I had no “It’s really amazing to know that throughout these years in my life, 826LA helped me to achieve.” –Melisha
“It’s really amazing to know that throughout these years in my life, 826LA helped me to achieve.”
Tharindu: When I heard about 826LA, Sahan told me there were zombies in the SPARC building, and I got really scared. I didn’t want to go to 826LA (laughs). I was like “Umm…”
Sahan: He was so scared every time he’d peek out the door!
Tharindu: But the next year when I was six, Sahan told me that 826LA was in a new building. And when I met my tutor, I came to like 826LA because I knew it was in a different building. And now there are no underground zombies.
A place for new friends, opportunities, and reaching your goals
Tharindu: I’m excited to come to 826LA, because I wonder if there will be new tutors and students. I like meeting new friends and getting help with my homework.
“This is a good place for you. You are lucky to have this place.”
Sahan: What I like about this place is that they actually give you opportunities to do things—not just homework—and you’re like, “Wow.”
Because they know that you’re growing up, and you can’t stay here forever. But they’re going to help you do things, help you succeed in your goals in life. Honestly, they improved my reading most of all. Before I came here, my reading scores were really bad. But once I came to 826LA, I started improving a lot. Now, I’m in a great English class, and my writing is so much better because of 826LA. They teach us so many things. I’m really proud of this program. And I just love this place so much.
Melisha: When I came to middle school, I was struggling so badly. Because, you know, it’s middle school, and it’s super different from elementary school. It’s harder. To be honest, I failed the first three weeks of sixth grade, and my teachers put me back to ESL (English as a Second Language). I thought I was dumb. I was with kids who didn’t know English, and I did know English…I just had a horrible time writing and reading.
Whenever I came to 826LA, they improved my writing skills, reading skills, grammar, and everything. Now I’m a sophomore in high school, and I’m in AP class. It’s really amazing to know that throughout these years in my life, 826LA helped me to achieve. It helped me get rid of ESL by the time I was in 6th grade second semester. And I was really proud of myself because I improved. I culminated 8th grade with good grades. Before, I was struggling at most things, but now I’m not, because I have this program.
“I don’t know what I would do without 826LA.”
It’s not just about writing and reading and doing your homework at 826LA. 826LA Mar Vista Tutoring Coordinator Alejandra gave me so many opportunities outside of 826LA. Like going to events that no one can go to. And when I tell my friends at school, they’re like, “Wow, you go to a free tutoring program and they let you go to events for college, scholarships, and maybe an internship at Bad Robot?” I’ve been to Bad Robot at least four times now with 826LA. C’mon, who doesn’t want that?
Sahan: I’ve been to Bad Robot! I love filming, it’s my thing. The first time I went, I asked so many questions to the staff over there. I showed them one of my videos, and they told me about movie techniques. They said you have to do this and that, and they just improved my video so much.
Melisha: I had so many insecurities about presenting or writing essays. Because on a test you have to write an essay in an hour, and I get super frustrated with things like that. Tutors at 826LA help me understand what I need to do in order to write an essay. I get so much test anxiety, they help me calm down. And it’s super cool and nice. If I weren’t here, I wouldn’t know how to write. I’d probably still be stuck in the lower classes. I don’t know what I would do without 826LA.
Tharindu: I like getting to share my stories with everybody at 826LA, and showing what I’m interested in. I like making stories about creative things that I make up and having parties after (laughs). It makes me feel good.
Melisha: Writing gave me confidence, because 826LA has chapbook parties. And when I hear the word “food” I’m like, “Okay, I better write!” (laughs)
“When I think of 826LA, I think: confidence, helpful, and family.”
Sahan: I used to hate writing so much. What I hated about writing at that time was it was always like, you have to write an essay. But after I came to 826LA, they gave out writing prompts about like, “create your own monsters.” I used to write about monsters I drew. 826LA gives you creativity and imagination. It feels like it’s true. And this right here (pointing to the cover page of the chapbook “It Sticks In My Teeth Forever”), this was the ending sentence to my story when I was nine. I was really proud of myself for that.
Tharindu: This is a good place for you. You are lucky to have this place, because tutors are really helpful and it helps you with homework.
Sahan: You’re going to have a chapbook party soon, so you better write! You’re going to do so many things—not just reading, writing, homework. You’re going to share ideas with other people, you’re going to go on many trips. Honestly, you can improve anything, and I mean anything—anything that you want to learn, you can learn here. There are many opportunities at 826LA. It’s like a class, but you can have it all the time. And it’s free!
You’re going to have so much fun here. It’s an amazing experience! If you need help with anything, you can just grab a computer and there will be someone right next to you that’ll be your tutor. There’s no point in being scared. Just have fun!
“If a person asks me, ‘What comes up in your mind every day?’ I’d say, ‘826LA.’”
Melisha: Don’t be scared. Just do your homework and be yourself. It’s going to be very fun when you meet new people and then come every day because of those people. There are funny moments every time I come to 826LA.
I’ve told friends about 826LA, and they want to come here. I tell them, “Hey, this is a great opportunity for you. It helps you with so many things.” The people here are very sweet and super nice, and they help you with anything. They’re very open, and that’s what I like about 826LA. 826LA has gotten me through in life.
Sahan: 826LA helps you not just with homework, they help you with personal stuff. Like, if you’re feeling bad or anything, they just help you calm down, to think about the good and not the bad. That’s why I like being here.
When I think of 826LA, I think: confidence, helpful, and family. I’ve been here for my whole life, and all of these people are so loving and kind. It just feels like they’re all brothers and sisters to me, including the students who are so friendly and nice, and the tutors who help you so much. If a person asks me, “What comes up in your mind every day?” I’d say, “826LA.”
To volunteer with one of our AST or TNT tutoring programs, please sign up on the 826LA projects calendar. Not a volunteer yet? Sign up to become an 826LA volunteer here.
Read more pieces from our Writing the Way at 826LA blog series here.