Writing the Way at 826LA: Stephanie D., age 10

Stephanie is a bubbly, charismatic fifth-grader who has attended 826LA’s After-School Tutoring program in Mar Vista since 2014. A true writer borne out of 826LA, Stephanie is gearing up for another school year in stride. She is a self-described “creative” who sees the possibility of stories in everything—a universe where chairs, trees, and people unknowingly live upside down, a girl named Amber with one beautiful dragon’s eye and one robot eye, a monster that looks like a backpack or a book depending on which angle you look at it…the ideas never end.

Back to school confidence without the nervous butterflies thanks to 826LA

I think it was on my first day [at 826LA], I didn’t know where anything was. And one of the tutors helped me with everything, like where my seat was and who was who. I was the new [student], and I felt alone. It was really nice of her. Her help made me feel not alone and happy. Now that I come to 826LA, I’m not nervous anymore. If someone’s new, I would help them because that woman inspired me to try to help people.

826LA is a special place because the tutors, the staff, and the people who serve us food are really kind. There are also other kids like me that are scared and all that stuff. I’m not scared anymore because there are other students going through the same things as me.

“It’s always a good time because you can express yourself and also you can be yourself.”

Sometimes I don’t understand school because it goes fast, and the teachers speak really fast. And if I ask, the teachers will say, “I wasn’t paying attention.” 826LA tutors help me with my homework, and I start to get it, so when I go to class I’m better at it.

826LA is different than school because it doesn’t give homework, and it actually helps you on your homework. 826LA is fun. You can go play, you can do tai chi, you can do almost anything. It isn’t boring. It’s always a good time because you can express yourself, and also you can be yourself.

826LA is filled with creativity, and [it] just lets me create things. I think 826LA helps me be a writer because the tutors help me with my grammar and my punctuation. They’re helping me to add more details to make [my writing] feel like a story.

“Now that I’m at 826LA, I really want to grow up to be a writer.”

Being a writer for me means I can express my feelings. I used to be a shy girl. I would never want to do anything because I’d always be scared to fail. But 826LA is showing we don’t have to be shy. I remember [826LA volunteer] Kathy telling me that you don’t have to be shy just because you think you’re wrong. It doesn’t matter if you’re wrong, it matters if you keep on trying, and maybe you’ll get to the point you want to.

“People shouldn’t be afraid to be creative. To be creative is to express your feelings…It’s having fun with your writing”

I just keep on trying until it works. I don’t get scared anymore. And now I’m me. Now that I’m at 826LA, I really want to grow up to be a writer. I want to go to college. I really want to go to UCLA. It’s been my dream. 

Stephanie won a 2016 contest where her story was chosen to be part of Target’s “Back to School” commercial campaign collaboration with 826LA. Stephanie’s commercial, “The Lunchbox Story,” follows two new students on the first day of school who become fast friends after discovering they have the same Star Wars BB-8 lunch pail. 

I remember when I was in kindergarten, I got a lunch pail and another girl had the same one. I just wrote about how I was alone, and then she was like, “Oh I have the same lunch pail.” We started communicating, and we noticed we had a lot of things in common. We became best friends.

They told me I won [the Target commercial contest], and I just burst with excitement, like, “Oh my god, I’m actually doing this!” I always wanted to be known for writing. I never thought that I would do that. It was like, ‘Oh my god, my dream is finally coming true!”



Stephanie’s 826LA story: “It made me me.”

I like to write make-believe because I write stories based on other people and characters. And I make them weird. I really want to write about happiness and journeys where crazy things happen because you know, it happens to me.

I write whatever I feel. I don’t care if anyone says I don’t think that’s going to make it or anything. I just want to do it because it’s fun. And it makes me really happy because you can just make anything up, like funny, embarrassing, scary, and it just makes other people happy.

I would want to write about myself, but I would make it make-believe. I’d write about a person named Lily. Lily was once a girl that never had friends and was very bad at school. Her mom decided she should go to 826LA, so she went and she met so many friends. She was actually getting better at school. I would write about how 826LA is great and how it made her her…because actually, it made me me.

Stephanie’s advice for writers: “Let your mind flow.”

Let your mind flow. Because a lot of people take that for granted, and they’re just not having fun with writing. People shouldn’t be afraid to be creative. To be creative is to express your feelings.

Expressing your feelings doesn’t mean like, keeping it inside and writing ‘I have a dog.’ It’s saying, ‘Oh my god, I have a dog! I have a new dog! And it has a robot arm!’ It’s having fun with your writing.

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


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