“We’re hoping to gather a lot of people together who’ve expressed interest in the organization to start talking about potential themes,” says Kevin Feeney, one of the first 826 students in San Francisco, now in his third year at Harvard. As for whether the theme should be linked to the city, Feeney says that varies from place to place. “Some say that it’s just this fantastical space that doesn’t need to have a strong link to the city,” he says, although the way the space is designed and the concept is implemented will have some relation to Boston. “We’re trying to create a world that feels different for the students,” Feeney says, “one that engenders creativity.”
The process of bringing the organization to Boston started in 2005. 826 National heard strains of enthusiasm coming out of Boston, but no one would act as a coordinator in the application process, which involves pulling together a comprehensive community assessment, a profile of local schools, an educational leader to act as liaison between 826 and the local schools, partnerships with other literacy organizations, and space planning. So 826 National tapped Feeney to see if he’d act as the point person in the application process.
“My main task was just to meet with as many other organizations and teachers in the area and interested volunteers to get their take on how it could work in Boston,” says Feeney, 21, at Pete’s Coffee in Harvard Square.“He’s a total hero,” says Calegari. “He fleshed out this whole reconnaissance study of the community. He showed it was crucial to Boston to have 826.” 826 National was saddled with several applications at once, including one from Austin, and Boston’s stood out above the rest. “There’s a clear volunteer force,” says Calegari, “and a clear connection to teachers. It’s the perfect place.”
Calegari put Feeney, who’s now the vice-president of 826 Boston’s board, in touch with Jacobson, who just retired from 30 years in the Boston-Cambridge school systems. Jacobson, 63, helped make contact with local teachers and headmasters, and is now serving as 826 Boston president.
John Brereton of the Calderwood Writing Initiative, which is based at the Boston Athenaeum and dedicated to improving the writing of New England students, has also provided crucial help. He offered 826 Boston a start-up grant of $150,000 over three years. Each chapter is responsible for its own funding, which comes through grants, individual donations, and benefits. Two smaller benefits are in the works for this spring, and a large one is planned for this fall.
A big next step is finding an executive director. “We’re looking for a two-pronged person,” says Jacobson, someone who understands both education and fundraising, as well as someone who knows Boston, is energetic, and ideally speaks Spanish. “It’s a big job,” Jacobson says. (The job description can be found online at 826Boston.org.)