What a year 2020 has been! As we wrap up the year, we can’t help but think about all of the fantastic volunteers that have helped us through this transformational moment. Volunteers like Kelsey Aijala, December’s Volunteer of the Month, remind us of the power of community and our ability to empower young authors across NYC! Has Kelsey discovered a superpower that many of us may also have? Keep reading to find out!
1. How did you first get involved with 826NYC, and why did you decide to volunteer?
Before I moved to NYC, I was a volunteer at 826 Boston because a lot of friends I knew from college were working at 826 Boston as a part of the AmeriCorps program. I was really involved with the student publishing scene in college and missed the rewarding feeling of working with others to help shape their writing. Volunteering with 826 Boston was such an amazing experience, so when I moved to NYC, I knew I wanted to stay involved with 826. It’s been incredible to see how each chapter has its own programs and approach to the larger 826 mission–being a part of the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. and talking with parents about our programs while helping their kids test out a cape was always one of the bright spots of my week pre-pandemic. It’s been inspiring to see how the organization and kids have pivoted so well to online workshops. I feel so lucky to have a volunteer opportunity that feels like it gives me even more than I put into it.
2. What’s your favorite part of 826NYC?
The kids! One of the silver linings of the pandemic and the switch to online programs is that it has allowed me to become more involved with the writing programs. I’ve been helping out with Corey’s 1st-3rd grade workshops, which have an incredible crew of kids who blow me away each week with their creativity and spirit. They approach each writing assignment with such enthusiasm. I continuously find myself jotting down so many of the lines from their writing during the workshops because they come up with ideas well beyond their years. It has also been gratifying to be working with a handful of the same kids over an extended period of time because I feel like I’m seeing them develop their unique writing styles and how they’ve grown in even the handful of months that I’ve been working with them. I can’t wait to see how they continue to grow as writers!
3. What do you do when you’re not at 826NYC?
I recently went back to school to get a joint MBA–MA in Education at Stanford. Going back to school, especially during a pandemic, has been challenging but rewarding. Volunteering with the young writers at 826NYC has been a bright spot between some of my drier finance and accounting classes. These days, when I’m not in Zoom classes, I like to get outside and have been exploring the beautiful areas around campus on my bike.
4. What advice would you give a new volunteer?
You’re going to learn so much from these kids and helping out with these programs. Don’t feel like you need always to have the answers or a polished response to the writing prompt. Enthusiastically taking part in the programs, being interested in the stories the students choose to share, and learning together are all you need for a positive experience for both volunteers and students!
5. What are your superpowers?
Courageous Curiosity, Super Listening, and distracting Villians by reciting sitcom lines from memory.