Naomi Solomon is thrilled to be joining 826NYC as the Director of Education, after several years of intermittent workshop volunteering and cape-making. She has been working in NYC youth development organizations for the past ten years, including roles at Mouse, Girls Write Now, Global Kids, and Posse New York. Naomi holds a BA in Literature and an MA in Youth Studies, and is passionate about public education, youth leadership, good books, and Oxford commas.
Q: What piqued your interest in 826NYC and joining the team?
I’m from San Francisco and as a kid I really loved school, and loved reading and writing. I learned about 826 Valencia shortly after I moved away for college, and immediately thought, “Dang! I missed out!” After moving to New York and finding work with a small community organization in Park Slope, I discovered that my new office was just blocks away from 826NYC. I convinced my boss to let me move my hours around so I could volunteer as an afterschool tutor once a week and do occasional field trips, and just fell in love with this warm, creative space where young people could build supportive relationships with volunteers, finish their homework, and write weird and imaginative poems and stories. Over the years I continued to volunteer sporadically, and after 10 years of working in youth development organizations around NYC, it felt like a very full-circle moment to see the Director of Education job description, and realize that not only do I still love and admire 826NYC’s work so much, but now I have the skills and experience to really support it.
Q: New York City has the largest school district in the country; in your opinion, what sets NYC apart regarding youth education? And how does 826NYC fit into that narrative?
One thing I really love about youth work in NYC is the massive variety of organizations engaging with young people and providing platforms for youth voices across a broad spectrum of activities: whether you want to learn to row, write, code, skateboard, or organize, some group of caring and thoughtful educators has developed a way to bring young people to the forefront. Being a part of this universe and getting to have conversations with youth and families about supporting a student to find their next steps and develop or pursue a passion is a huge privilege as an NYC youth worker. I love that 826NYC is a next step for some students who want to improve their writing or try out a specific genre, and a destination for others, who will keep coming back to explore new forms of storytelling and connecting through the written word.
Q: With many years of experience in youth development across various disciplines, you’ve seen (and created) tools to provide young people with access to creative means of self-expression and growth. In your opinion, what role does creative writing play in our student’s development?
I think the power of being able to express yourself in writing — whether you’re sharing a personal narrative, constructing a well-researched essay, flexing your imagination, or just sending a clear, informative email — can’t be overstated. It’s empowering to be able to say exactly what you mean, and to have people who may have never even been in the same room as you understand and share that experience you’ve had, or that world you’ve created. Creative writing can also help young people understand themselves, as when they write their protagonist as the best version of themselves, or place an everyday, familiar conflict on a new and unusual stage. Being a strong writer helps propel academic and professional success at every level, too, especially now, as so many of us are conducting more and more of our work and school lives over chat and email.
Q: Are there any goals in your new role that you’d like to share?
I’m excited to support the expansion of 826NYC’s work in schools across the city. In a city the size of New York, it’s not always possible for many students to make their way to programs outside of their school or home neighborhoods. Continuing to build up the Young Writers Publish and Write Together programs is a way to ensure that 826NYC students reflect the NYC student population overall, and that our publications and platform support youth voices from diverse communities across the city. I’m also excited to see quaranTEEN voices and the Teen Writers’ Collective grow, and to build on a culture of youth leadership here at 826.
On a personal note, a goal of mine is to read as much student work as I possibly can! I have a stack of chapbooks and annual reviews that I’m excited to dive into, along with the amazing archive on Medium!
Q: As you know, the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. (a whimsical and magical storefront for 826NYC) has a bevy of superpowers and capes for superheroes and sidekicks abound. What superpowers do you bring to the 826NYC team?
In addition to a superabundant enthusiasm for the work 826NYC does and years of experience working with young writers and makers, I also love to help people get and stay organized. In past workplaces I’ve been known for my spreadsheet and Salesforce tutorials — maybe not the stuff of comic books, but it can be super gratifying to find the information you need when you need it! I also bring a lot of familiarity with youth and community organizations across the city, which I hope will support some of that outreach to diverse communities I mentioned above. Lastly — and my new coworkers may not know this yet — I am an avid punner. However, I’m sure this will not escape their attention for long, and I would never mask it. It’s too powerful.
Q: How can people stay connected with you in the digital space?