February Volunteer of the Month: Ashley Nguyen

Ashley came to us from Philadelphia, bringing with her a love of kids, writing, and volunteering. As one of our field trip volunteers, Ashley is onsite several weekday mornings a month, sharing her passion and making an impact not just at 826DC but in each young person’s life. It has been almost a year since she joined the 826 family, and she’s been a wonderful addition!

We asked Ashley to tell us more about her experiences with 826DC.


How long have you volunteered with 826DC, and how did you get involved?

When I moved to D.C. about three years ago, I was looking for a place to work with kids on their writing. I used to live in Philly, and I volunteered at a local nonprofit called Mighty Writers. I emailed Rachel Loper, the director there, and asked if she could recommend a similar space in the District. She suggested 826DC.

For the first year or so, my time spent volunteering with 826 was extremely minimal. Countless others have done this, so they might relate to the fact that navigating a new city and my schedule wasn’t easy.

Finally, within the past year, I’ve been able to make 826DC’s morning field trips part of my routine. Crystal, who manages the program, makes volunteering easy and organized. Guiding the kids who come to drum up new stories is truly the highlight of my week if I lead a storytelling and bookmaking field trip.

What has been your most memorable moment while volunteering with 826DC?

My favorite field trip so far was a group of middle schoolers. The task was to recreate “Romeo and Juliet” however they wanted. They opted to modernize the play, taking the Capulets and Montagues to a little neighborhood you might be familiar with: Mt. Pleasant. The Montagues were Republicans. They wore stiff, crisp suits and drank a lot of Starbucks. The Capulets became Democrats, who, as the students told it, wore suits too but left their ties loose. They drank coffee too, but out of thermoses.

Juliet became a teenager running for class president. She ran on a platform that encouraged more scholarship money. Romeo simply wanted more money for technology. They clashed, but eventually fell in love.

The students’ outlook really surprised me. Already they’d formed such strong beliefs and knew what they supported. This could be seen as a bad thing, but I love seeing teens’ minds grow. Later, their teacher informed me that they’re all applying for high school — hence the tuition concerns — and they were studying Chavez in class.

What do you see as 826DC’s impact on our community?

Oftentimes after we give the younger kids their bound books at the end of field trips, they ask if they can come back with their mom/aunt/grandma/dad to write a new book.

Any place that a child wants to return to so they can keep writing is irreplaceable. Every community needs an organization like 826DC.