Meet Volunteer of the Month Michael Spaeth

How did you first hear about 826DC? What motivated you to get involved?
I’ve loved creative writing since I was three years old, and I was looking for a way to use creative writing to give back to the community. I also strongly believe in the power of creative expression to instill individuals with self-worth, determination, joy, and confidence that will carry over into everything else they do in life. I definitely experienced this myself when I was growing up, playing in several bands and being part of creative writing groups and activities. For years, I’ve been looking for ways to continue my involvement with this important work.

When I was in college, I happened to hear about a Dave Eggers book signing happening in Ann Arbor, and found myself standing in a line at a place called 826michigan. I was intrigued, so I learned more about the organization and decided to start volunteering. I absolutely fell in love with the organization and everything it does – especially its vibrant, creative, fun, and positive atmosphere, which is such a great environment for students to feel comfortable, imaginative, and adventurous. When I moved to Chicago after college, I was thrilled to find out that there was an 826 chapter in that city, so I volunteered there and got to teach a workshop of my own. Then, when I eventually moved to DC, I found out that there was an 826 chapter there too, and I decided to teach and help out with Saturday workshops, volunteer at Tivoli’s Astounding Magic Supply Co., and contribute to 826DC’s mission and programming in any other way I could.

Favorite moment working with an 826DC student.
One moment that stands out to me was during a Saturday workshop, when a student proposed lots of insightful and creative ideas for ways he could respond to the prompt I had given to the students. The final piece of writing he enthusiastically presented to the rest of the group at the end of the workshop was very good. And after the workshop, he walked up to me, told me how much he enjoyed the workshop, and asked if we would be having the workshop again the next semester. It was wonderful to see that he was so invested in the content of the workshop and eager to keep learning and writing even after the workshop had ended.

What’s one unusual thing on your desk right now?
I’m tinkering with a poem I wrote as part of a recent poetry workshop for 826DC volunteers. I’m working on exploring new avenues to take with this poem and pushing my poetry writing as a whole in new directions.

What are you most looking forward to in this moment?
I’m enjoying the practice of building intentional moments of self-care into my day every single day. I can be a workaholic sometimes, and it’s so refreshing to put my phone on airplane mode for a few hours and cook, take a quiet walk outside, explore various parts of DC while taking photos and videos, read a book, play the saxophone, or something else that relaxes and recharges me for the next day. I’m looking forward to continuing this practice in the weeks and months ahead.

Any advice for folks who are considering volunteering?
If you enjoy working with kids and teens and want to give back to the DC community, you should definitely consider volunteering with 826DC! The programming is high-quality, the staff and volunteers are very friendly and passionate about helping students, the atmosphere is fun and creative and upbeat, and it doesn’t require a huge time commitment. Saturday workshops in particular are usually standalone, two hour long workshops, so they’re perfect for folks who have a couple hours free on a Saturday every now and then. And even if you don’t consider yourself to be a creative writer, you can still help out with After-School Writing Lab (homework help), volunteer for one of 826DC’s interdisciplinary workshops, and more.

I’d suggest that anyone who is considering volunteering with 826DC stop by Tivoli’s Astounding Magic Supply Co. sometime, check out the quirky merchandise, flip through the student publications, and chat with the staff and volunteers about 826DC’s programming, what it’s like to volunteer with 826DC, and what they like most about the organization. And I’d approach the volunteer info session, training, and actual volunteer work with an open mind and a willingness to be flexible, friendly, and supportive.