Undercover spy shop? Or super cool free writing program?

Yesterday, while wandering around my friend Meghan’s Chicago neighborhood, I stumbled across this awesome storefront:

In case you can’t read all the tiny print, this sign is freaking hilarious.  It also happens to be a front for the super cool organization, 826Chi – the local branch of a national organization that is “dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.” (excerpt from 826Chi’s mission statement on their website)

I’d heard rumors about this organization before, but had no idea how incredibly cool they were – I’m so glad I stumbled upon their store yesterday!  There is an actual store inside this building, selling all kinds of spy paraphernalia and other products, with the proceeds going directly to the programs that they offer.  I bought a compilation of writings by 826Chi’s students, a wonderful collection of funny, poignant, adventuresome stories written by 2nd graders up to 12th graders.  Behind the store is their classroom space, where they offer all kinds of exciting writing workshops.

Can’t wait to check out their New York branch – apparently it’s called “The Super Hero Supply Store!”

Spotlight: The Neighborhood Story Project

Program format: School and community-based writing workshops, culminating in published books
Art form(s):
Writing, photojournalism
Location:
New Orleans
Community served:
New Orleans’ 7th ward – primarily high school students.
Mission:
Our stories told by us.

The Neighborhood Story Project (NSP) is a unique documentary book-making project that takes the idea of personal/community storytelling to a whole new level.  They began about seven years ago when, while running a writing workshop in one of the most underprivileged high schools in New Orleans, founders Abram Shalom Himelstein and Rachel Breunlin realized that the students in their class had really important stories to tell.

The typical student books

Based in New Orleans’ 7th ward, NSP primarily works with high school students, but also offers workshops and collaborates on projects with other members of the community.  They begin by focusing on writing practice, encouraging their students to write and journal about their own lives.  After they have written a fairly substantial amount of material, they begin to gain perspective on who and what the major players and events are in their lives.  At this point they also begin to work on some photojournalism and interview projects in addition to the writing, focusing in on the discoveries they’ve made about who and what is important to them.

Book created in partnership with Ronald Lewis, a Mardi Gras Indian and resident of the Lower Ninth Ward, about his incredible collection of Mardi Gras memorabilia

The result? A beautiful, professionally published book.  The first set of books that the NSP published came out right before Hurricane Katrina, and at the time they were the second best seller in the city – behind only Harry Potter!  The students also have the option of purchasing an unlimited quantity of their own books at $5 a piece, which they can then go out and sell themselves at the full retail value of $15 – a big profit for the student.

To view (and purchase!) any of their books, visit the Neighborhood Story Project website.