If you have spent much time in downtown Ann Arbor, you have probably come across Liberty Street Robot Supply and Repair. If you haven't given in to your curiosity and gone inside to find out what in the world a robot themed store is doing in town, you probably don't realize what goes on behind the playful facade, robot pieces, and wind-up toys.

On most afternoons, you will find elementary, middle, and high school students swarming into the store and going behind the red curtain. Here they work on homework and write "bot jots" with volunteer tutors from the community. This is 826michigan, a chapter of 826 National started in 2002 by author Dave Eggers and educator Ninive Calegari. The organization is dedicated to tutoring local youth, with a special focus on writing skills. Along with after-school tutoring, 826 staff and volunteers hold drop-in writing sessions, writing workshops of all kinds, and class field trips. They also offer in-school support to teachers in local classrooms, by sending in crews of volunteers on a weekly basis. An Ann Arbor institution since 2005, 826michigan has also expanded their efforts to work with students in Ypsilanti and Detroit. A second after-school tutoring site is located in downtown Ypsi, and the majority of in-school support takes place in these two cities.

Beyond helping students with homework and writing, 826 goes one step further by publishing student work! For some MUPs, Agora is their first experience getting published, but 826michigan brings that glory to students as young as first grade! They publish low-tech chapbooks—books produced in house—fairly regularly (a couple dozen a year) and put out two professionally printed student writing anthologies of each year. The books are all for sale in Liberty Street Robot Supply and Repair where the proceeds (along with those from all the other robot paraphernalia) go to support 826's great programming!

I've been a fan of 826 National for a number of years (Dave Eggers being one of my very favorite authors), and I was excited to learn last fall that I could get involved with the organization right here in Ann Arbor. I joined fellow MUP Cole Grisham in tutoring Tuesday afternoons and it remains a highlight of my week one year later.

I am excited that this year 826michigan has agreed to let us use their space after tutoring to host our first Agora salon, and hopefully we can develop a continuing relationship with the organization! It's a wonderful venue full of creative energy to share our experiences and talk about writing and publishing! Agora is looking forward to ways that we can share our experiences and give back to the youth in Ann Arbor, and I hope we can support 826michigan’s work at the same time.

If you are interested in becoming part of the illustrious crew of 826michigan volunteers, click HERE to fill out their online volunteer application!