Celebrating Youth Creativity Through Story with Gerald Richards of 826National

The Trailblazers for Good Q&A Series sits down with the most world shaking individuals leading the movement to align impact, profit and purpose. Here we pick the brains of top social entrepreneurs to learn first hand from their stunning accomplishments, utter failures, and stiff challenges in leading the revolution of doing well by doing good. Join us as we explore the collective consciousness that drives and inspires these individuals.

Gerald Richards is the Chief Executive Officer of 826 National. With twenty years of management and development experience at national nonprofit organizations, including the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship where he served as the Executive Director of the Bay Area office, Gerald is a respected trainer and sought after speaker on topics of youth and education access. He is interviewed regularly on these topics and has appeared on NBC’s Nightly News with Brian Williams, CNN’s Anderson Cooper’s 360, and The Michael Eric Dyson Show, as well as in articles in publications including The San Francisco Examiner and Inc. Magazine. He has also served as an education expert for national marketing campaigns promoting creativity in and outside the classroom. In 2008, he was named one of 101 African-American Champions for Youth in the Bay Area.

For those who are not familiar with 826 National, can you tell us a bit about what you do?

826 National is the umbrella organization for a network of eight nonprofit writing, tutoring, and publishing centers. We work with under-served youth, ages 6 to 18, and believe that fun and learning go hand in hand. Each of our 826 chapters offers students opportunities to explore their creativity and improve their writing skills, while operating from behind a unique and quirky storefront— in San Francisco it’s the Pirate Store, in Boston you’ll find the Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute, and so on. These whimsical storefronts help bridge the gap between students and the larger community— drawing in volunteers and donors. Here at 826 National our job is to provide our chapters with strategic leadership, administrative support, professional development opportunities, and other resources, so that they can continue to provide free student programming nationwide.

What do you think has been the most important part of 826’s education model thus far that other youth education organizations could adopt?

We have an incredible pool of dedicated volunteers who show up every day in astounding numbers to support our students and staff. Nationwide, we engage over 5,000 individuals from all backgrounds—writers, teachers, artists, and other professions. Whether it’s during after-school tutoring, a workshop, or an in-school projects, students work in small groups with volunteers and often receive one-on-one attention. Having the support of these talented volunteers allows our chapters to focus their attention on student programming. Project-based learning is another important component of 826’s model and a crucial part of helping young people learn. For example, we engage entire classrooms in long-term writing projects, which result in nationally published collections of student work. We believe that one-on-one or small group attention and the consistent publishing of student work are two of the key factors that make our model so successful.

Storytelling is a crucial part to the success of any organization, how does 826 tell its story? How can other organizations better integrate story telling?

826 is certainly full of stories! We often focus on the stories of our students—of their immense and inspiring successes. The stories our students tell, and the effect that sharing those stories has on their lives, helps us describe the mission of the organization and its impact in each of our communities. I think that when organizations focus on the effects of their work for their constituents, they are ahead of the curve. And the more examples or exhibits of their work that can be offered, the better.

I noticed 826 also started a project called ScholarMatch, a service that connects college bound scholars with donors who want to support them. What inspired this idea and why did it make sense to launch the site?

ScholarMatch was started by our co-founder Dave Eggers and inspired by the scholarship program we had developed at our flagship site, 826 Valencia. We could only give out a few scholarships per year, but there were so many other students who needed help funding their college education. ScholarMatch was created to allow students to share their stories and dreams for college online and give donors the opportunity to fund students whose stories resonated with them. We pride ourselves in connecting students with donors and making college possible. We’ve also found that ScholarMatch donors appreciate getting to know and stay connected with the students they help throughout their college careers.

How can our readership help push forward your mission?

Get involved! You can either volunteer at an 826 chapter in your city or help us raise funds. Volunteers and donors are what keep our organization going strong. Or, if readers are more interested in starting their own nonprofit, they should attend one of our 826 National 101 Seminars where we discuss ways to nurture and develop a successful nonprofit.



K s Goh
KS G6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Robert O.
Robert O6 years ago

Wonderful story. Thanks.

Jo Asprec
Jo Asprec6 years ago

Bravo Gerald! Bravo 826 National! A good model to follow - storytelling. Thanks for helping our young people.

Ria T.
Ria T6 years ago

It's a joy to see an African-American profiled for the good he is creating.

There's nothing like a good man and a good African-American man is a super hero!

Across the Bay in Richmond, African-American men are going out at night to talk to kids in gangs and offer them better non-violent ways of living. They then have services to support that including job training, communications training, domestic violence remediation, etc.

My sense is that African-Americans, more than any other group of Americans, have had, of necessity to band together to find creative ways to deal with a racist society that makes them the last hired and first fired, that profiles them as criminals publishing pictures of African-American "perps", but not other ethnicities of ostensible criminal activities; driving while Black, being targets of police; being misidentified by other ethnicities who don't know the differences in appearance--the list goes on and on.

Talking to other therapist friends yesterday I mused about the incredible resilience in the face of unrelenting stress and crisis I saw in African-American clients in Richmond and realized it may well have been having to learn from Day 1 to deal with discrimination and the problems it causes. I was inspired and learned from my clients, from the organization and men who risked their lives to help young men and boys, and now this organization.

Thanks Dave Eggers too! Just read "Zeitoun" by Dave Eggers about what a Syrian-American m

Jennifer Jimenez
Jennifer Jimenez6 years ago

Great to hear the positive atmosphere that is surrounding our youth! Thanks for sharing

Jennifer C.
Past Member 6 years ago


Tim Cheung
Tim C6 years ago


Tim Cheung
Tim C6 years ago


Cynthia Blais
cynthia l6 years ago

wonderful uplifting article Thank you Richards is an incredible mentor to youth

Kirsten Spencer
Kirsten S6 years ago

Thanks for the article!