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Meet Joel Arquillos of 826LA and Time Travel Marts in Echo Park and Mar Vista

Today we’d like to introduce you to Joel Arquillos.

Joel, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
826LA is a nonprofit writing and tutoring organization that serves over 9,000 under-resourced youth throughout Los Angeles every year. We have a location in Echo Park, Mar Vista, and a Writers’ Room inside of Manual Arts High School, and we provide our free services to over 100 schools throughout LAUSD.

We have been promoting writing here in Los Angeles since 2005. We are affiliated with 826 National, the organization co-founded by author Dave Eggers and educator Ninive Calegari. We opened our chapter in Los Angeles after seeing the success of the founding site in San Francisco and the one that opened in New York City. Spearheaded by a group of enthusiastic volunteers like Jodie Evans and Sally Wilcox, we brought the innovative writing programs to Los Angeles in 2005. Since then we’ve grown from a small organization based out of Venice which employed two full-timers to a staff of close to 26 today.

Has it been a smooth road?
Running a nonprofit is certainly never a completely smooth operation. Just like any business, we deal with our share of challenges around fundraising and developing quality services. Unlike traditional businesses, we need volunteers and donors to keep our programs alive. There’s a lot of competition for volunteers, donors, and funders and that means we have to work extra hard to ensure we are running an efficient and extremely effective organization. I’m proud to say we’ve been able to reach our fundraising goals each year and we’ve also been able to grow our organization in a responsible way these past eight years. There’s a lot of demand for the free writing services we provide, but our model is not one that can be easily replicated or scaled. We spend a lot of time developing and training our volunteers who make the services we provide possible. Without a strong and consistent volunteer corps, we would sink. There have been years when our volunteer to student ratio was one-to-one in some programs but in need of more support in others. We’re always looking for ways to recruit more volunteers, especially those who are willing to work in our schools. In order to do that it sometimes requires commuting far distances in Los Angeles through traffic to reach schools that are in severe need of support. But even with all these challenges, we make it work. We have a strong strategic plan in place that allows us to focus our resources on the students who need us most, but when you’re working in a district with over 600,000 students, there’s always more to do.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
826LA is a nonprofit writing and tutoring organization with a mission to get kids excited about writing. We run programs in our centers and go to schools throughout LA to work in classrooms with students. There are four main programs we offer: After-School Tutoring, Workshops, Field Trips, and In-Schools.

Our mission is to provide free writing services to youth ages 6 to 18. We focus on creative and expository writing but will work with teachers on any kind of writing students need help on in their classrooms. We publish hundreds of books written by youth annually and sell them online and in our Time Travel Marts–our whimsical storefronts where customers can buy an assortment of time-travel related gifts and student publications. Our storefronts serve as a portal to the creative environment we provide for our students. We believe in sparking the imagination and that our student’s creativity is limitless. The store also helps us recruit volunteers to provide our free services. We have over 4,000 volunteers in our ranks who provide one-on-one writing support to youth at our centers and at schools all throughout Los Angeles.

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