In the city streets, between the hustle and traffic, finding the Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute isn’t something you would expect. Nor is the earthy scent of dirt and the woods inside.
And then your eyes land on the Bigfoot mannequin.
With gadgets and posters all over the walls, you would believe 826 Boston is home to people who are truly dedicated to finding Bigfoot. However, after a little more investigating — and some help from the friendly staff — you find yourself in a creative space where young minds are encouraged to create.
826 Boston is a local chapter of a nonprofit organization devoted to empowering “traditionally underserved students ages 6-18 to find their voices, tell their stories, and gain communication skills to succeed in school and in life,” according to its website.
(The Greater Bigfoot Research Center disguise is intended to help jumpstart a child’s creative process. Each national chapter has its own identity.)
Students involved in the program are able to work alongside illustrators and a patient staff to create a story of their own. They even have the opportunity to become a published author in just about two hours, leaving with their own physical book.
Carolyn Navikonis, director of programs and community engagement at 826 Boston, was once an English teacher.
“The skill of writing is unquantifiable in terms of the impact it can have on a young person’s academic and professional career, but also the space for self reflection and growth that can come from having both the skill for written communication, as well as seeing yourself as a writer and seeing writing as a tool to communicate ideas and develop ideas,” she said.
As an educator, Navikonis has a deep connection with helping students become better writers, and her hope is that all students who come through 826 Boston’s doors walk away feeling as if their stories matter.
826 Boston also offers an after-school tutoring program for children. There, students are able to work individually with experienced tutors. Kyle Banquer, a volunteer, says he most enjoys “being able to make an impact with my work and see the difference that its making.”
Tim Knapp, who is also a volunteer, works closely with the children and organizes the student publishing program during their after-school workshop. His favorite part of working with students is, “being able to read a piece of writing a student made,” and then being able to act as an editor for them.
By focusing on children and giving them a space and opportunity to be creative, Navikonis said, they’re able to learn about themselves as well as the publishing process.
When asked about advice for young writers, Navikonis stated, “it doesn’t have to be perfect, and the first is not the final draft.”