Blog: Amanda Uhle

Amanda Uhle is Executive Director of 826michigan, a nonprofit center in Ann Arbor dedicated to supporting local young people with their writing skills - one of only seven centers in the U.S.. She'll be writing about 826, its impact on the community and even post samples of the kids' work.

Post No. 1: It's Really Free?

One of the core values that guides the work of 826michigan is that each and every opportunity we offer students to write, to learn to express themselves comes at absolutely no charge to them.  

In this complicated economic time in Michigan, sticking to that promise is not always easy. Parents who can afford to pay for activities for their kids--and do so elsewhere--ask us about this all the time. It’s usually a somewhat incredulous version of "It’s really free?"

And the reaction of the many parents who cannot afford to pay for afterschool tutoring or writing workshops is a pretty similar mixture of surprise and gratitude. The best part is that by keeping everything open to the public, 826michigan is able to unite creative, caring adult volunteers with students from literally all backgrounds to achieve the very important work of learning to write. My favorite thing to see each afternoon is a truly diverse group of students and tutors gathered around one of the donated kitchen tables (usually covered in homework assignments) in our writing lab. Each student has a different reason for sitting at that table, but every one belongs there and no one pays to participate.

But, it’s actually not free.

Last school year, more than 200 adults donated their time to work one-on-one with 826michigan students.  And more than 250 people, businesses and foundations contributed funds to 826michigan, in amounts ranging from $5 to $25,000.   

826michigan’s small staff coordinates all of these efforts in a way that leverages great ideas, local talent and a small amount of money to serve the immediate needs of area kids.

Nonprofits like 826michigan serve a vital need in Southeast Michigan, and we survive when generous people decide that the work we do is so important, so relevant to our community now and in the future, that they are moved to support it by donating their time or money.

One of the great parts of my job is that I get to meet amazing people (college students, lawyers, teachers, financial planners, parents, scientists, artists, editors, baristas, business owners and others) who spend some of their free time supporting studentsI also get to connect with local business people who agree that 826michigan helps make our area a better place to live, to work, to have kids and who contribute to us by way of business sponsorships or gifts.

We’re launching a new project this month that’s aimed at building that community of generous businesses so that they can benefit from our mutual affiliation. Members of our new Write Brain Partnership can show solidarity with 826michigan and our students by displaying a window sticker at their business, a web button on their site, joining our networking parties, displaying their promotional materials at 826michigan and working with me to figure out how we can best work effectively together. 
Fifth Third Bank, Quack Media and Ghostly International have already joined us in this effort. As more businesses join this summer, I continue to be awed by their generosity, eager to help them meet their own business goals, and so proud to be part of a community like this one.

And, when I think about that question "It’s really free?"  I’m ultimately kind of glad it’s not a simple answer.