By Sarah White, SED 2016
At least once a week, I find myself at the Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute. I walk in to find Bigfoot staring at me, a tarantula crawling around its tank, and busy workers rushing from the front of the lab to the back…
Now, I don’t actually research Bigfoot – or any monster for that matter. Instead I volunteer as a tutor at 826 Boston, a non-profit organization that focuses on reading, writing, and achieving overall academic success. While the back half the building is the tutoring center, the front half really is the Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute, home to the aforementioned Bigfoot (statue) and (living) tarantula. It functions as a small store that advertises unicorn tears, t-shirts, and books written by the students themselves.
I go to 826 to tutor students, but I often find myself the student. A few weeks ago in particular, I was helping a boy transform the draft of his English essay into a polished final copy. We talked for a while about his ideas, clarifying key points and discussing specific supporting evidence, and then he mentioned that he had recently moved to Boston from a different, non-English speaking country. However, he had never received formal English language instruction and instead had learned most of what he knew from watching American films when he was younger. I was a little surprised but more so amazed at his ability; considering the circumstances, he seemed to have minimal issues with the language.
Somehow our conversation turned to skiing, and I told him that despite my most valiant efforts, my days on the slopes usually resulted in some sort of disaster so I stopped trying. He stared at me for a minute and then said, “But that’s why you have to go to the top of the biggest hill and just ski down. Maybe you’ll fall, but you have to get back up and make it to the bottom.” He smiled, and by the end of the conversation I learned that he hoped to become both a doctor and a world traveler. He explained that we are in this world to experience, to help other people, to visit the most forgotten places, and to taste the most exotic foods; he did not want to miss out on any opportunity. I left 826 that day with a renewed sense of hope and inspiration. I don’t think he knew that his words would mean so much, but our simple conversation reminded me that I couldn’t “just be.”
By no means do I wish to purely romanticize the efforts of the organization. The staff and directors there are some of the most dedicated, hard-working, and passionate people I have ever met. They strive to make the center a place where students can thrive, and I believe that their efforts have a great impact. The students genuinely look forward to learning; one boy even called his reading homework “beautiful.” As a future English teacher, I find it incredibly inspiring and am so grateful to have the experience so close to where I live.
Please check out 826 Boston and learn more about the organization on their website! This short video also explains a little about the 826 organization in the United States:
*Sarah White is a sophomore in Boston University School of Education studying English education.