LSA senior Franco Muzzio stood in front of a group of fourth-grade boys last week and opened a slip of paper.
“My brother is a weird girl,” he read.
The class erupted in laughter. Muzzio smiled.
“Girls are weird!” one of the boys in the class cried out as another tried to get the attention of the girls across the table.
“Guys, don’t leave me hanging here,” Muzzio said, grinning in spite of his serious tone. “We’re talking among ourselves. We keep this among ourselves.”
Muzzio, along with Eastern Michigan University sophomore Alex McLean, was teaching creative writing to a class of 25 fourth graders at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Ann Arbor. They were there as volunteers for 826 Michigan, a non-profit organization for which students often volunteer.
Author David Eggers originally created a non-profit foundation, 826 Valencia, to support writing education in San Francisco. It has since spawned five other programs: 826 New York, Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago and two years ago Michigan. which has been operating locally for nearly two years.
The Michigan chapter was established with donations by Steve Gillis, a local writer, said Amanda Uhle, the chapter’s executive director.
In less than two years, 826 Michigan has been transformed into a thriving academic-aid program, Uhle said.
“Not every non-profit has that advantage so quickly,” she said.
Most of the organization’s advertising comes from word-of-mouth, but the group also advertises at Festifall and the Ann Arbor Book Fair.
LSA freshman Ridley Jones, who volunteers for 826 Michigan, said the organization provides a convenient and enjoyable way to fulfill community service requirements she needs to complete for her Telluride scholarship.
Others, like Vitaly Volberg, a graduate student in the School of Public Health, said they joined the program to fill their spare time in a productive way.
Muzzio first became interested in the organization after reading one of Eggers’ books. And learned more at Festifall. He said he feels a need to contribute to the education of others because he grew up struggling with English in a bilingual home.
“It makes me feel better when I help them,” Muzzio said.
On first approach, Muzzio seemed quiet and reserved. Wearing a pair of tan Converse Chuck Taylors and an untucked shirt, he seemed casual but professional.
Standing in front of a group of children, though, Muzzio was bursting with encouragement and enthusiasm. He frequently praised the children for their efforts while they worked.
“You guys are superstars,” he told his students.
He helped students brainstorm the laws of a utopian society and write stories confined to exactly 63 words.
McLean said she loves to observe the children having fun and enjoying the relationships they develop during the program.
“It’s exciting to see kids get excited,” she said.
-Allison Ghaman contributed to this report.