Melissa van Gelder: January Volunteer of the Month

Melissa van GelderMelissa van Gelder, a San Francisco native and (somewhat) recent graduate of UCLA, has been volunteering at 826 Valencia since moving back to the City in September of 2013. Through her participation in the Bay-Farer, Straight Up News, fieldtrips, and 826’s brand new after-school program at Buena Vista Horace Mann, Melissa has racked up over seventy hours of literary volunteer-dom. More importantly, though, as a cornerstone of 826’s efforts with the 3rd and 4th graders at BVHM, Melissa has inspired countless stories (read on to discover the secrets of “Melissa Island”), given out hundreds of stickers (not to mention high fives), and played an invaluable role in shaping the experiences of the wacky and wonderful young minds at BVHM. Here are some reflections on her 826 experience in her own words:

“Be-traitor!” calls out one student. Another student shakes her head as she sees me: “Melissa, you’re such a be-traitor.” Walking down the halls of Buena Vista Horace Mann, it’s impossible not to hear my newest nickname according to the third and fourth grade students who take part in the 826 after-school program. In their eyes, I am now a most serious “be-traitor” (betrayer + traitor).

It wasn’t always this way. When I first stepped into the 826-BVHM program, all I knew was that I’d be helping young students practice the craft of creative writing. I had little idea of just how well we’d get to know each other or just how inspiring their written words would be. In the four months I spent working with these young writers, I read over a hundred stories about everything from animal kingdoms to clown schools. Most surprising, a story about a zombie who tries his best to fit in with his brain-eating friends even though all he wants to do is eat grains. (Spoiler alert: he does, in fact, stand up to the peer pressure and proudly eat grains in front of his whole community.) Most humbling, a piece entitled “Melissa Island,” inspired by the hobbies and interests I had shared with the students over the dozens of sessions. And perhaps most creatively, the belief that a haiku (a previously unknown writing form to the students) must be a word to describe a hiking raccoon.

Thanks to my work with the 826 program, I recently accepted a teaching position at Buena Vista Child Care. While I greatly miss assisting the inspirational young writers, I couldn’t be more excited to work with other students at BVHM. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to some enjoyment in response to the accusation of being a “be-traitor.” After all, it’s a claim that’s always followed by a smile and a bout of laughter. And a reminder of just how creative young minds can truly be.

When asked to speak on Melissa’s behalf, 3rd grader Jesús Islas said, “Melissa, you are like a friend to me and a wonderful volunteer.”

Introduction by Jayme Brown, 826 Valencia intern

To read about all of our featured volunteers, visit the Volunteer of the Month gallery.


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