826 Valencia to Open in Mission Bay

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The interior of 826 Valencia under construction, showing the floor to ceiling mural of the enchanted forest, by local artist Jacqueline Brown, and the tree sculpture designed by the California College of the Art’s BUILD Lab. Photo: Bettina Cohen

The newest arrival to Mission Bay is 826 Valencia, a nonprofit that works with under-resourced children and youth, ages eight to 18. The organization opened its 1310 Fourth Street location last month. It offers a three-part program:  homework help, writing projects and reading support. Sessions are three hours long, from 2:45 to 6 p.m., Monday through Thursday.  

It’s 826 Valencia’s third San Francisco location. The Mission Bay facility has a capacity of 30 students daily. Depending on how many days per week participants signup for, it can serve up to 60 scholars, who must attend at least twice weekly. Additional programs will serve 1,000 students enrolled in schools located in Potrero Hill, Bayview, and, when an elementary school opens in 2023, Mission Bay, with curricula designed to support classroom teachers. The program is free. 

826 Valencia’s goals are to help close San Francisco’s academic achievement gap, provide the tools necessary for success in school and beyond, connect trained tutors to young people in need of individualized support, and ease the path to college and career. 

There’s long been a disparity in academic performance between groups of students, which is reflected in grades, standardized-test scores, dropout and college-completion rates, among other success measures, according to Education Week, an independent news organization that reports on issues facing American schools. 826 Valencia’s 2017-2018 annual report notes that while San Francisco Unified School District is one of California’s highest-performing urban school districts, it has among the state’s widest achievement gaps. For example, in the 2017-18 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, 55 percent of SFUSD students were proficient in English Language Arts, but only 29 percent of Hispanic/Latinx pupils, 19 percent of African-American students, and 15 percent of English learners.

826 Valencia assisted more than 8,000 students through in-school partnerships in fiscal year 2017, with the help of 1,400 volunteers. Field trips to the Mission District and Tenderloin facilities from partnering schools provided instruction on Storytelling and Book Making, Choose Your Own Adventure and Podcasting. The organization is seeing explosive growth, serving 60 percent more students now than five years ago. 

Though the new facility officially opens this month, 826 Valencia began offering afterschool tutoring and writing workshops in Mission Bay last fall, working with 66 students at five locations: Mission Bay Branch Library, Family House, and the community rooms at Mercy Housing, Chinatown Community Development Center’s Crescent Cove, and 626 Mission Bay Boulevard. 

“We’ve been so warmly received and embraced, it feels kind of like we’re already becoming part of the community,” said Karla Brundage, Mission Bay program manager. 826 Valencia is aiming to enlist 200 new volunteers by this month, with 30 volunteers signed up in early February. 

“We have great volunteers from the community and some of the businesses, as well as UCSF, who are dedicated to the program. It’s great to have volunteers from Mission Bay in Mission Bay. We seek people who are excited to work one-on-one with students, that are enthusiastic and committed,” Brundage said.

Although Mission Bay is known for its high-end condominiums and apartments, decades of deliberate urban planning have resulted in 1,806, or almost 30 percent, of the neighborhood’s 6,404 housing units being affordable to low- and middle-income households. 

A partnership with another nonprofit, dedicated to housing low-income families, landed 826 Valencia its Fourth Street storefront. Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC) constructed, owns and manages 626 Mission Bay Boulevard, the 100 percent affordable residential building in which 826 Valencia is located. 626 Mission Bay Boulevard opened for occupancy last year, with 114 units available to families who earn half or less than the Area Median Income (AMI). In San Francisco, 50 percent of unadjusted AMI for a family of four in 2018 was $59,200, as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Another 27 units are designated for formerly homeless families at 30 percent or less than AMI, or $35,500 for a family of four. 

“We chose 826 Valencia to be our nonprofit partner because of their reputation for innovation, creativity, and impact, as well as their ability to bring diverse communities together for the common good,” said TNDC’s Chief Executive Officer, Donald S. Falk. 

Students were selected first from families living in 626 Mission Bay Blvd., next from those who had been served in one or more of the five Mission Bay locations, and finally, from among pupils who registered online and attended an orientation. 

“We now have a waiting list,” Brundage said. “Our last day of afterschool tutoring for this year is May 24th, but we will reopen with the new school year in September 2019.  Many of the students we serve have a feeling of thankfulness that they received a chance to live in a beautiful home and did not have to leave San Francisco. There is a lot of fear of displacement out there, and one can hear it in the voices of the students, and read it in their stories.” This fear is balanced by “a feeling that they are pioneers in building a new community. They talk about important issues, such as saving the environment from pollution, and keeping their community clean and safe.”

The writing lab, which occupies the main part of the center, is decorated as an enchanted forest, with a floor to ceiling mural, tree sculpture, cave that all guests can enter, and a rock-pool stage where students present their stories. The project is a collaboration of 20 artists and sub-contractors who donated or discounted their time and resources. 

“Themes like the enchanted forest are part of the magic that inspire students and grownups alike,” said Bita Nazarian, executive director of 826 Valencia. “Through our programs, students develop writing skills, pride, and confidence that help them be successful in school and beyond.” 

Books written by participants are offered for sale, along with various sundries, in the organization’s stores. Proceeds from book sales go to 826 Valencia, to cover expenses. In addition to offering items for sale, Mission Bay’s Woodland Creatures Outfitters Ltd. store, the Pirate Store in the Mission District, and King Carl’s Emporium in the Tenderloin are places where store staff can answer questions about 826 Valencia from prospective students and volunteers.

On March 9, 826 Valencia’s Mission Bay Center will offer family activities as part of an open house beginning at noon, with an official ribbon-cutting ceremony at 12:15 p.m.