Name: Eric Stolze
Daytime Job: Freelance screenwriter
Organization of choice: 826LA, a non-profit organization that supports students ages 6 to 18 with their writing skills through after-school tutoring, evening and weekend workshops, in-school assistance, help for English language learners, and more.
I volunteer once a week.
I started volunteering when I moved to L.A. I had just moved to Echo Park wanting to work in screenwriting and I was wrapped up in my own trivial issues. When I walked into the Time Travel Mart, I realized Los Angeles is much larger than the industry I wanted to break into—and much larger than my own problems. There was no time like the present to try to fit in and feel like I belonged somewhere.
I spend my time volunteering, more often than not, playing a role called “Mr. Barnacle,” which is a character that 826LA developed for grades 1-4. “Mr. Barnacle” is a mean boss who hides up in the office barking unreasonable demands through a microphone, like “I need 20 books in the next 2 hours or you’re all fired.” Depending on their age and savvy, the kids find it terrifying or hysterical.
I’ve found that volunteering is definitely a time commitment. Every time I go, it’s in lieu of something I could or should be doing, but 826LA is great because the program is fueled almost entirely by volunteers, so they are very flexible. You set the tone. You can come in three times a week or once a month.
In return, I’ve gained too much to even list. I don’t think I would still live in Los Angeles if it wasn’t for 826LA. They’ve made L.A. feel like a true home for me. Every time I go in, I see this great response from the kids. I think, “Where was this when I was eight years old?” I’ve realized I have strong opinions about America’s education system and about how kids should be exposed to the arts.
From one volunteer to another, don’t try to be cool in front of the kids. They can smell that. Also, it really comes down to being yourself. All you need is to be available for these kids and they recognize and appreciate it.