My friend Chris Eckert, also known as Kenny Bloggins and of Funnybook Babylon fame, volunteers at 826NYC. I’ve talked to him more days than not over the past however long we’ve known each other, and that means I’ve heard anecdotes like the one below here and there. They’re always hilarious and heart-warming, Kids Say The Darnedest Things-type material, but genuinely funny.
He’s raising money for 826, and I’m a believer. He shared this story, which you can reblog on tumblr by clicking his name, to sweeten the pot and jedi mind trick you into donating. It worked on me, and I hope it’ll work on you.
Hello Internet Friends and Acquaintances!
If we’ve spoken for more than ten minutes over the past decade, I’ve probably mentioned 826NYC and/or the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. They’re celebrating their tenth year of providing free educational programs and cape testing to folks in the five boroughs, and I’ve volunteered for them for very close to that entire time. You can check out our site for more information about all of the programs: drop-in homework help, creative writing workshops, field trips and publishing projects produced in conjunction with local schools, and even an annual student-made film festival (on August 26th, naturally) where kids get to see their efforts on the big screen at BAM. All of these programs are 100% free for the students and their families, which means that periodically we have to bust out the proverbial-or-literal donation bucket. I’ve never pushed this on my friends and acquaintances because come on, I am a product of public schools and state universities, and I don’t think I’ve even met a hedge fund manager. But this year they’re trying out something called $826 for 826 and how could I turn down participating in something with such a symmetrical hook?
Beyond all of the great stuff 826 does that I listed above — and it is great stuff, I’ve worked on all of it — I thought I would share one of the most incredible things I’ve ever witnessed in the confines of volunteering at 826NYC.
It was after drop-in tutoring and two kids around ten years old hadn’t yet been fetched by their parents. One was an 826 lifer who’s been involved with countless workshops and projects. The other was dragged in sporadically by his parents for maybe a year before his sullen eye-rolling brought an end to the experiment. Maybe it’s not important which was which.
The first kid mentions his hopes of getting a dog for his birthday. Or maybe a cat. Definitely a pet. He would LOVE a pet and turns to the second to ask if he has any pets. Second Kid says no, and when pressed on the issue explains because his mother is allergic to dogs.
The first kid is gobstruck. “WHAT? She’s allergic to DOGS? I’m sorry, but that is STUPID. Dogs are awesome. What kind of messed up person would be ALLERGIC to something so awesome? I don’t know man, your mom is DUMB.”
Second kid has absolutely no response to this, and looks at me pleadingly. I attempt to intervene: “Look First Kid, being allergic to dogs has nothing to do with liking dogs. My mother loves all animals, but she’s allergic to cats and a lot of dogs. She can’t help it, it’s just something that happens.”
First kid is deep in thought. “So like you’re born with allergies?”
First kid pauses, and busts out an incredible turn of phrase: “Look, what I am about to say MAY BE CONSIDERED CONTROVERSIAL. But I should NOT GET IN TROUBLE FOR IT.” The exact phrasing has obviously stuck with me to this day, and given the gesticulation accompanying I imagine he picked this up from a comedian or something. I still don’t know. For the first time I’m somewhat concerned about being left alone with minors, but I let him continue.
“There are people in our community who are… I don’t want to say the word… it’s like when a boy likes a boy or a girl likes a girl.”
“You mean people who are gay?”
“YES! Now… I know that being G-A-Y isn’t a big deal, it’s just how some people are born, and it’s not weird, and no one should ever make fun of them for it. I shouldn’t get in trouble for saying this!”
“You haven’t said anything that will get you in trouble, First Kid. And if you’re just stating a fact it’s okay to say gay.”
“I don’t want to get in trouble. But like… Second Kid’s mom was just BORN allergic to dogs?”
“Okay, so being allergic to dogs is the same thing as being gay?”
“I mean… yes?”
“Second Kid, I’m sorry I made fun of your Mom for being allergic to dogs. It’s just like she’s gay or something, she’s not stupid.”
Second kid begrudgingly accepted the apology, and seconds later his mother came in to pick him up. First kid felt a little bad for being prejudiced against allergic people, but I told him he’s fine. And he is.
Beyond watching sullen eight year olds who hate homework growing into high-achieving teenagers who will patiently walk a second grader they barely know through multiplication even if it interrupts their own studies, beyond watching kids discover their hidden love of acting, poetry, claymation, or fashion design, beyond even getting to walk through A SECRET PASSAGE HIDDEN BEHIND A BOOKSHELF multiple times a week, this is why I volunteer at 826NYC and want it to continue to flourish. It’s a safe space for people to ask questions, explore topics, and learn tolerance for people with dog allergies.
If you can, please donate whatever amount you feel appropriate to support 826NYC. And regardless, if you are ever in the need of a cape and are in Brooklyn, I can hook you up.