Alumni Programs

Rocket Parking on the Roof

Supplying Outer Space; Improving Life on Earth

by Nicky Tiso ’10

Navigating Seattle’s Greenwood Avenue, you may notice The Greenwood Space Travel Supply Company. However otherworldly it may seem, it is a destination to which Teri Hein ’76 travels most days of the week.

Store signage flatly states “space travel is all we do!” Not so. Behind the bins of gravity sold by weight, subatomic particles, replacement quarks, travel mugs and duct tape, is the world of 826 Seattle, one of seven non-profit writing centers located in major cities through the U.S., dedicated to helping children ages 6-18 develop their creative and expository writing skills.

Each of the writing centers operates behind an outlandish storefront that sells thematic ephemera. (In San Francisco, it’s pirate supplies.) Hein, founder and executive director of the 826 Seattle, picked outer space as the organizing whimsy.

“The presence of the store tells any kid entering that this isn’t some tutoring center for kids who are behind,” Hein explained. “It’s about the unexpected. It’s about creativity.”

Hein founded 826 Seattle in 2004. For 20 years prior, she was a teacher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center where her passion for learning and quirky sense of humor brightened the lives of many young patients. “We used to make video soap operas with the kids called All My Marrow,” Hein recalls. Behind the laughs, she saw “even the sickest child wants to be engaged in something they’re interested in.”

In 2003 Hein published “Atomic Farmgirl,” a personal story about growing up on a wheat farm in Eastern Washington near the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The story unfolds within a conflicted, unmistakably American sense of place. New York theater troupe The Drilling CompaNY adapted it for the stage in 2007.

Hein started her own writing center called Studio 26 (a reference to the number of letters in the alphabet) before being invited by the 826 organization to become a chapter. Co-founded by postmodern author Dave Eggers (who most recently co-wrote the screenplay for Where the Wild Things Are), the 826 concept was adapted to take advantage of a commercial loophole – the writing centers needed a storefront to comply with zoning ordinances. Off-beat duality became the organization’s trademark.

Today, Hein oversees seven employees, several interns, and 450 volunteers. Together, they’ve transformed the culture of community service into something hip and quirky – nurturing young writers on voyages of personal and literary discovery. The resulting works are published, displayed and sold. Introducing young authors to a reading public, Hein believes, helps legitimize young voices that are all too often ignored.

“We live in a world where we need to take care of each other,” Hein reflected. “We will take care of each other if we know each other. One way to do that is to share stories.”

Check out Hein on the Evergreen Alumni Entrepreneurs Directory.