Thursday, December 8, 2016

Erin Cass (GSAS ’14) on her Work at Creative Writing Non-Profit 826NYC

As Development Manager at 826NYC, part of Erin’s role is planning innovative events. With the holiday season approaching, we caught up with Erin to find out her advice for planning celebrations and her experiences in the non-profit sector.

What did you study at NYU?

I had a great experience at NYU studying Politics. Two professors that made a big impact are Arnaud Kurze in International Relations, and Professor of Sociology Jeff Goodwin. I think both of them are really inspiring. My research was focused on social movements and social change, and they both provided me with excellent advice and guidance.

What was so great about my classes was the critical eye my fellow students had, and the real conversations we were able to have that got into a deeper level. There were so many different people from all over the world in my classes who are doing amazing things now and are really inspiring.  It was an incredible atmosphere that inspired me to want to go out and do more after school.

What did you do before you moved to New York for graduate school?

My undergraduate research at the University of Florida was in Roma social movements in the Czech and Slovak republics, so I spent a lot of time in the Czech Republic, then moved there after I graduated. I worked in different areas, including marketing and graphic/web design.

Can you tell us about 826NYC?

It is a creative writing non-profit, dedicated to providing a safe environment for students to come and express themselves while also building writing skills that are critical to future success. Our programs are free of charge, and we serve public school students who qualify for free and reduced price meals, and students aged 6-18. We work with all different types of students from all over the city.

826NYC was co-founded by author Dave Eggers and Nínive Calegari, an educator. Our approach is very inspired by the freedom to be creative, while also focusing on building writing skills and revising work to become better writers. The organization has grown substantially in the last three years. We now annually serve more than 2,800 students all over the city. As Development Manager, I lead the Development team.

Your team plans very innovative events. Can you tell us about the events that you have worked on?

Scrabble for Cheaters is an annual event where teams of two raise money to buy cheats that they can use during our Scrabble tournament. Cheats include inventing a word, or using a word from a foreign language, which are not allowed in traditional Scrabble. Trivia Night for Cheaters is a similar annual event, with teams of five. Teams can buy cheats that evening, such as cheating off a neighboring table, getting hints, or eliminating answers. It’s a great way to get people involved, and the events are a lot of fun.

What is a favorite event you have worked on?

Super Kids, Serious Authors is a really fun event that is exclusive to our supporters and League of SuperHumans’ members. Well-known authors come in and read our students work, and act out their stories. It definitely showcases the incredible talent of our students. And it’s exciting for the students, since they can be shy about reading their own work out loud.

In the last edition of Super Kids, Serious Authors we had Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians which was turned into a SyFy television series, actress Maura Tierney (in The Affair), Chip Kidd (illustrator and author), Kaitlyn Greenidge (author), and J. Courtney Sullivan (author). The year before, NYU Creative Writing Program Professor Darin Strauss (GSAS '97) participated. They were all fantastic! I think it’s really interesting to see the different ways that they interpret the writing.

Dave Eggers, our co-founder, also does events for us. Two months ago, he held a conversation with one of our recently graduated students, Alex Casimir. Alex was a student in the program from when he was 7 until he turned 18, and he is now going to film school in California. It was great to see the impact of the work on our students.

Do you have any advice for planning successful events?

It’s so important during this time of year to rally around the causes you believe in. In planning a holiday event, it is great when people think about how they can give back to their communities and how they can incorporate that into their celebrations. The biggest thing is remembering what’s important.

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