My Nonprofit Reviews
Cylithria Eensybeensyspider Dubois
Review for The Office of Letters and Light, Berkeley, CA, USA
I started my writing career as a young woman of 17. I wrote under a Pen Name for nearly 13 years. Although writing was not my career (I was officially with the military) I wrote endlessly, successfully and prolifically. In May of 1998 my sons, ages 11 & 4 1/2, were killed when a drunk driver struck the vehicle they were in. Their deaths brought about the death of my writing - be it for my career or for personal joy. I bought out my contracts for pending works in progress, ceased all ties with the writing world and tried to desperately write when no words would come. The death of my writing wasn't a conscious choice at first, but it was the end result after I lost my sons. During the next two years I not only mourned their loss, I mourned my inability to create with words.
It was the year 200 when I first returned to writing. A friend, the only one I remained in contact with; started telling me about 'this friend' a friend of hers had. Apparently this guy started some crazy group. The groups purpose; to write a novel in one months time.
I rolled my eyes. A Novel in a month wasn't impossible. My previous writing career already told me that. The idea itself was trite, and yet my friend continued speaking of it. "Yeah, I guess last year they wrote their great American Novels from his apartment!" She went on to talk as if the idea were insane, even insinuating 'real writers would never do such a thing,' and I managed to get the Groups name before our conversation ended.
I knew better, having been a writer with a deadline, that such a goal could be accomplished; but what I originally joined the group to do was find out more information on 'this guy' who started this internet group. I didn't learn much about the groups founder, I didn't even participate actively in the group, but that year, as I scoffed, mocked and later fell for the crazy idea, I began writing for the first time since my sons had died.
In 2000 I won my first National Novel Writing Month by writing the worst novel I have ever written. (No really, it was about a bug living in my kitchen during THAT NaNoWriMo!) In order to become a verified winner, we had to send out document files to 'this guy' and he opened them in a word processor, verified they were in fact more then 50,000 words and then he added a star next to our username. I was pretty happy that 'this guy' couldn't see me as i logged in and saw that star for the first time - I can promise you I saw it through blurry, tear-filled eyes and I smiled through my tears.
In 2000 'this guy' and National Novel Writing Month taught me that my writing wasn't dead yet. I have been a proud NaNoWriMo Participant and Victor for every year since 2000 and I am happy to report, I have gone back to writing professionally as well.
Because of my military service, I used a different screen name then the one I am known by now. At the time that I joined NaNoWriMo I was working undercover and as such my identity online and in real life was hidden. In the year 2001, due to the events of September 11th; my life changed from being an undercover operative to deploying all over the world. my 2001 NaNoWriMo Novel was written in pieces, on various government computers from 3 different countries. In 2002, my NaNo-Novel was written in much the same manner, but my 2003 I was home, stationed in Michigan and I volunteered to become a Municipal Liaison in the city of Flint. That was the year I physically met other Participants, or Wrimo's as we call each other.
During my first year as a Municipal Liaison, I shared the region of Flint with a fellow particpant/ML. While all the writers coming to our forums and our meetings were fantastic, my Co-Municipal Liaison took a distinct disliking to my presence. Because of this in 2003 I had the distinct pleasure of working with The Office of Letters and Light staff to rectify the problems in our region. Not only were they attentive, helpful and prompt, but the staff members I dealt with were REAL, presenting themselves with a sincerity and authenticity not often found in a Charity Office Staff - I remember being stunned that they were just like me - loving NaNoWriMo and it's wrimo's, writing their own novels, and excited about our future as a Charity.
2003 was also the year that I as a Municipal Liaison had my first Young Writer. Although it would be another 2 years before YWPNaNoWriMo would have a website and forum of it's own, already teens and young adults flocked to NaNoWriMo. One such teen, just 13 and accompanied by her father, came to my Flint Regional Write-ins. Year after year she returned, victorious and always growing. Not only did she actively participate in forums and write-ins, she enlisted other teen friends and aided me with the smaller 6-12 year olds who also began appearing with their parents - all wanting to 'write a novel in a month'. I will never forget the phone call I received from my Original Young Writer - "Eensybeensyspider, will you send me a sticker and some of the hand outs you give out at write-ins? There is no NaNoWriMo on my Campus." - My littlest writer had grown up and now was in college. Again the tears returned to my eyes, this time tears of pride, as not only my adult wrimos succeeded but my young wrimos too.
My first few years as an ML were wondrous. NaNoWriMo grew, my region grew. No longer were there 5-8 wrimos at an event (including myself) but now we were hitting double digit attendance numbers! The type and group of participants was as varying as the types of genre's in a library. I watched as these writers, who participated in free program (NaNoWriMo) gave money for our charity's. I watched as friendships forged, groups united, people moved away and newcomers arrived. There is no amount of room to describe all the amazing instances of writers I have had the honor of being with, but for the purpose of this review I do need to share one Wrimo's story.
As I stated, there were many year I was deployed during National Novel Writing Month. One particular year, I was deployed with US Marines in Northern Iraq. The story of my writing a novel in a war zone was featured on NaNoWriMo's website a few years back and can be located here: http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/node/3294913 - That alone is a testament to the power of The Office of Letters & Light and National Novel Writing Month, but It was during that same NaNoWriMo that I had the distinct honor and privilege to witness the power of NaNo & OLL.
I was writing, as the article states, my novel as we worked our way through the countryside of Iraq. During the beginning of November, my unit visited a tiny village. One of the women in this village took an interest in my presence and through a translator we spoke. She had noticed my hours of writing and asked what it was about. Through the translator I explained I was writing a novel for National Novel Writing Month. For three days this Iraqi woman named Tirife asked about my writing, what this NaNoWriMo was, and why would anyone do it. Teaching her about NaNo was such a thrilling thing because she seemed interested and excited about the idea that women could write novels!
As I stated in my interview for NaNoWriMo, I did manage to win that years NaNoWriMo - barely. The fact that my novel had to travel by so many means just to be validated on time, was amazing - but 6 days after I received word that I did officially win NaNoWriMo, we returned to Tirife's village.
How can I put that moment to words? Bear with me as I try. We rolled up to the village and after cursory greetings began walking through, All of a sudden a woman, completely covered, saying the oddest words comes running towards us. Instantly we alert, it's years of habit and training, but this woman either doesn't see our pointed weapons or didn't feel threatened. Running to our translator she begins talking so fast he must grab her to force her to slow down. Once he understands her and he gives the unit the 'all clear', they walk my direction. As he explains to me that Tirife has written a novel, she is putting sheet after sheet of paper, written in Arabic into my hands.
Tirife wrote 51,204 words that November. By hand, on blank paper, on paper that had stuff printed on it, on magazine pages, on anything she could put ink on. She wrote her story as a novel. In the mountains of Iraq, in the squalor of the horrid building she lived in, with no power, no running water, in a country that had a war ongoing in it, she wrote a novel, and now she stood bouncing on her toes, her eyes barely visible, shining with pride, handing me portions of her book for me to read.
I have never been so humbled, honored, stunned, moved or inspired as I was that day in the bitter cold, sitting with her and the Translator listening to what I believe to be the very first National Novel Writing Month Novel written in Iraq by an Iraqi citizen. I still cry as I think of it.
You ask for an honest and candid review? This is one. Bringing literacy, creativity and a sense of community to people through it's programs for writing is THE FINEST charity I know of. I am active in many, many not for profit charity's; Girl Scouting, Boy Scouting, Shriner's Childrens Hospitals, Twestivals - and all of those are fine, upstanding, life changing charity's - but none - none have had the power to show the individual the exact same lesson:
We are all creative beings. We all have story's to share. Writing is a valuable method of communication. We CAN achieve anything we set our mind to.
I have been fortunate to have written with thousands of wrimos as I have traveled the globe. I have Municipal Liaisoned in 3 different cities, I have been to local write ins in over 15 different states. I have met fellow wrimos, Municipal Liaisons, Supporters of writers and Young Writers. This year in my region a 97 year old woman who went to one of our Library write-ins was writing a novel, by hand, "the old-fashioned way". All because 'this guy' - Chris Baty - was brave enough to challenge himself and others.
Hey Chris - Thank YOU!
My name is Cylithria Dubois. They call me the Eensybeensyspider. I can't put to adequate words how much this organization has changed me, my life, my fellow writers lives and in turn; the World, but it has.
I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...
In both my professional and personal life. be it bringing the program into schools, or gathering books for the bookdrive, I have watched The Office of Letters & Light's programs change lives and community's for the better.
If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...
Find it better funding and I would LOVE to start a "Motivational Liaison" Program for the Young Writers Programs - based on Webinar's and Live Webcam meetings with writers in their classes.
Would you volunteer for this group again?
For the time you spent, how much of an impact did you feel your work or activity had?
Did the organization use your time wisely?
Would you recommend this group to a friend?
What one change could this group make that would improve your volunteer experience?
I would hold an hour to two hour long webinar for all Municipal Liaisons - introducing them to the OLL staff, talking about Public relations, cover program basics as well as Q&A and offer a run through of how to function on the NaNoWriMo/ScriptFrenzy/YWPNaNoWriMo/YWPScriptFrenzy Forums and I would be willing to hold the same Webinar 3 various times, to accommodate International Time Zones. Fostering a larger sense of community amongst the Municipal Liaisons would strengthen the individual Liaison's contact with community it serves.
Did your volunteer experience have an effect on you? (teaching you a new skill, or introducing new friends, etc.)
I have learned speaking skills, organizations skills, people skills, and various technical skills through the act of being a Municipal Liaison. Too numerous to mention, but invaluable to have gained.
How did this volunteer experience make you feel?
On top of the world - literally.
When was your last experience with this nonprofit?