A Virtuous Circle of Giving - Cisco Meraki Employees Pay It Forward to 826 Valencia

Jan 20, 2022 8:20 AM ET

A Virtuous Circle of Giving - Cisco Meraki Employees Pay It Forward to 826 Vale…

By Sophia Danvers

The kids who visit 826 Valencia are usually too busy having fun to realize that they are doing homework. It might have something to do with the Pirate Supply Store, which greets kids when they enter, before they sit down for one-on-one tutoring with a volunteer. It is this unique combination of fun and learning that has helped drive the success of this community writing center in San Francisco’s Mission District. Over the last few years, 826 Valencia has grown considerably from its single location in the Mission District to include ten public schools, a center in the Tenderloin neighborhood and another in Mission Bay, just blocks from our Cisco Meraki offices.

Founded in 2002, 826 Valencia supports students ages 6-18 from under-resourced communities with their creative and expository writing skills, and helps educators inspire their students to write. Even with the challenges of the pandemic, 826 Valencia was able to make an outsized impact on the community, with students involved in their programs seeing a seven percent increase in writing proficiency between 2020-21.

Meraki’s roots are in 826 Valencia

That impact is part of the Cisco Meraki story. Some of our employees in San Francisco grew up visiting the writing center, which is only a few blocks away from our Mission Bay office. For those employees, being able to look back on what they learned and accomplished during their time at 826 Valencia creates a sense of profound gratitude, knowing that their career success is partly attributable to time spent with tutors who devoted their spare time to their early education.

One of those employees is Charlie Gebhardt, Manager, Business Transformation, who has fond memories of field trips to 826 Valencia as a kid. He went on to attend a variety of workshops and eventually got to see his work published in the 826 Quarterly (sold in the Pirate Supply Store, of course). As an employee, Charlie jumped at the opportunity to give back to the writing center that helped shape his education. He now works to recruit other Cisco Meraki employees as volunteer tutors at 826 Valencia.

How Cisco Meraki supports 826 Valencia

Our involvement doesn’t stop at volunteering. Our employees spearheaded an initiative to provide an in-kind product donation valued at more than $72,000 to rebuild 826 Valencia’s technology stack from the ground up. With the help of Jason Ashley, Cisco Meraki Network Support Engineer, we provided and installed MS switches, MR access points, and MV cameras. This equipment provides a stable, fast internet connection and helps keep the facility safe and secure. We continue to provide ongoing technology consultation free of charge.

To further maximize our giving, we connected 826 Valencia to Cisco’s Bay Area Community Impact Grants program. Those grants provided seed funding to establish an early literacy program that benefits up to 200 third through fifth graders and provided training for four teachers at Bret Harte Elementary School in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood.

Executive Director Bita Nazarian says it is amazing to see how one volunteer’s involvement has led to an incredible collaboration of in-kind donations, volunteering, and funding.

“This sort of engagement has untold impacts on students’ daily lives, where they receive the individual attention they need to become stronger writers and develop their voices.” she says. “Every single student we serve has a story of growth and impact, and it takes partners like Cisco to support their growth.”