Super power agency
Young people have such interesting stories to tell but they don’t know that someone cares to read them
Young people have such interesting stories to tell but they don’t know that someone cares to read them. At the same time, literacy rates are going down and it is having negative knock-on-effects on things like getting a job or being an active participant in day to day society. The Super Power Agency is a charity that uses writing and creativity to empower young people to tell their own stories. One of the main goals is to show the power that writing can have and help young people see what writing can do for them.
The programs are often run by volunteers which creates a great opportunity for students to interact with people outside of their everyday circle. This opens everyone involved up to new perspectives and it can help students create connections and confidence early on.
To make the programs really effective, each project has a beginning, middle and a very tangible end. Once a project is finished, the team publishes a book that is sold in Edinburgh shops and on their website. This way, students can see that the work they do matters and who doesn’t feel empowered from being a published author?!
The Super Power Agency was founded in 2016 after the founder Maxine saw the effects of low literacy skills in Edinburgh and made a trip to the USA and the charity 826 National to gather information. Since then, the former CEO of the American charity, Gerald has joined forces with the Super Power Agency. In their first year, they worked with around 30 students, in 2019 that number will be closer to 700.
In this interview, I spoke to Gerald from the Super Power Agency about their work, plans for the future and how anyone can get involved in the creative projects.
"It was great to see them go from shy and unsure of what to say to them eventually meeting their pen pals and really connecting"
What would a dream project look like?
We just ran a project that was one of my dream projects. It was an intergenerational pen pals project (see the video above) and we had S2 students from Broughton High School write letters back and forth with residents at elder care facilities LifeCare and Haugh House. It was great to see them go from shy and unsure of what to say to them eventually meeting their pen pals and really connecting with them. The event was only meant to last about 1.5 hours but we ended up staying almost 3. It was like seeing old friends meet up and helped break down a lot of the barriers we see between younger and older people.
A long term goal we have is to have our own space. Right now we visit the schools which is great but having a youth writing centre would allow us to ask the young people what they want and then build it to be perfect for them. Many of the students we work with start to really trust us and other adults they don’t know when they see the finished book at the end. Having a permanent location would help us reinforce that sense of trust and be a place they can always turn to.
What is something you find difficult today?
Spreading awareness can be really hard. It is difficult to describe the impact of the work in traditional marketing. You understand it best when you are there to meet the kids and everyone involved.
Another problem we have is more demand than we have the resources to accommodate. We often get asked by schools to run a program with them but we would need more volunteers to be able to do it.
How do you come up with new programs?
We often start with an idea of our own. However, it is really important that the programs work with the normal school curriculum so we always involve the teachers. For example, the kids were learning about the history and tradition of poems so we came in and had them write their own. It revealed some real talents! Even if they don’t become poets, they now know that writing is something they are good at and that is a confidence boost they can bring with them.
The programs are about 5-12 weeks and each session is about 50 minutes. We also try to schedule in a lot of time not just for writing but also for editing. Having that extra time to go back and improve your own work is really helpful.
"If you are feeling pulled between different people and ideas, focus on what success would look like in the end and make that your guide for all decisions."
What challenges do you think you will face in the next 10 years and how can volunteers help?
There are a couple ways that volunteers can help and we try to make it as easy as possible to volunteer with us. We like to say “if you have an hour - we will take an hour”. Most people when they come in planning to join us for a few hours, they like it so much they join for the full 12 weeks. If you want to get involved, we are always looking for help to run the writing workshops (no prior experience needed), illustrate the books and book covers and also just spreading the word. In the future, we would also love to see people come up with ideas for the programs.
Do you have any tips for engaging so many people in one project?
When there are so many people involved, in our case the kids, teachers, volunteers and parents, you really need to be clear on who you are trying to help. For us that is the kids. Everything we do should benefit them. If you are feeling pulled between different people and ideas, focus on what success would look like in the end and make that your guide for all decisions.
What is something you would like to learn more about?
I would love to learn more about how we can collaborate with other organisations to create a more long term solution for the people we work with - finding a way to have a collective impact. For example, we work with writing skills and the kids know and trust us after working together. It would be great to team up with other charities that might offer employment support or other services that those same kids need later in life - keeping that trust and relationship going.
Do you have any tips for someone who wants to start their own charity?
Learn from others. It is easy to keep your great ideas to yourself but you can learn so much from asking people who have already tried and failed at things. Another really important part is to find a way to tell your story in an impactful and effective way. Listen to how people describe what they need and use this to craft the story of how you can help, then spread the word and passion. Also make sure you think strategically about your charity. The only way you can help more people is to stick around and that requires some planning.
If you want to find out more about the Super Power Agency, how you can help or purchase one of their fantastic books, visit their website and say hi!