Katie McCleary and 916 Ink co-founder Michael Spurgeon knew they wanted to start a creative nonprofit for children when they met at a writer’s conference in 2010. They believed Sacramento could support such a program because there was already a strong writing community here, nurtured by programs like the Sacramento Poetry Center, but there was a glaring, missing piece in Sacramento’s creative writing community — a youth program.
Today, the nonprofit provides youth writing programs and field trips to their “Imaginarium” on 37th Avenue in Sacramento. Beside hosting classes at the Imaginarium, 916 Ink hosts creative writing classes in schools, community centers and youth detention centers throughout the Capital Region, teaching students how to read, write and tell stories.
The classes provide opportunities for expression and learning that might not otherwise be available, and the students are taught to treat all work as fiction, which provides some of the anonymity needed to share personal stories. McCleary says an important factor of their program is that every student has their work published in a book. These are distributed to the participants and sold locally. “I know the power of seeing your own name in print. It’s magical, it solidifies something in you, that you’ve arrived, that you matter.”
Students and siblings Zachariah and Dominique Mejia found creative direction in the program after taking 916 Ink classes through their independent study programs. Zachariah, 19, graduated from high school last year and now volunteers in the Imaginarium classes. “We weren’t big writers beforehand, no kids really are. We decided to try the new creative classes and it was some of the most fun we’ve had in a class,” Zachariah says.
Dominique, 17, is still enrolled as a student in independent study classes at Visions in Education, and also hopes to volunteer with 916 Ink in the future. “They do so much for their students, they tell us about events and promote other things that have to do with writing and that’s been really helpful,” she says.
With 18 different workshops running throughout Sacramento, the organization is on its way. McCleary estimates that the program will serve 2,000 students this year, and up to 3,000 next year. Since 2012, an estimated 3,300 area students have been published in 80 books.
“I think it’s giving kids a sense of community and helping them find their tribe,” she says. “The kids who you know it sticks with, this program is in their bones, they’re writers. Now they have a writing community.”