Superkids Seeking Marvelous Mentors

Fall is on the horizon and you’re lamenting that your summer adventures are coming to an end? Fear not!

At the Writers’ Exchange, our fall session is filled with kid crusaders gearing up for their next great escapade, and they need volunteer Literacy Mentors to help them along the way!

superhero kid

Writers’ Exchange Literacy Mentors help inner-city elementary-school kids have a blast through reading, writing, and much more! With quests and crafts concocted by our creative staff, your weekly volunteer shift will be spent supporting crazy-fun adventures both on and off the page.

superhero volunteer literacy mentor

Sound like your kind of quest but have a busy schedule? There are a couple of ways to make being a super sidekick work for you! 

  • After-school (flying above and beyond!): Monday to Friday, from 3 to 5 pm. Hang out with and support kids during creatively crafted reading, writing and homework projects.
  • In-school (for the hero on the go!): Support a small group of kids in their classroom as they create a publication from scratch! Each program runs for 1.5 hours, once a week, for 4 to 5 weeks.

We ask that you make a commitment to a full term of either our in-school or after-school programs for the same day, time, and location each week. This consistency ensures that mentors and kids get a chance to get to know each other and build trust. Our kids have so much fun when they can look forward to which mentors they get to hang out with each week, and you'll make great connections, too!

At the Writers’ Exchange, we give kids a safe space to be silly, learn, and just be kids. Spending just a couple hours of your week flexing your literary muscles can make a huge difference for kids who are thrilled to hang out with marvelous mentors like you. 

So join us on our adventure, use your superpowers for good, and help make this fall fun for our fresh crop of superkids.

Apply now to volunteer!

Deadline to volunteer in the fall term: September 8, 2017

reading with kids

On Volunteering, the Writers’ Exchange and Community

By Mike Johnston, Writers' Exchange volunteer


Mike and the Writers' Exchange staff team

Many times in my life I have inadvertently let myself down by entertaining the fantasy of an idea at the expense of the reality of who I am and what I am like as a human. Others, too, I have let down by way of my too-late discovery that what I thought would be a great idea, something I could commit to long term, was not for me. Projects, jobs, relationships, friendships. All have suffered from me not knowing what I wanted. 

I thought, for example, I wanted to be a journalist in Beijing and pursue education there. This was an ideal I zealously attempted to realise for the better part of a year, in the face of waning health, and dwindling interests and social activity outside of work and study. Predictably, enthusiasm for this far-fetched life of mine ended. I wanted something else—and I wanted to trust that I really wanted it.

Trite as they sound, words that guided the recovery and new directions of my life as I transitioned from Beijing to Vancouver—my home base before I had departed on that wayward misadventure—were “love,” “friendship,” and “community.”

“Community” was keenly pertinent. I have led a fortunate life involving a lot of moving around; quickly establishing oneself in unfamiliar territory is de rigeur for my family. Consequently, community, beyond a fast and loose association, has always been an abstract concept. Understand, then, in light of the many failures of my fancies, my hesitant desire to prioritise that which I felt I’d never deeply experienced for myself: community.

From the spring of 2015, when I knew with certainty I would renege on my future in China, to January of 2016, when I finally began living again in Vancouver, notions of what meaning I would create for myself and with others changed wildly and incessantly. I had no point of reference. There were times I thought “having a community” might be akin to doing a part-time job with cool coworkers, or that community was defined by those people exclusively with whom one might record an album. The only thought that stuck was that community meant caring for people in some way.

When I moved back, I got the chance to try out my ideas. Owing to an interest in psychology and the then-thought that I might enjoy being a professional counsellor for seniors (and owing as well to my partner’s observations that in fashion and leisure preferences, I resemble a man in his mid 70s rather than mid 20s), a tentative first step in concretising my notions of, and commitment to, community was volunteering in a seniors’ live-in care home. It scratched an itch for a few short months, and I had a pleasant experience, if vague, of being “out there in the community.” Yet, I felt something missing. I knew partly that this missing factor was a sense of engagement in light of my very few responsibilities at the care home. In reflection, I take from this that my personal sense of community did not yet include the concept of impact—my concept of community as an association of folks who like each other lacked a core element: for what purpose does a community exist? It is that element, which varies according to the character of any community in question, that makes a community durable, and distinguishes it from concepts like “neighbourhood” or “social network.”

At the time, I didn’t have such clear ideas; I didn’t know quite what I was looking for; nevertheless, I trusted my instinct to strive for more. As it happened, while searching for meaning in life, I was also seeking cool experiences to complement my intended application to grad school. In what I now recall as a happenstance flourished with volcanic fireworks, the singing of angels, gold-spun god rays illuminating the screen of my computer, and a singular experience of transcendence, I discovered that Writers’ Exchange was a thing. Also, that I’d missed the deadline for volunteer applications by a week. I applied anyway; I really liked the look of what I saw. A very responsive, accommodating, and enthusiastic Volunteer Manager, Sarah-Jane, guided me through the application and orientation, and within a few weeks, I was on my way to my first in-school programme. 

I was indeed nervous. When was the last time I’d been inside a school? Hallways, lockers, the Office—what had seemed for giants through the distant fog of my childhood eyes now looked miniature, illusively smaller than the actual size. My nerves compelled me to humour as I stood in a classroom where so many eyes watched and I felt a stranger. Dad-jokes to the rescue. It wasn’t so much that iconic “first”—first laugh, smile, or in my case, groan—that opened me to the wonder of Writers’ Exchange, but the continuity, over time. As the kids and I became more familiar, recognition, friendship, collaboration, and a bounty of mortifyingly bad puns germinated over time, one week to the next. This changed my understanding of what role WE volunteers play in the kids’ lives, and more generally what impact people can have in each other’s lives.

I had approached our programmes thinking mechanically that the bulk of my actions were in some way supposed to output literacy. More than once, the program team, Jen and Haley, helpfully reminded me that good spelling and grammar were not to be my main concern. This definitely confused me in the beginning: What’s more important to literacy, after all, than knowing properly how to read and write? I wondered about that throughout days when emotions ran high, or the kids hadn’t slept, or were fighting with friends—I tried to be patient and to listen. Sometimes, no matter what I did, I could not connect with them and asked a programmer or teacher for help. And as I experienced the full human display of ups and downs, and saw kids trying in spite of the hurdles that faced them, my preconception of what it meant to support literacy drastically changed.

The change hit home while working with one of the first kids I’d connected with as a volunteer on her final piece of writing for the year. We faced a familiar situation for many at WE: she had brilliant ideas, which seemingly nothing could entice her to write down (there are many reasons that kids experience this dichotomy, I learned, and it does no favours to make assumptions). So for this final writing, she was the storyteller and I the humble scribe, and a great and terrifying tale she told. We laughed, we problem-solved, struggled, agreed, consulted Jen, and finally came to a conclusion that, in slightly different ways and in many ways the same, made us proud. What had not occurred to me before was that being a friend, or being a role model, or just being present, were valuable ways of supporting literacy.

Literacy is a skill, and skills are meaningless in absence of the people who do them, and people, especially kids, are dynamic and complex and affected by their environments and have so many things to learn, as well as ways of learning. At Writers’ Exchange I was a friend, hopefully a good role model, and present in the lives of so many different kids. I got to be a part of Writers’ Exchange’s terrifically supportive space, to be a part of a safe environment in which kids could explore, invent(, vent!), or just hang out. I got to meet other volunteers, all of whom brought (and keep bringing) grace, empathy, and patience to their relationships with the kids. I was supported by the tireless staff—Sarah-Jane, Sarah, Jen, Haley, Taylor, and Julie. All these people helped me realise that literacy, and in fact many a meaningful, collaborative project, takes place in an ecosystem of interconnected people, all with strengths and hurdles, good days and bad.

When I realised what Writers’ Exchange was to me, I fell madly in love with it — I signed up for every possible programme I could, and even that wasn’t enough; I needed to tell the world about this amazing group, and did so through WE outreach campaigns, and waxing euphoric to friends and family. My deep well of love for Writers’ Exchange came from yet another understanding: the above-mentioned ecosystem, all these folks and their personalities and situations and the connections between them spirited by creative energy, social support, and the joy of children—wasn’t that what you would call a community?

Writers’ Exchange Volunteer Showcase - Jane Conroy

Bringing the sunshine to our next spotlight is volunteer extraordinaire Jane. Current volunteers might know Jane from her frequent presence at our home base or her moderating role for many of our peer-support nights. Jane recently moved to Vancouver from England, and we're thrilled that Jane's been with us for a long while now. We're happy to share her thoughts on volunteering. Check it out!



What was it like getting started volunteering with Writers' Exchange?

It was scary for me starting to volunteer at WE, as I hadn't had any experiences with kids in Canada. It took them a little while to get used to my English phrases. They often asked me to repeat things again, thinking some of the words I use are funny. We laughed about them together.


What have been your favourite programs?

One of my favourite experiences has been when the pets came to visit. Especially the chickens! I enjoy the hands-on activities like cooking. It gave the kids an incentive to do some writing before they cooked.


How is Writers' Exchange important to you?

It has become more important to me as the months have gone by. I have got to know the children and realize that volunteering with them and being there each week makes a positive difference.


Any memorable connections with the kids?

We were talking about football—or should I say “soccer”—one time, and I'm familiar with the game. I replied to a comment from one of the children, who then said, "Hey, she knows about soccer. That's awesome." All the years of watching soccer paid off!

Help Us Re-Build Our Literacy Centre!

Inspired already? Donate now!

You may have heard that we were desperately looking for a new home. The rising rents in the Downtown Eastside meant we couldn't afford to stay in our current space and we might have to move away from the kids' we've been supporting with free, fun literacy programs for the past four years.

Finally, and thankfully, our landlord said we could stay in our building—with reduced rent—if we move upstairs. This is GREAT NEWS, but it means we have to create a beautiful new space, where the kids feel just as comfortable and safe and creative as they do in our current space. So we're trying to raise $20,000 to help finance the move/renovation by July 1.

Check out our Indiegogo campaign for more info and to contribute:

(Thanks in advance for your super generosity!)

Escape TO Writers' Exchange!



Summer’s a time when we escape from our daily life—we pick up and go camping in the woods, disconnect from technologies, lay on a beach, road trip to far-away lands. But you don’t have to leave the city to escape it all this summer! A short shift volunteering with the Writers’ Exchange kids can leave you refreshed and rejuvenated! 

Things volunteering at the Writers’ Exchange can help you escape from in the summer time:

  • Work
    • Working in summer can be the worst… FOMO hits an all-time high as you imagine everyone else out there enjoying those glorious sun-swept days… At WE, you escape the drudgery of work, escape FOMO and even have statistically 245.78% more fun than all those poor folks who don’t volunteer with WE.
  • Sunburns
    • WE has wicked summer programs, amazingly creative kids and sunscreen.
  • The disappointment of it actually being a rainy Vancouver summer! How awful would it actually be if, after all this rain, we have a sunless summer? Do the best to prepare for the worst: Volunteer at WE, where the sun shines 24/7/365.
  • Technology
    • You don’t need a getaway from cell-service range to unplug from technology. At WE, you won’t check your phone at all since you’ll be so engaged with the kids and the fun activities!
  • Not meeting goals
    • Many folks set goals for summer, to lose weight or learn a skill or do more yoga… but it’s always easier to set goals than reach them. WE can give you projects/goals you can reach, and help you make them happen, for example:
      • Make awesome, illustrated stories, and celebrate with the kids at their very own book launch.
      • Make and decorate a time machine, a treasure chest, a bug hut, a marshmallow castle, or an obstacle course.
      • See more of your city: explore Vancouver through the goofy perspectives of kids. Fun bus rides? Check. Playing games? Check. Learning about farming/science/mountains/art? Check!
  • Routine
    • What better way of celebrating all the diverse activities, sights and sounds of summer by switching up your quotidian and trying something new? May we suggest WE, where no day, program, nor kid is the same, save for being universally awesome?
  • Boredom/Lack of stimulation/Social isolation
    • Summer: AKA when all your friends go back home, and all your classes end and you find yourself with nothing to do. Until now: WE personally guarantees your volunteer experience will contain zero dull moments.


Whatever your summer escape looks like, Writers’ Exchange would love to have you as creative, supportive literacy mentors with your coolest new friends: the Kids of Writers’ Exchange. Apply by June 2nd!


Our schedule is yet to be fully confirmed, but here is a taste of what our programming will look like this year (programs run from July 4th to August 25th and volunteers are asked to commit to one program/week):

Mondays: 9:45 - 11am in the Grandview and Renfrew neighbourhoods, 12:30 - 2:30pm in the Hastings-Sunrise neighbourhood

Tuesdays: 10am - 12pm and 1 - 3pm at 881 E Hastings

Wednesdays: 9:30am - 3:30pm, Mysterious Summer Adventures

Thursdays: 10am - 12pm @ 881 E Hastings, 12:45 - 2:45pm in the Grandview neighbourhood

Fridays: 10am - 12pm in the Mt. Pleasant neighbourhood



Writers’ Exchange Volunteer Showcase - Jennifer Westoby

Exams are over (a collective sigh of relief is breathed) and there are ever-more snazzy volunteers to highlight. If you haven't seen our previous volunteer spotlights, you're missing out on some seriously joyful folks, so take a gander here and here. Adding to our rainbow roster of awesome, this week we're showing off our very own Jennifer Westoby! Jennifer regularly volunteers with our in-school programs. Outside of Writers’ Exchange, she is a social worker who works with a number of organizations, including the BC Council for Families.




Can you tell us a bit about how Writers' Exchange fits into your life?

Volunteering with WE fits easily into my life, as I can do it during the day when my kids are at school. [WE in-school program] shifts are flexible and short-term, so I can work, be a mom, and still volunteer!  I love working with the kids and helping them to discover their abilities to share ideas through the written word.  Seeing the kids smile when we come and when they see their [own work published in] books is always a treat. 


WE is an amazing program--so positive, fun, AND successful.  Proof that an organization can be encouraging, enthusiastic, and effective--we need more of this in the world!


What fun things have you done in the programs you’ve been volunteering in, recently?

I loved learning about Aboriginal culture in an in-school program we did at the Aboriginal Focus School. It was fun to help some of the kids connect more with their heritage.  And of course, the latest book we are doing on body noises at Grandview has been full of interesting sounds, laughter and learning!


Has anything about volunteering for Writers' Exchange surprised you?

I'm not sure if it is a surprise but more of a reminder that volunteering is a two-way street.  I learn a lot from the kids and other volunteers I work with about different ways to support kids and encourage them to feel good about themselves.  This helps me not just in my work but as a parent!


What is one thing you'd like to share about yourself?

Hmm.  Let's see... I play hockey.  I only learned to play (and skate, really) a few years ago, at the age of 44.  I feel that is a good example of how we always can learn new things, no matter how old we are.  


A big thanks to Jennifer for sharing a snapshot of her life and volunteer experience with us!

Writers’ Exchange Volunteer Showcase - Taylor Johnson

A Series by Mike, Writers’ Exchange Volunteer

Writers’ Exchange volunteers are kicking into high gear again, with an awesome array of spring programs just starting, each with a wonderful and wacky cast of kids. In the spirit of our Volunteer Showcase, the next volunteer we’d like to share with you is Taylor Johnson. Taylor volunteers every week with our after-school programs at Queen Alexandra Elementary. Outside of the Writers’ Exchange, he writes as much as humanly possible. He recently wrote and directed a short film and completed a text-based video game for a competition. He loves stories and will jump at any opportunity to tell one. 

He had this to say in response to a few questions:


Why do you like volunteering with WE?

Volunteering for the Writers’ Exchange is such an amazing and energizing part of my week that I’m constantly looking forward to. It’s awesome to have a regular chunk of time where you can have fun, be silly, and help make a kid’s homework seem a little less scary. As a relatively new Vancouverite, I wanted to find a way to help out my new city and I can’t recommend WE enough.

Have you learned anything about yourself through Writers’ Exchange?

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is to embrace a bit of chaos during an activity. At first, I had a game plan that I was going to stick to no matter what, but I quickly found that shutting down ideas gets you nowhere. Once I saw what other volunteers were doing and let go of that rigidity, the amount of fun the kids had, and the amount of work that got done, went up and up.

What kinds of things have you and the kids done in the most recent after-school programs you’ve been volunteering with?

Most recently we’ve written epic tales of a siege-laden marshmallow castle, designed and flown high-tech paper airplanes, concocted 'eye spy' scenarios that baffled the most astute searchers, and solved the case of the mysterious jellybeans.

…and a fun fact about Taylor is:

When I was a kid, I used to memorize entire movies and recite them for my friends at recess. I’d take requests and try to get the character voices as close as I could!


Want to volunteer? Or check out our showcase of volunteer Amandine Clairo? We’ve got you covered with links below:

For info about volunteering:

To see the amazing Amandine:

Join the Summer Fun!

Do you love reading and writing and want to pass on your passion to the next generation? Want to do something active and super fun this summer that also benefits at-risk kids? Without consistent, positive support during summer months, inner-city kids can actually LOSE their literacy skills. By volunteering just a couple of hours a week, you can provide these kids with the support they need to maintain and even boost their literacy skills over the summer so that they can return to school on par with their peers.


During July and August, mentors work one-on-one or in small groups with the kids (ages 6 to 13) to help them complete fun, creative literacy projects and make sure that all the kids leave each session knowing how awesome they are. As an enthusiastic, committed literacy mentor, you make it possible for us to fulfill our mission: get inner-city kids excited about reading and writing!

You must be able to commit to at least 2 hours/week for 7 weeks to be eligible to volunteer during July and August.

Programs run July 3 to September 1, 2017 and happen at sites across East Vancouver. Exact program locations and details will be confirmed in May.

Apply by June 2, 2017 to secure a position on our team of summer literacy mentors.

Writers’ Exchange Volunteer Showcase


A Series by Mike, Writers’ Exchange Volunteer

A garden just around the corner from my home is the envy of every green thumb in the neighbourhood. I don’t know much about gardening. I would have imagined it difficult to sustain an environment that fosters so many different living things in a single space, had I not begun volunteering with Writers’ Exchange.

Writers’ Exchange not only brings together more kinds of volunteers, kids, and creativity than a jumbo Crayola set, but in doing so, it thrives. In celebration of the rich diversity of our programs, and the exceptional humans who make it happen, and only slightly to show up the neighbourhood prize garden, I’d like to showcase some of WE’s own colourful cast of carbon-based life forms.

Over the next few weeks, you’ll meet a few friendly faces who shared their thoughts on volunteering with Writers’ Exchange. 


Amandine Clairo

Why do you volunteer?

WE is a tremendously fulfilling part of my week. I get the privilege of spending time with this awesome group of kids to read, play and be creative together. I've been with the same classroom for the past two plus years [as part of the Writers’ Room after-school program at Queen Alexandra Elementary School], so I've been able to witness shy kids grow in confidence and bold kids grow in kindness as our group knits together and evolves. As kids age out of the classroom I get to know their younger siblings and friends, and I still run into my original crew on the playground, so I feel like a part of the larger community of the school. Spending time with kids reminds me to be honest, open and creative. 

What is one thing you would like people to know about you?

When I was little I thought that if I was made Ruler of The World, I would make everyone keep their household garbage in their yard for one year before it could be taken to a landfill. I'd make some amendments to that idea now, but I still agree with the root concept. I have always thought it's a strange and detached system to have our garbage just *magically* disappear. Changing consumer habits and industry standards to focus on less and more recyclable packaging (and just less consumption in general) are initiatives that get me jazzed.


2015/16 Annual Report

You know what was awesome? Last year!

Check out HOW awesome it really was—with fun infographics and LOTS OF MONSTERS—in our 2015/16 Annual Report!

Click on the cover below to read the whole thing!




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