At age 13, while her peers were agonizing over the transition to high school, Katie Eder was launching her own nonprofit organization, Kid’s Tales. Coming into its fifth year, the organization brings creative writing workshops to kids ages 8-12 in 12 U.S. cities and eight countries and employs only teenagers. Now a senior at Shorewood High School, Eder is its fearless leader.
Despite its national and international growth, Kid’s Tales workshops still take place across Milwaukee every summer at organizations like COA Youth and Family Centers where local children sit for three hours per day over the course of one or two weeks, brainstorming and developing their own short story or personal narrative. At the end of the workshop, these children receive their story bound in a book alongside the stories of their fellow classmates with their art and an overall title gracing the cover.
In its five years, Kid’s Tales has taught 1,200 kids nationally and internationally, bringing workshops everywhere from juvenile detention centers in Minnesota to refugee camps in Hungary. The organization has also involved over 300 teenagers as teachers, fund raisers, executive team and board members, web developers and social media experts.
“As an organization, we’re saying that young people are not just sitting in school doing nothing and we’re not just technology obsessed,” Eder says. “We want the world to be a better place, and we are ready to make that happen. That’s what we’re trying to do with Kid’s Tales – we’re trying to prove that the generation that’s growing up now is the one that wants to make their voices heard.”
Kid’s Tales’ Origins
Eder’s path to becoming a prolific writer and founder of a nonprofit began when, in the summer before she started middle school, her parents signed her up for creative writing workshops. She immediately fell in love with the craft, citing creative writing as the first time she felt that she was truly able to express herself. Upon returning to school, Eder realized that her peers hadn’t had the same opportunities as she did and still viewed writing as something negative, not a mode of expression.
Determined to spread her love of creative writing to her peers, in the summer of 2014 as a 13-year-old, Eder marched into COA Youth and Family Centers and pitched the idea of a creative writing weekend workshop, taught by her, in which her students would leave with their stories bound in a book. Though she was met with understandable hesitation due to her age, COA Youth and Family Centers gave young Eder permission to teach the workshop. She didn’t, however, realize that she wanted to expand Kid’s Tales beyond the workshop until one of her students approached her in its last fifteen minutes.
“A little girl called me over and explained that she had never had a chance to express herself before and that writing and Kid’s Tales was the first time she felt that she had a voice,” Eder says. “It was then that I realized that Kid’s Tales wasn’t something I was just doing for myself – I needed to do it for other kids because I could actually have an impact on them. And that’s when I decided to grow it.”
Local, National and International Expansion
The following summer, Eder learned how to write donor letters and garner grant money and worked to get her Milwaukee friends involved in the organization as creative writing teachers and executive leaders. Beyond her friends in Milwaukee, Eder spread the organization via friends and relatives to Chicago, to Washington D.C. and to juvenile detention centers in Minnesota, among other U.S. locations. Upon expanding Kid’s Tales, Eder and her friends had to overcome barriers and doors closed because of their age.
“I think being 100 times more organized really helped us overcome age barriers,” Eder says. “We have everything written down. We have numerous handbooks and curriculums, and now that we’ve won some awards and grants, we’re a little bit more reputable. I think that just showing people that we’re just as professional, if not more professional than adults, proves that we are legitimate about doing this.”
In the summer of 2015, the Kid’s Tales teens’ professionalism paid off, as they won a grant to spread Kid’s Tales around the world, starting in Colombia. The teenagers later taught in a refugee camp in Hungary and now has a growing base of workshops in Brazil. Due to this international expansion, Kid’s Tales’ curriculum is now in six languages.
Eder’s hard work in building and expanding Kid’s Tales, alongside other academic and extracurricular accomplishments, won her early admission to Stanford University, where she intends to study social entrepreneurship. Before she moves to sunny California, Eder will take a gap year to work on finding Kid’s Tales a new home and leadership.
In the meantime, Kid’s Tales will further expand with help from a U.S. Cellular grant that is part of its the Future of Good program, which awards young people who are making a difference in their community. Though Eder will be moving to the West Coast to study the nonprofit sector, she hopes to return to Milwaukee for the energy for change she found when working on expanding Kid’s Tales.
“I think Milwaukee is a really special place,” Eder says. “It has a lot of problems, that’s very true, but I think we also have a lot of people and a lot of places that want to find solutions and see change happen. And I honestly think that that’s why I love it here and why I probably will come back.”