Tucker has founded Friendly Flash Fiction, a high school-run charitable program that provides 30-minute quality writing lessons structured as a one-on-one online call. Using volunteer tutors, the program makes use of the high school tutors’ experience as they engage younger children in creative writing lessons while at the same time raising money for the UC San Francisco Coronavirus Response Fund.
“When the coronavirus hit the Bay Area and school shut down, I realized that a lot of kids would likely internalize all the chaos and craziness that was going on, so I created Friendly Flash Fiction to provide a creative outlet for kids during these complicated times. Poetry and fiction can be quite therapeutic, and we often underestimate the power of the written medium,” Tucker said. “The kids need a way to express themselves, and Friendly Flash Fiction offers just that.”
Throughout his young life, the Moraga resident says he has always used creative writing as an outlet for imagination and emotions, helping during difficult times through the writing of poems and short stories that serve as a method of self-expression. Lucas said extending this seemed natural to help other students stuck inside and perhaps looking for ways to keep interested and alert. Deciding he needed a way to organize his idea and, at the same time, raise money help fight the COVID-19 pandemic, Tucker hit upon Friendly Flash Fiction using an unpaid staff of high schoolers who enjoy teaching and supporting their communities.
Signing up for a creative writing lesson is easily done by registering at their website, friendlyflashfiction.org. The next step is selecting a tutor and timeframe. At present there are 15 tutors, each shown with their photo and short biography. Upon selection, the tutor receives an email about the new student and sends a reply. Once all is confirmed the lesson takes place via Zoom and links to Google documents. The lesson’s first important step is the tutor learning about the child.
“The tutor spends about five minutes brainstorming and creating prompts by talking to the child about their day and what’s going on, looking for inspiration about what the child might want to write about and making sure they’re ready to write,” Tucker said.
The tween or teen then writes a short fictional story, which the tutor reviews for plot improvement and to correct grammar errors. It’s recommended that tutors communicate back with suggestions of what to work on.
“What’s great is the lessons are bite-size so they keep the child engaged; we keep it short and fun,” he said. “Generally we’ve had parents sign up for one lesson for their child and then many go on to set up one or two per week.”
The program is run on a pay-what-you-can basis with a suggested donation of $10 to $15 per lesson, with accommodation for families who cannot afford the cost. Payment for each lesson goes directly to the UCSF Coronavirus Response Fund, which helps pay for Bay Area hospitals’ equipment and staff to fight COVID-19.
Funds are used for expanding diagnostic and testing capacity; securing UCSF’s ability to cover extended staff time and benefits for health care providers working directly on the crisis; addressing expenses of exposed patients who are not covered by insurance; and ensuring necessary housing for patients and equipment for health care workers.
Tucker and the Friendly Flash Fiction staff plan to continue after the coronavirus crisis and already have ideas on how to increase interest and fun. They’re looking into separating lessons into different themes, such as poetry, fantasy, adventure and more. This way parent and youth can choose the tutor based on the theme of the lesson they teach. Tucker hopes this article will build up interest in the program and bring in more students; he wants to emphasize that the program benefits the community twofold during this pandemic.
“High schoolers who are involved have the opportunity to help the community and to work with kids. That can be uplifting and give structure to their time during the summer, especially if they’ve missed out on summer programs,” he said. “For the kids, talking with a high schooler is different from a parent and sometimes I think we’re seen as role models for these kids. They want to learn from us, and they want to write, so it’s a win-win.”
Added to this is the opportunity for these high schoolers to contribute directly to those fighting the coronavirus. Speaking to the community at large, Tucker asks what each person is doing right now to fight against COVID-19 and for them to consider the program as an opportunity to pitch in.
“This is an opportunity for everyone in the community — parents, teens, other adults — to get involved and help us raise thousands of dollars for the UCSF Coronavirus Response Team. Even if you don’t have children you can still donate to our program,” he said. “It’s a vehicle for change and support for the community.”