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Volunteer Nation Blog

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“You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.” ~Winston Churchill


Volunteer Spotlight - David Frens

David Frens has decided to retire after being an active Narrator with Learning Ally for 13 years and logging in over 5,000 hours. In that time, he helped create science textbooks that are helping students with learning differences access grade-level content for school.

 

In 2007, he began volunteering in the Phoenix Studio and when it closed, he transitioned into volunteering remotely with the Athens Studio where our team had the opportunity to work with him.  Christine Hoffman remembers assigning projects and proofing his work. David was one of our earliest remote volunteers, more or less beta testing what would become the Virtual Studio. David always understood the importance of putting our mission first while adapting to a new way of volunteering.  Then, when we transitioned completely to virtual in 2017, he joined the Virtual Studio.

 

He was a prolific Narrator, moving through dense science textbooks, covering medicine, nursing and other science texts, in short amounts of time. David was a neurologist in his early life and he willingly shared his knowledge through narration. His tenacity and knowledge allowed us to close large projects quickly and move those recordings into the audiobook library. His reading interests ranged from biology, chemistry, philosophy, humanities, and religion/theology.

 

Besides reading for us, David reads fiction and nonfiction for Sun Sounds of Arizona, a radio reading service for visually impaired people. 

 

David has a total of 5,872 volunteer hours and over 1,173 visits to our Virtual Studio (and Phoenix Studio). He stopped reading in June 2020, and finally, he reached out to us in the Summer.  Retiring was not an easy thing for him to do, as he is an active retiree, but he let us know he has been finding new ways to volunteer in his community, so there are some lucky organizations benefiting from his generosity and knowledge!

 

We cannot thank David enough! He has been a star volunteer.  His generosity has had a profound and lasting impact on our students. His willingness to share both his time and talent says a lot about him. David’s willingness to give selflessly to help others will never be forgotten here at Learning Ally. Thank you, David!

 


Autumn Advances Toward the Holidays

Autumn is always a busy time, often busier than we expect it to be. Schools are all in session, October comes along with its holidays and soon we're prepping for family gatherings. 2020 and the COVID-19 outbreak have changed much of that however. Though we now need to spend those holidays on extended Zoom calls or meeting with only small groups, we should still take that time to share our appreciation for one another. Let these days be times of refreshment and renewal

 

Getting Ready for the Holidays?

 

It seems they come along a little earlier every year. Remember to inform Learning Ally staff when you will be unavailable to volunteer, for holidays, or any other reason. We can keep our scheduling flexible but we can only do that with notice when things change. 

 

The Best Volunteering

 

A calendarYou might have heard me say this before, but the best volunteering is regular volunteering. Learning Ally's volunteer programs are unlike most other volunteer opportunities. They call for some very specialized skills, an investment in equipment, and adherence to some unique rules and guidelines. So how do our volunteers consistently work though these challenges? By working consistently. Repetition is the key to mastery. When you sit down at your computer or stand up at your microphone every day, you're practicing the skills of audiobook production. 

 

When you engage with our guidelines often you internalize them, meaning less time spent looking up a half-remembered rule. Narrating every day builds up your vocal stamina and refines your technique. Likewise, steady listening trains your ears, so that you build an awareness of sound and an audio intelligence from day to day. Even if you're not "working" on a Learning Ally project, you're building those skills and adding to your knowledge whenever you engage with audiobooks.

 

By making volunteering a part of your routine, and sticking to that routine, your good work becomes better. That's why I'll always recommend that you make that schedule and stick by it. Sure, you'll need a break every now and again, and we know that it's demanding work. But not only does volunteering become more rewarding, it also becomes more fun.

 

Office Hours In November

 

Due to some schedule conflicts with Learning Ally all-staff meetings, there will be no Office Hours meeting on Thursday, November 12th. In addition, Office Hours will not happen on The 26th in recognition of the Thanksgiving holiday. 

 

But it's not all bad news! We're adding another opportunity to join us for an Office Hours meeting on Mondays. Beginning on Monday the 9th, there will be an Office Hours time, earlier in the day. We hope that this additional time will allow more volunteers to join us for these informal face-to-face meetings. Bring your questions about volunteering and book production and our staff will  be on hand to provide answers. You can find more information on the volunteer training website and in updates in Twist and hangouts.

 

A Follow Up On October

 

Our October Volunteer Nation Live webinar is available in recorded form on the Resources page of the Volunteer Portal and on our YouTube page. We urge you to take the time to check out this excellent event. Our guest speaker Preston Radtke shared his experiences as a blind student and as an ambassador for our College Success Program. If you want to know more about what Learning Ally is doing to support the blind community in the halls of higher learning, you'll find the answers to many of your questions.

 

And as always, we invite further questions from you. Reach out to us through the Volunteer Nation thread on Twist and we'll bring your questions to our panelists and speakers. Be sure to share your suggestions for other subjects as well, and they may become the topic of a future Volunteer Nation Live event!

 

Congratulations Training Graduates!

 

Rowel L.S.Y., Metsha R-S., Christina O., Andrew C., Jarrett W., Keila S., Gina R S., Kaneesha W., Charvella C., Letitia G., Tyedanita McL., Tony D., Earl F., Dakota H., Vania S., Jo A., Georgia D-B., Marla B., Kyle B., Ruth A., Jacob R., Iara C-C., Joey F., Patricia M., Diane F.


A Volunteer’s Deep Personal Connection Comes Full Circle Years Later

Jani Rad smiling and facing the camera

How are you connected to Learning Ally’s mission? Niranjani Radhakrishnan, also known as Jani Rad, discovered a deep personal connection to Learning Ally ten years after being introduced to the organization. 

 

For Jani Rad, summers as a child were often spent at her mother’s work in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. While her mother was working, Rad would spend time in a small recording studio just around the corner from her office. A recording studio, you ask? Yes, young Rad was a volunteer narrator for the Learning Ally Oak Ridge recording studio, better known as Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFBD) at the time. Rad recalls days of racing to the studio, throwing on her headphones, and bringing her stories’ characters to life. Now, ten years later, Rad returns to Learning Ally and her mic with a new discovery about herself.

 

During high-school, Rad was an avid learner who performed well-academically. However, for as long as she could remember, Rad struggled with test taking. While taking a standardized test, Rad recalls being unable to comprehend the questions in front of her. Rad said: “It’s as if I was reading words in English but the words together in a sentence had no meaning to me.” The overwhelming stress associated with test-taking and the sounds of students scribbling on pages around her had Rad thinking: If I just read this five more times slowly, maybe I’ll understand the sentence. Unknowing the cause of her troubles, the problem persisted throughout college. 

 

It was not until after Rad graduated college that she found what was causing her reading difficulties. While working as a trainer at her alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Rad was responsible for compiling health, wellness, and accessibility resources for students. Intrigued by what she was learning from the resources, Rad explained her personal challenges with reading comprehension to the Director of the Office Of Accessibility Resources. After asking a few questions and a couple tests later, the two discovered that Rad had dyslexia. 

 

Jani's podcast logo, What's on your mind? with Jani Rad

Fast forward a few years later, Rad’s journey came full circle when she rediscovered Learning Ally by chance under its new name. Rad has since returned to volunteer, with a newfound discovery that ties her closer to Learning Ally than she ever imagined. 

 

Today, Rad is sharing her story with the world in hopes to empower others to share their own stories. Rad is a professional speaker, activist, storyteller, trainer, and facilitator of a variety of topics. She even has her own podcast, What’s On Your Mind? In the episode titled "DEF-IN-ET-LY," Rad discusses her experience with dyslexia, the interrelationship between learning differences and mental health, and her unique connection to Learning Ally. You can listen to the episode here. To learn more about Rad’s passion projects and to follow her journey, visit the Jani Rad website.


Dyslexia and Blindness Awareness Month

October is a special month for us at Learning Ally...it's blindness and dyslexia awareness month! This is a time when non-profit organizations like ours call upon the public to take time to learn more about these disabilities and what we all can do to help. Even if you're already volunteering and donating to Learning Ally, there are often resolutions or amendments regarding education and disability that appear as questions on your ballots. Educate yourselves today and you can show your support for disabled people when you submit your absentee ballot or head to the voting booths next month.

 
Empowering Learners Webinar This Week!


Speaking of learning more…in partnership with EdWeb, Learning Ally is hosting special webinar this week: Empowering Learners with Dyslexia to Acquire and Utilize Their Digital Voices. This webinar is a perfect way to kick off Dyslexia month, so join us on Thursday, October 8th, at 3:00 pm EDT to learn more about how using technology gives students with dyslexia greater confidence. Register today!  


What Do You Know?


We all know that Learning Ally's mission is to help students overcome the academic challenges of reading disabilities, but how much do you know about those learning challenges? Our interactive online quiz is a great way to test your knowledge and learn more about these important issues.


Follow this link to take the quiz!


College Success Program


Did You Know?For decades (centuries?) students with disabilities struggled in programs of higher-learning. They faced challenges much greater than their peers. Even 50 years after disabled people first won their rights to equitable access and accommodation, and 30 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, disabled students are still underserved by college programs. Learning Ally's College Success Program helps students and their schools lighten the load that our blind and visually impaired students face.  CSP provides mentorship and support to keep students informed of their rights. We deliver proven strategies for these students to self-advocate and stand up for what they deserve. Even more importantly, our CSP program seeks to educate teachers and administration, so they can be prepared to meet the needs of disabled people before they attend the school. In a truly fair system of education, our students won't need to do the additional work of advocacy - the schools will know what they need and be ready for them.


Our upcoming Volunteer Nation Live! Webinar will introduce you to some of our CSP mentors, and the work they do to support these wonderful efforts. Please join us for this online event. Scheduling details and an invitation to registration will be posted soon.


How To Be a Learning Ally

 
In case you missed it, our September webinar was all about the ways that we can advocate for students with disabilities. Advocacy can be as simple as sharing your volunteer experiences with others. This raises awareness of the challenges students face and the volunteer work that everyone can do to support them. Here's some more information about the ways that you can get involved. You'll find a recording of that webinar on our Resources page on this volunteer portal, along with other past webinars. 

 

A Picture Is Worth…


Are you on Instagram? Follow the Learning Ally Instagram account to say current with Learning Ally and enjoy stories of our volunteers, programs, and audio books. Follow Learning Ally.


Congratulations Recent Training Graduates!


Ileana B., Sindhu M., Bess S., John H., Derria M., Robyn W., Amy T., Darrell J., J H., Ruth H., Cynthia J., Chyanne W., Deirdre S., Sharon P., Bjorn P., Cindy P., Don K., Monifa L., Keane D., Percy H., Sabrina M., Anna W., Terri N., Udeme A., Lynne N., Durga K., Ashisha B.


Volunteers Share Words of Affirmation for Students, Parents, and Teachers

Students, parents and educators are headed back to school this Fall, whether that is in person, remote, or in a hybrid-learning environment. This academic year will be like no other, and that’s why Learning Ally volunteers want students, parents and teachers to know they are thinking about them. This past month, our volunteers came together to share words of affirmation for all those who are headed back to school. No matter where or how learning takes place this year, our volunteers are here to cheer you on.

 

The words of affirmation have been shared on Learning Ally’s blog, the Parent Gazette, and the Parent Chat on Facebook. They will also be featured on Learning Ally’s Instagram and the Volunteer Nation Instagram and Facebook group. Be sure to follow along as we welcome students, parents and teachers back to school!


To read and listen to more of the heartfelt words we received from our volunteers, follow this link.


Using Twist in the Literature Community

Twist & Project Communication 

If you started a new literature community project in the last week, you may have noticed that we are starting to use Twist for project communication. We've had some questions pop up as a result, so I thought we'd answer those so they can benefit others in a FAQ style blog post!
  
 How do I access the Project channel in Twist?
 You can access the project channel by clicking the Discussion Group tab in your project site. It will pop open another browser tab with your project channel.

How do I post messages in the Twist project channel?
Please click the relevant thread and type in your comment in the field at the bottom, then click Post. Please don't start a new thread each time you post.
Remember to use @mentions (@ then type in the person's name you wish to notify in particular).


Where do I find project channels for Textbook Community projects?
We have not yet moved textbook community project communication to Twist. They will still use Google Hangouts which are accessed using the Hangouts link at the project site (for now).


Twist screenshot showing channel list on left

I'm lost...where do I find my project channel?
If you logged into Twist directly instead of coming to it through the project site and can't find your project channel, remember to look in Channels. It will start with Project and channels are listed in alphabetical order:
If you use Twist on a mobile device or smaller screen, the channels may not appear until you hover over/tap the left side of the app.


Why are we doing this again? (I don't like change!)
Our communication methods prior to Twist had several issues, i.e., user caps on Google hangouts, login issues and user conflicts with Google Groups, inability to edit or delete comments in Google hangouts, etc.
We really appreciate your understanding and patience so much as we make this switch!


How will I know when my narrator/listener makes a post?
If they used an @mention with your name and you set Twist to email you when you have an @mention post, you should receive an email notification from Twist when there's a new post. Notification settings are accessible using the bell icon at top right in the Twist app.


When I click on the Discussion Group tab, it pops up a message that says to check my email.
If you're new to Twist, you'll need to click Join Now in the confirmation email from Twist. Click the Continue with Google button and choose any other channels you'd like to join and then click Join Channels. You'll see the project channel on the left; the channels are listed alphabetically. In addition, the Discussion Group link at the project site will work now that you've joined Twist.

 
Thanks again for joining us on Twist and learning this new communication tool! We appreciate you so much and please reach out to vol-support@learningally.org with any additional questions or concerns about Twist!

Staff Spotlight: Gigi Franklin

Gigi Franklin facing the camera and smiling

This month, we are recognizing our staff member Gigi Franklin who is celebrating 20 years with Learning Ally!

 

Franklin got her start with Learning Ally in 1995 as a volunteer and has since held many different roles. Five short years later, Franklin became a part-time Volunteer Coordinator at Learning Ally’s Austin Studio. In 2004, she became a full-time staff member in the role of Book Ordering Guru for the Texas TEA contracts. She then moved on to becoming a Studio Producer and then Studio Director by 2010. Franklin had hands in the Literature Community and is now working with the Textbook Community, holding the role of Virtual Production Administrator. When reflecting on her time with Learning Ally, Franklin said: “Through it all, the best part for me is working with our fantastic volunteers! They amaze and inspire me every day.” 

 

When asked what made Franklin want to work with Learning Ally, she mentioned it was a  personal connection that originally brought her to volunteer. Her grandmother, mother, two of her uncles, and an aunt have all experienced visual impairments. Franklin explained her motivation was to bring the printed word to the blind and now it has become her passion.  

 

Outside of Learning Ally, Franklin said she likes to read, cook and spend time watching shows and movies with her husband, especially the renowned musical Hamilton. With stay at home orders, Franklin said she found herself with an excuse to stay home and indulge in these favorite activities and even slow down and reflect, which is something she had been needing recently. The past three years had been challenging for Franklin and her husband as Franklin’s mother and father-in-law passed, and shortly after her mother-in-law became ill. When reflecting on these unprecedented challenges, Franklin said they taught her to find joy in every day and to take life a bit slower whenever you get a chance because time flies. 

 

We asked Franklin what is something most people at Learning Ally do not know about her and she said: “I'm pretty quiet, so people are surprised that I won the Texas State Informative Extemporaneous Speaking contest as a Junior in High School. I also worked the first 8 years of my career out of college at the NBC Television affiliate in Dallas/Fort Worth on their 5, 6 & 10 pm newscasts as a graphics producer and computer operator.” In addition to her extensive work experience, Franklin and her husband owned a Welsh Terrier show dog. Franklin and her husband competed against professionals and led the dog to his championship. She said, “If you have ever seen Best in Show the movie, that is not too far from the truth!” 

 

We also learned that Franklin is an avid reader, which seems fitting for a Learning Ally employee! From her childhood, Franklin recalls her favorite books to be the Little Women, the whole Louisa May Alcott series, the Anne of Green Gables series, the Little House books, and the Tales of the City book series. Franklin shared that her favorite book to read now is any book she is reading at the moment and the book she reads the following week usually becomes her new favorite. 


It's Back To School Time

Students and teachers across the country and around the world are discovering new challenges to learning as the summer comes to an end. In some places we see new opportunities however, and as an organization dedicated to providing educational opportunities, we need to be a leader in the field of serving students. 

 

Messages of Encouragement

Group of cheering people

 

We invite you to join us in welcoming our new and returning students. Until September 3rd, we are collecting brief messages of encouragement to our students, in writing and as recorded audio samples.  Email your notes or recorded audio files to Maria Lelie. If you would prefer to submit your audio through our EasyBooks software, rather than using a smart phone or other application, you can log into EasyBooks and search for the "SchoolProject." Use the End button to skip to the end of the file and record your brief message.  You can find more information on the volunteer Facebook group.

Remember, the deadline is September 3rd, so get those messages in now! 

 

Back To School with Volunteer Nation Live

 

This past Monday Dawn Ulley and Michelle Lenihan shared more about how learning ally is working for students in the new school year in our Volunteer Nation Live event. If you were unable to attend the webinar, you can view a recording of it on the Resources page of the Volunteer Portal, or on our YouTube page. We urge you to find out more about what we're doing, as well as submit your ideas and questions to our team. Email volunteer@learningally.org, or visit the Volunteer Nation Twist site

 

Textbook QA - Expanding Volunteer Opportunities

 

Though we are still on our summer pause, and not adding new volunteers to our existing roles, we are opening up more opportunities for quality assurance work in our textbook library. Volunteers in this role will help us assess completed books from our catalog to find those that need to be re-recorded, replaced, or featured as top quality content. New training materials are being prepared and the team are ramping up to begin welcoming new volunteers. To learn more about this opportunity you can email the textbook QA lead Audrey Santos or visit the team QA channel on Twist. We are always looking for more ways to help you, help our students to succeed. 

 

 

Congratulations Recent Training Graduates!

 

Kim A., William W., Rebekka P., Pranavi G., Ashish B., Paul B., Jordan E., Kim W., Angela R., Georgia C., AngelaM., Prajanya K., Mya F., Rebecca L., Leslie G., Nancy S., Matt P., J M L., Sabrina D., Veronica W., Lauren R., Marty J., Fely F., Jason L., Jody L., Shawn P., Fadra N., April R., Brittany A., Patricia C., Bernadette H., S.M.S., India T., Jcnv B., Thera F., Ktrktr R., Sephra S., Katlin I. S., Lisa S., Elena V., Daisy P., Carla G. V., Emily W., Gabriel S., Sandra B., Chris G., Polina K., Gillian N., Natalia R. R.
 


Working Hard to Get Students the Books They Need

 

We have welcomed a nice influx of new volunteers over the last few months, allowing us to move more quickly through projects. This has allowed us to get more books out of production and onto the bookshelves of the schools and students that need these titles. Teachers and students appreciate having these titles available and our ability to turn them around more quickly.

Unfortunately, this also means you may find it more difficult at times to find projects to work on. Your time is valuable, so the last thing we want to do is select more books just to keep you busy. We remain focused on selecting the books that schools and students are requesting and need most. 

 

As a reminder, when looking for a project, please be mindful of your selection. Be sure you are choosing subject areas you are comfortable reading. Also, be aware of the grade level of the students that will be using the textbook you are reading or checking. Please narrate with an appropriate style and pace that will best engage a student at that age. How we read to elementary school students should be different from how we read high school or college level textbooks. Visualize the student that will be using that textbook sitting across from you, and read to that person.

 

We will have several TEA and Florida contract projects available soon for recording, so please watch for them. These projects have a very short turn around time so we can use everyone’s support in getting these out for students heading back to school.  Thank you for your patience.

 

If you cannot find anything in our project menu that is a good match for you, please reach out to staff about other volunteer opportunities at volunteers@learningally.org

 

Thank you for volunteering with Learning Ally and providing a solution to students who struggle to read. We appreciate your patience and dedication to service.


Textbooks in Our Library - July 2020

Thank you to all the dedicated volunteers who helped produce 39 new textbooks in July! As always, we are grateful for your hard work and will to improve the lives of struggling readers. Click here for plain text.

A list of books completed in June 2020. Includes titles and names of contributors. Plain text is available in the link provided.

A list of books completed in June 2020. Includes titles and names of contributors. Plain text is available in the link provided.

A list of books completed in June 2020. Includes titles and names of contributors. Plain text is available in the link provided.