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Thank you all! Our annual fundraising goals have been met and in no small part because of your efforts.
The final sums are still being tallied and some donations are still coming through, but we can announce that our fundraising goal of $100,000 has been met, and even surpassed.
Every year our fundraising efforts are an "all-hands" effort. Learning Ally staff and volunteers reach out to friends and family, corporate sponsors, and make our own donations to ensure that we can continue to support students, teachers, and literacy programs of all sorts. This year was especially challenging, with our drive falling at the "end" of a year upset by the COVID crisis but we did not let those stresses and strains hold us back from our goals.
We can afford to fund the accounts of over 740 Learning Ally families with what we've raised!
Awareness of Learning Ally has grown as well. A fundraising opportunity is not just about money - it's also about sharing our mission. Thanks to volunteers and staff spreading the word of Learning Ally's plans to confront the literacy crisis in America more students, teachers, and parents are aware of our efforts and eager to join them.
Thank you all!
This weekend is one of our Spotlight Learning Series events. Every summer and winter we organize large online seminars for teachers across the country, so that they can learn more about literacy, disability, and new learning methods. This next event focuses on Dyslexia and features seminars and presentations in addition to a virtual meeting space that attendees can use to chat and network. This year we're happy to have Leaning Ally volunteers be a part of the support team.
Next winter we'll present our Spotlight on Early Literacy event. If you're interested in volunteering to support those efforts then be sure to follow the Volunteer Nation channel on Twist and look for the announcements.
Rachel W., Jennifer K., Cynthia E., Cathi DV., Libby B., Alex Z., Nissy C., Louise Patrick Q., Emily R., Jenny Y., Anela L., Whitney D., Kanesha P., Keith B., Riley B., Mark C., Curtis H., Sarah N., John H., Mark C., Amy S., Carolyn W.
If you've been visiting the volunteer portal, and I'm sure we all do, all the time, you may have seen a change to the Support page! We continue to grow and improve our volunteer support and that means centralizing information and streamlining the process of finding answers and contacting staff for help. To do that, we've implemented a new Knowledge Base and support chat feature for our volunteers.
A Knowledge Base is a collection of articles that can help you with the issues you may encounter as a volunteer. The articles in our knowledge base are broken down into categories you can click on to explore, or you can use the search field at the top to find relevant articles. This knowledge base is not unlike the resources pages you'll find in the training center, the volunteer portal, and in project guides. In fact, many of these articles are taken directly from those sources.
If the Knowledge Base doesn't answer your question, there's a chat icon at lower right corner. Click to open the chat client and enter your question. Your message will be sent to Learning Ally staff and they'll join you in a chat conversation to provide assistance. We are usually available in the chat from 9am-5pm on weekdays but if your question arises outside that time (or we’re not available), please fill out the form in the chat and we’ll respond soon via email.
Since we have these new resources we'll be phasing out the vol-support email address. It currently responds by directing you to the new Knowledge Base and support site, but we will shut down that email option at some point.
We hope you find this system easier to use and please let us know if you think we’re missing any particular articles. It is a work in progress and can be easily updated.
But there's no reason to stop our volunteer appreciation and recognition efforts. Check out the recording of our volunteer appreciation event for "thank you's" from Learning Ally CEO Andrew Friedman, student users, parents and teachers. And if you watch to the end you might be able to find your name in the list of milestone achievements for the past year. Speaking of milestones, take note of the leaderboard on the Log Hours page. If you want to see your name on that list one day, then check out the examples set by other dedicated volunteers.
Our annual fundraising event is drawing to a close with the end of May, so this is your last call to get involved with the program. You'll find detailed instructions on how to get involved on the front page of the volunteer portal. Also, if your friends and family made a promise to donate to your campaign page, but haven't quite gotten around to it yet, now's the time to remind them pitch in and help you to help our students.
Kim A., Patricia R-B., Rohan S., Cristal F., Rahim S-A., Eugene K., William B-M., Stephanie S-A., Fariya F., Paula C., Ilana V., Genie H., Danitra G., Emily C., Aditi V., Caroline S., Teri M., Hugo C.,
by Jim McCullough
When I was a student in high school, I came across a recording of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” The highly dramatic reading by Basil Rathbone enthralled me. He is probably not much remembered now, but then he was the celebrated star in a series of Sherlock Holmes movies. Thus the seed was planted, or maybe that occurred when I passed a Recording for the Blind studio in my neighborhood. (Recording for the Blind was the original name of Learning Ally.) Fifty-five years later, I volunteered to become a reader. Better late than never— I love recording for Learning Ally.
I started as an apprentice in LA’s downtown studio on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, a few blocks south of the Wrigley Building. One day I listened to a flawless, sonorous reading and remarked to myself, “Gee, this guy is good.” Actually, it was a voice I had already heard often on the radio. It belonged to Barry Kaufmann, who aired a weekly program about health issues. He had graduate degrees in both communication arts and dentistry. Later we became good friends.
Another fond memory is a trip to Princeton, N.J. to help judge an essay contest sponsored by Learning Ally. The essays were written by high school seniors seeking college scholarships. One student wrote that with the help of Learning Ally, she progressed from struggling for six hours with her homework every night because of her dyslexia, to gaining college credits in Advanced Placement courses. Many inspirational stories like that convinced me, if I ever had a doubt, that Learning Ally changes lives.
After moving to a suburb south of Chicago, I worked out of a Learning Ally studio in Orland Park, Illinois. Its excellent manager, Sandy Elhenicky, once complimented me on my intonation, that is, stressing key words in passages as I read. I blush to admit it, but her casual remark boosted my self-confidence no end. I felt like Sally Fields at the Oscar ceremony, “They like me, they really like me.” Soon a number of individual-reader assignments came my way, many of them books for young adults. I especially enjoyed reading Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and The Closer by Mariano Rivera, the great relief pitcher for the New York Yankees.
Best of all, I got to record Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth. With plays the challenge is to vary your voice to differentiate a large cast of characters and then keep notes to remember whose voice you are using. Luckily, I taught Macbeth in high school for many years, and I had often played a Caedmon Label recording of the play to help it come alive for my students. I remembered certain voices like those of the three witches very well and modeled my interpretation on them. For A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the trick is to listen to any recording of Dame Judy Dench reciting iambic pentameter lines.
In 2017 the switch to recording from home was a challenge, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Instead of recording once or twice a week, I could do it more often, and when the pandemic arrived, I already had a set routine. I like to kick-start my day by arising very early and recording in the quiet hours of the morning. With something to accomplish every day, I can still feel relevant in my advanced years.
Currently I am registered in Learning Ally’s Textbook Community. The rule is to select just one chapter at a time within a project, often a large anthology. That way readers from all over the country can finish a nine-hundred-page book within a sixty-day deadline. Some of the new literature anthologies are the best I have ever seen, and they make me wish I could return to teaching. A few weeks ago, I recorded a chapter titled “Identity and Society.” Selections included George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant,” Shakespeare’s “The Seven Ages of Man,” a portion of Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” and James Joyce’s “Eveline.” Oh, what a delight that assignment was!
One tip I might offer is to employ YouTube as a resource. If I am unsure how to pronounce an author’s name, I can usually hear it done correctly in a video of the author being introduced at a lecture or performance. Also, listening to an author read her own work is helpful. Recently I recorded “Kindness,” a wonderful poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, who grew up in Jerusalem and now lives in San Antonio, Texas. You can find her on YouTube reading her poem. You can also find it at two other sites, read by Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons.
I hope to continue with Learning Ally as long as I can, as a reader or checker. My hero is Dr. Bernie Strauss, a retired professor from the University of Chicago. He recently appeared on television, still recording for Learning Ally at the age of 92!
- Jim McCullough
Every year we take some time in April to recognize the great work our volunteers have done, and will do!
You have been instrumental to the work we do to provide access to educational material for students with learning differences. When you dedicate your time and energy to volunteering with Learning Ally, you are improving the lives of thousands of students who struggle to read. Words cannot adequately express the gratitude that we wish to express. Please know that your service is recognized, appreciated, valued and cherished.
To celebrate your service, we are hosting a Volunteer Appreciation Celebration on April 20th, 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM EST. Join us in recognizing the contributions of volunteers and community partners like you! We’ll be joined by parents, students, and educators to help us celebrate your hard work and dedication. Click here to register for the event!
If you're a volunteer already working on book projects you've probably used Google Hangouts to stay it touch with your teams as you work on narration, proofing, and so on. Google however, has decided to sunset Google Hangouts. Rather than change over to their professional product, we will take this opportunity to move to using Twist for these communications. We first introduced Twist as a platform for our online chat and conversations over a year ago, and you'll find several articles and posts about it in the archives of the volunteer portal.
Twist is already in common use for Literature titles, but is still not commonly used on Textbook projects. Audrey Santos and Christine Hoffman are leading efforts to help all volunteers transition to Twist. In addition to their email messages, you'll also find that an online meeting has been set up for Friday, April 9th at 2 PM Eastern, 11 AM Pacific. If you want to get started with Twist on your own and need help, please refer to our Twist Reference Guide.
We reached 50% of our goal in the first month of our annual donation drive! So with two more months to go, it stands to reason that we can hit 150% by the end of May. If you haven't gotten involved yet, either through making donations yourself, or by creating a campaign page to invite others to donate, then check out this article on the volunteer front page and learn what you can do to help. You'll find more links there to other ways that you can contribute. Raise awareness and share the message of Learning Ally to more schools and students. (And don't forget to find out if your employer has a matching donations program.)
Refining our production process means finding better tools and improving on those we already have. Be on the lookout for some changes this summer! We'll be updating our Textbook assignment process, making it more like the ways we already assign Literature titles. That includes a better home site with quick access to book summaries all on one page. Pozotron is a new tool that will make proofing our VOICEtext titles easier and more accurate. With these innovations and some hard work we'll deliver better audiobooks to more students faster than we have before.
Webb S., Jelen DC., Rachel Y., Denise G., Carol W., Claudia W., Stacy D-W., Yinka., Katherine S., Lara R., Adrian T., Jakara S-D., Amy S., Monique O-G., Anne H., Stella O., Kate T., Richard W., Hollie T.
As March begins we kick off a major fundraising drive with Building Books for Student Success. BBSS runs from now until the end of May, so get involved ASAP! You can do a lot to help us help more students.
BBSS is our annual fundraising campaign when we ask our volunteers to join us in reaching our goals to support more schools and students. While you are welcome to make donations yourself, it's more important to Learning Ally that you join us in creating your own campaign page. Fundraising to help our students can go much further than our volunteers, and by inviting someone to make a donation through your page, you can offer them an opportunity to help if they can't volunteer. You can also find out more about how to have your employer make donations in recognition of your donated hours, as well as some tips on creating special events to help engage and motivate your friends, family, and peers to get involved. You can find more information about BBSS on the front page of the volunteer portal.
If you're looking for more ways to be involved as a book-production volunteer, then check out the Quality Assurance programs. We've mentioned them before, but as we continue to work to match projects up with teams of narrators and listeners, there may be gaps in your schedule. Don't let that time be lost! It's always better to stay engaged with volunteering however you can. Our Quality Assurance programs will allow you to use your time to experience Learning Ally audiobooks just like our students do. The feedback you share on those titles will guide us to repairing or even replacing older books in our catalogs, raising the bar on quality. To find out more and to get involved, check out the QA program pages on the volunteer portal site.
Last week we had our first online Learning Ally volunteer trivia event! Doing something a little different for our monthly webinar, we took the time to turn on microphones and cameras, greet each other face-to-face, and learn a little something about Learning Ally and our peers. We hope to have more events like this in the future so that we all keep each other in mind as we work together. Thanks to everyone who joined us, and we look forward to doing it again!
Kat M., Madrie T., Lisa Marie V., Richard S., Derria M., Hannah H., Jacob S., Monica M., Sulema M., Robyn F., Cheryl K., Jannine H., Regan S., Firas A. O., Julia B., Meredith P., Meredith P., Jason O.
The next time you log in to report your service hours you will notice a change. Starting February 2021, we implemented a small change to the dropdown menu next to Which Assignment Did You Serve In to make it easier to find your assignment.
What exactly is changing?
Each volunteer assignment will now have a number next to the text. For example, all Literature Community assignments will have the number one next to them, the Textbook Community will have a two, and so on.
How can you help us minimize errors in service tracking?
Why is it important to accurately report service hours?
We recognize that there are many different assignments you must choose from when logging service hours and this in itself can be confusing. We hope this change will help you easily locate the assignment(s) you work on most often and potentially memorize its place in the list to reduce reporting errors.
If you have any questions about which assignment you perform, please reach out to the staff member you work with most frequently and ask them if you’re reporting your hours correctly.
Quite literally. The groundhog saw his shadow, so we're in for six more weeks of winter. As much of the northern US deals with the snow, Learning Ally is looking at what our spring and summer will bring. If you missed the webinar about our direction for the organization in 2021 and beyond, you can find the recording on our Resources page. If you haven't checked in lately, I also recommend perusing the Learning Ally main webpage. We've redesigned our message for students, parents and teachers, so they can see our focus on helping students at the start of their educational journeys.
Whoa, that's this month! A revised and updated version of our textbook training program is now in testing on the training site. At first, we will be testing with current volunteers, but by mid-February we expect that these new lessons will replace the current ones for all incoming textbook volunteers, and current volunteers are welcome to try it out or cross-train. If you would like to get involved as a tester for the revamped lessons, please reach out to the training center staff: Russell Collins or Eleanor Cotton.
Let this also serve as a subtle reminder for any current trainees: If you are part-way through the current textbook training program, you might want to hurry up and complete your work. Alternatively, you could wait a couple of weeks and start over with the new lessons. We leave that choice to you, but make sure it's your choice, and not an accident!
Last year we expanded our Training Center Office Hours program to two meetings per week to better manage the large influx of new volunteers. When the pandemic first drove volunteering indoors and online we were scrambling to keep up. Now we've reached an equilibrium with the new arrivals to book production teams, so we now have fewer attendees at each meeting and they are not providing the value they once did. As a result, this Thursday will be the last Thursday Office Hours meeting and we will move exclusively to having these meetings on Mondays at 1:00 PM Eastern. If it proves necessary to expand the program again we may add other times, but we also urge you to reach out to us through other means as well. Remember to email firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions about the training program, email@example.com for general help requests, and to join our Twist teams and channels for more help.
Becky C., Rick R., Lisa V., Hannah H., Derria M., Elaine C., Tiffany A., Tameka B., Nick V., David L., Jaymes P., Joshua H., Byron R., Jennifer A., Aditi V., Anjum M., Dana F., Victoria K., Sharon B-S., Joyce C., Angela H., Rizwana S., Victoria G., Maria M., Ava M., Jason O., Meredith P., Julia B.
For over 70 years, Learning Ally has had the pleasure of welcoming volunteers to their mission and discovering what motivates them to donate their time and energy. Volunteers come to Learning Ally with a diverse set of experiences, skills, and reasons why they choose to make a difference in students’ lives. For Valerie Fenwick, a desire to learn, her generous heart, and a personal connection to the mission is what kept her volunteering for so many years.
For most of her life, Valerie has been passionate about reading, literature, and acting. After spending several years doing community theater, her friends suggested she try industrials and voiceover work. In 2012, Valerie made the decision to join Learning Ally in the Palo Alto, California studio to practice voiceover.
While Valerie initially joined Learning Ally because of a desire to learn, she discovered her reason for staying with the organization one year prior to doing voiceover work. In 2011, Valerie began losing sight in her right eye. For a while, her doctors were perplexed by the decline in her vision until a specialist determined Valerie had a rare autoimmune disease, Punctate Inner Choroidopathy.
Using her background in technology and computer science—or as she likes to refer to it as her “nerd brain”—Valerie described her vision-loss as if she was losing pixels. The “pixels” were getting larger and larger, caused by inflammation on her retina that was nearing her central vision. Fortunately, Valerie regained most of her vision and is now in remission. Today, Valerie continues to use her ability to help others. She said: “Reading has been something I have done since I was so little and to be able to give back now, while I still have my vision, it’s such an honor for me to be able to do that.”
Valerie has given back to Learning Ally in countless ways. When working in the physical recording studios, Valerie willingly adapted to the technology and transitioned from studio to studio when needed. In 2017, when Learning Ally closed their studios, Valerie jumped on board to continue volunteering from home. Alexis Bourbeau, Director of the Literature Community and Audiobook Quality, described his experience working with Valerie:
"Valerie is literally a perfect volunteer! The care and attention she gives her work is professional-grade, her communication with the staff and fellow volunteers is cheerful and consistent, and she's always living the LA value of self-improvement, eager to share and discuss ways to improve her process. Her work-ethic is also as heroic as the protagonists of many of her projects; she's our go-to narrator for those 600-page fantasy epics! Oh, and she’s a leading evangelist and fundraiser for the cause!”
This year, Valerie is closing in on donating 1,000 hours of service. She has narrated 38 books for Learning Ally, including Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life (Dork Diaries #1) with 282 pages and Winter: The Lunar Chronicles with 828 pages.
In addition to volunteering, Valerie generously supports Learning Ally’s annual Building Books Campaign every year. Valerie uses her contagious energy to spread awareness and motivate volunteers to fundraise. She has even teamed up with her current and former employers to donate to the campaign through their matching gifts programs. By donating her time and energy, Valerie’s fundraising efforts have brought in $12,828 to Learning Ally.
Valerie’s unfailing dedication has made literacy accessible and equitable for thousands of students. Learning Ally is incredibly grateful for Valerie’s support and for the many other unwavering volunteers who work hard to improve the lives of students, parents and educators.
Starting in January, the volunteer Nation Team reengineered the onboarding process for new volunteers.
2020 and COVID brought new challenges to our team that we never imagined. These challenges required us to rethink our way of onboarding volunteers. As we felt confident in our virtual process and engagement, we saw ourselves dealing with an unprecedented number of new volunteers willing to help and not enough projects for everybody.
Back in July, we had to put a pause on our volunteer recruitment and implement the “Interest Form,” a way for volunteers to register while they waited for the right volunteer opportunity to arrive. It was a form designed to capture information on potential volunteers interested in our mission but who may not fit the organization’s current volunteer needs at the time of registration. During the first months of the pandemic, this form helped us marshal volunteer resources and offer new non-production opportunities to volunteers waiting to help us.
After everything we learned during the last six months and feedback from new volunteers, we decided that we needed a new onboarding site and process—the new site required to include all available volunteer opportunities and have clearer expectations for potential volunteers.
Given that we have more volunteers than projects in some areas, we needed to be very transparent to potential volunteers in terms of our needs and project availability, and ongoing versus short term opportunities. For those opportunities closed for recruitment, we ask potential volunteers to still complete the “Interest Form” mentioned above so we can let them know when opportunities become available.
We are grateful for the many people wanting to help us, and we appreciate your patience in awaiting a volunteer opportunity.
Please visit our newly renovated “Volunteer Opportunities” site here and see for yourself the new layout. Click on any of the opportunities available and see how you can get more information on these roles’ expectations and responsibilities. You can also see fun pictures of current volunteers. Feel free to share with your networks!
Photo description: 6 pictures aligned horizontally of current Learning Ally Volunteers, some smiling to the camera and some in front of their microphone in their home studios
January begins with New Years Resolutions and that means folks looking for ways that they can make the world a better place. At Learning Ally, we always see an increase of interest in volunteering and an uptick in new people joining our programs. You'll likely see some new names and faces in group chats, at Office Hours meetings, and on the Facebook group. Be sure to say hello and welcome them to the Learning Ally family.
Do note however, that we are still working to balance our intake of volunteers with the projects that we need to produce. On the updated volunteer interest page you'll find a concise breakdown of current needs and volunteer roles. If you've got a friend or family member interested in volunteering and you think they'd be a good match, send them a link and let them know how they can help students in need.
Would you like to help us to manage our new arrivals? If you're an experienced volunteer looking for more ways to use your skills then why not become a peer mentor? You remember the volunteers who helped you through your own training, providing feedback and guidance for your test projects and coaching you through your first live books. You can do the same for others and help our staff to be in more places at once.
People with a background in teaching and instruction are especially valuable for these programs, but we encourage anyone from subject matter experts to voiceover training tutors to reach out. Contact the staff leaders of your book production teams if you're interested in learning more.
This month we resume our Volunteer Nation Live events with our 21st webinar. We'll take this beginning of a new year as a "reset" of sorts, as we review the ongoing mission of Learning Ally. In our December blog post we teased how Learning Ally is looking at new strategies and tools to help with early literacy. In this webinar you'll get a first look at some of the concrete plans we have to help these young learners. You'll find more information, including registration links in follow-up messages in our newsletters, on the Facebook group, and through Twist channels.
Speaking of Twist, we want to make sure more of you are using Twist, and using it well. If you haven't already signed up for Twist, be sure to join the conversation.
Remember these basics to make the most of Twist: Use @ mentions to contact staff. If you want to call attention to a message then type "@" and begin typing the name of the staff member then select their name in the popup. Now your message will be at the top in the staff member's Inbox with a notification to check it out. You can also click the Star icon in the top right of a thread if you find it interesting or if it relates to one of your book projects. Whenever that thread gets updated you'll see it in Starred section. No need to go hunting through threads for those updates!. Update your notification settings as well. Though you could have Twist send an email or phone message every time a post comes in, you're more likely to find notifications useful if they only come in from @mentions and 1:1 messages only.
Check out this Learning Ally Twist reference guide for instructions on how to set your preferences and for more user tips for Twist.
Laura F., Galit W. B., June W., Davida B., Paula H., Serina D., Elizabeth C., Shreya V., Aquapella M., Wayne M., Alonzo L., Revanth T., Mijo F., Kristina R., Aara C., Afridi M.