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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


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 Project Updates 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).
You can start a new thread, but only if it's a new subject you want to keep separate like pronunciation issues, OCR errors, etc.


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.


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 asks me to login. I click Google login and it closes immediately.
This is a known bug in Twist when you use Google login in the Chrome browser that is not logged into a Google account. Twist is aware of the issue and should fix it soon. In the meantime, there are two remedies you can use:

  • Sign into Chrome with the Google account you want to use in Twist:
    • Open Chrome.
    • In the top right, click the button with your name or People icon.
    • Click Sign in to Chrome.
    • Sign in with your Google Account.
    • Note that if you have multiple accounts, you can create a new Chrome profile for each account and switch between them using the profile icon at top right; or
  • Log into Twist by typing in your Google account. You'll need to follow this procedure to set your Twist password initially:
    • Enter your Google account email in the email field;
    • Click Continue with email button;
    • Click Forgot your password? link, 
    • Check your email and click the Reset your password button in the email from Twist Support;
    • Enter your desired password;
    • Then use that email login option each time you initially go to 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.


Literature Books in Our Library - July 2020

In July, our hard working volunteers completed 78 literature books! Thank you to all the volunteers who contributed to these texts. We are always grateful for your commitment to service and improving the lives of students. 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.


Training Update - August

Student wearing a mask

Happy Summer All!

 

In some regions the school year is about to begin and with much uncertainty. When we consider the new stresses and pressures that our students face from changing their learning environment we realize how much more important accessibility becomes. Not only are our books available both in school and at home, but we can remove a barrier to confidence and self-assurance, making it easier for these students to navigate other challenges. 

 

Thank you once again for all that you do - for our students and for Learning Ally!

 

Volunteer Nation Live

 

And speaking of thank yous…our recent Volunteer Nation Live event gave Kevin and his mother Silvia an opportunity to that you directly. If you haven't already seen the video recording of this event, we urge you to take an hour to view it. Kevin is an excellent speaker and we look forward to seeing him again some time, to learn more about his learning progress.

 

In that same event we also experienced the dyslexia simulation, hosted by Terrie Noland, our VP of Educator Initiatives. This special presentation has been an important part of introducing dyslexia teaching to educators, parents, and administrators. We recommend you grab a pen and paper and follow along at home with the exercise, to have a dyslexia simulation of your own. 

 

Office Hours Cancellation August 13th

 

Due to employee vacations and an overlapping staff meeting, we are canceling our Office Hours meeting on August 13th. We will resume weekly meetings on the 20th. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. 

 

dictionary pageComing Soon, Better Vocabulary

 

As we continue to develop our processes and training, we are also refining the language we use to define our roles and the work that we do. The terms Checker and Checking have too many similar uses and can be confusing when talking about our tools. (For example we must check the check-box on the checker's notes to confirm corrections.) To remove ambiguity, we'll begin replacing "checking" with listening, or proof-listening to establish the similarity to proofreading. You may already recognize this change as we have rolled it out through the literature evaluation courses. Soon you'll see it in wider use in other programs as well.

 

Quick Reminders

 

Check out Twist! Join the volunteer Facebook group! Stay connected to the conversation around Learning Ally and how we are helping students.

 

Congratulations Recent Training Grads

 

MacKenzie S., F A., Thritha A., Karen T., Prajanya K., Dashua K., Rachel P., Lizbeth R., Katelyn H., Dimitris A., Donna A., Maisha P., Michael F., Sonal G., Gina R., Barbara S., Roda A., Mary G., Madeline L., Kelsey L., Younus R., Nethuli A., Charity L., Linda L., Emily H., Sophia W., Kara P., Ansalma R., Emily C., Jessica N., Smitty B., SD W., Jonathan H., Jacob F., Kayla I., Sonia Amira B., Simran S., Heather D., Tari T., Kami N., Charity L., Alisa C-M., Deb P., Eric S., B. E.,  Julie B., Gillian N., Maya L., SD W., Miranda K., Teri S., Eveline T., Nick B., Robert V., Shumayal B., Lisa J., Julie B., Amanda J., Sophia C., Melissa Z., Marjan, Kesiya J., Sonia A B., Managua G., Anoushka S.

 


Reading in the Time of COVID Part 2

 

Woman comfortably reading in a well-stocked library while lounging on a leather sofa


 

         To recap:  

 

 

 

Last month I whined about not getting to go on all my planned trips this year (the Pollyanna in me thinks:  HEY!  When this is all over, I have MONDO e-credits with Delta and AirBnB!  YIPPEE!)

 

I also asked YOU:  while you’ve been semi- or fully-quarantined, what have you been reading?  Where have you been going in your “book time”? 

 

I invited you to submit your own mini-reviews of books you’ve read (for Learning Ally OR for pleasure)...and here are some that I’ve received since then.

 

If you’d like your book recommendations/reviews/pans to be posted next month, please include the following and email to me (Stacie) at sCourt@LearningAlly.org:

  • Title

  • Author

  • BRIEF review

  • Your name


 

Enjoy!




 

book cover: Redhead by the Side of the Road, Anne Tyler: silhouette of man jogging with a city skyline in the background

 

Redhead by the Side of the Road    

Anne Tyler 

submitted by volunteer Caren Snook

 

 

I enjoyed Anne Tyler’s latest, Redhead by the Side of the Road.  If you're thinkin' that's a person, you'll be surprised! The story revolves around the adult life of the youngest child, and only son, of a haphazard family. For some reason, he just doesn't quite fit in.




 

Book cover: Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America's Most Storied Hospital, David Oshinsky; image of front gates of Bellevue Hospital

 

 

Bellevue, Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital

David Oshinksy

Submitted by volunteer Beira Winter

 

I had already started Bellevue before the COVID-19 pandemic started.  I chose it because Bellevue Hospital’s roots pre-date the American Revolution.  The story of this public hospital presents US history through the lens of public health, sanitation, and medicine.  As the extended title hints, there are plenty of personalities, politics, and prejudice; not just the challenges like distinguishing medical care from butchery and quackery, treating mental illness, training women as nurses, and that all people, not just the wealthy, should have access to good medical care.  

Since Bellevue is a public hospital, it has been on the frontline of battles against everything from gruesome Civil War injuries, to addressing public health issues of Cholera and Typhoid, to the full spectrum of care for minorities and poor New Yorkers, as well as national epidemics including Spanish Flu, Polio, AIDS and SARS.  The chapters addressing AIDS and SARS were haunting, as I adjusted to COVID 19 quarantine. 

It’s a big book, but the pages fly by as the stories unfold.   I found it very engaging and thought provoking.   



 

Book cover: David Baldacci: Walk the Wire; image of two people walking a lonely desert road, with an abandoned car on the side of the road

 

Walk the Wire     

David Baldacci

submitted by volunteer Caren Snook

 

I made myself plod through Walk the Wire, by David Baldacci, because the library had made it possible for me to put it on hold, download it, and read it on my tablet. Otherwise, I wouldn't have bothered. Baldacci was at his best when he wrote the Camel Club series, but his new characters are not very interesting.





 

Book cover: Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot; image of older woman in widow's weeds standing to greet a man being shown into her living room by the maid

 

The Idiot

Fyodor Dostoevsky   

submitted by volunteer Brian Hill

 

I'm not ALL the way through it yet, but I can report that I'm enjoying it greatly.  I became interested in translations a couple of years ago (never really thought of it before) when I happened upon Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. To be honest I think I find translations easier to read (mostly) than earlier time period British writers, probably mostly because they have been often translated by modern scholars. 

 

What I find enjoyable about the Russian writers is their almost microscopic look at ordinary interactions and relationships.  We're all aware of all of the detailed nuances of interpersonal relationships, but having them described in such original and really, eye opening ways has been a real joy for me. 

 

I AM going to have to double back though, and I know I'll enjoy it even more the second time (get all the multiple names and perhaps backgrounds of peripheral characters straight).  I was so friggin animated last night just reading a seemingly simple description of our hero being walked to the front door by one of the hosts (albeit a somewhat special one) and the conversation they had.along the way.  I was laughing, whooping, re-reading and eventually read the whole few pages over again, to my great delight. The guy will bring to the top of your mind things you probably are subconsciously aware of, but haven't put into words. He puts it into words and so makes you more aware of...the human condition I guess. 

 

Nothing 'Idiotic' about this book, and better than hearing 'social distance' (isn't that an oxymoron) fifty thousand times!

 

 

 

 

Book cover: John Sandford: Masked Prey, The Global Bestseller; image of Jefferson Monument from the reflecting pond

 

Masked Prey     

John Sandford

submitted by volunteer Caren Snook

 

John Sandford's latest, Masked Prey, is a page turner, of course. Lucas Davenport is in Washington, DC this time. Unfortunately, the plot is entirely believable, which makes it worrisome.





 

 

 

Book cover: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, Kim Michele Richardson; image of old-timey country woman sitting in a chair and holding a stack of books in her lap

Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

Kim Michele Richardson

Submitted by volunteer Beira Winter

 

I knew nothing about the depression-era Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project.  It was a depression-era program that paid people, mostly women, to be traveling librarians, delivering free books and magazines to people in the isolated areas of the Appalachian Mountains.  

Richardson brings the program to life by creating an isolated mountain community and a “Blue” woman, Cussie May Carter, as her central character.  Through Cussie and other traveling librarians,  Richardson presents the dedication of the mule-riding librarians and the challenges they faced.  She also introduces readers to the prejudices and real dangers faced by an overlooked minority, “Blues,” white people born with a genetic mutation that produces blue-tinged skin.  

Richardson waits until the end of the book to address the realities of misguided medical attempts to “cure” Blues like Cussie of their skin color.  It was easy to identify with Cussie’s passion for books and her determination to bring the world to her isolated neighbors through the books in her saddlebags.  





 

Book poster: Stephen King Reads from If It Bleeds; image of Stephen King holding book, which has an angry-looking black cat's face on the front

If It Bleeds      

Stephen King

submitted by volunteer Caren Snook

 

 

Stephen King's latest, If It Bleeds, is a collection of short fiction. The title novella features PI Holly, who is a main character in several of King's recent books. My favorite was "The Life of Chuck", an amazing short story.






 

Book cover: The Library Book, Susan Orlean, Author of The Orchid Thief; book is a deep red with gold striping and an image of a flame in the middle

The Library Book

Susan Orlean

Submitted by staff member Stacie Court

 

On April 29, 1986, I was teaching French I and Introduction to Foreign Languages at two public middle schools in Newport News, Virginia.  I came from a military family, I had met my husband in AFROTC, he was stationed at Langley AFB, and most of the children I taught were either Navy, Air Force, or Army dependents.  Most of the stories focused on by area news stations and print outlets focused on military-related stories, so I rarely knew of much else going on across the country.

 

I had no idea that while I was teaching seventh and eighth graders to conjugate verbs, the Central Library in Los Angeles, California, was burning...and so many lives were changing.

 

Susan Orlean’s book is not only a real eye-opener about the event, but it is very interesting to read during this time rampant with so many things seemingly beyond our control.  Orlean talks about everything--EVERYTHING--she can think of related to the burning and its aftermath.  At one point she even describes her own experience of burning a book while researching this event: she felt compelled to experience the burning of a book, but couldn’t bring herself to burn any that she thought of--the idea was total anathema.  Then, she found the perfect book, and burned it.

 

This is a story of many details, many books, and many people, but Orlean is able to weave it into an easy narrative, bringing us into the heartbreak and desolation experienced by the Los Angeles librarians (and the mourning of librarians the world over), as well as the hard work of the thousands of volunteers who helped bring the library back to life.  She also helps us feel just a little bit of that debt we all owe to libraries and their patrons everywhere (including Athens, Georgia, where I borrowed this book from the public library).


Literature Books in Our Library - June 2020

Thank you to all the dedicated volunteers who helped produce 110 new literature books in June! We are grateful for your commitment to service and improving the lives of students. 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.