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


Maria Lelie
Maria Lelie
Maria Lelie's Blog

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.


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.


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.

 


Textbooks in our Library - June 2020

In June, 2020, our incredible volunteers completed 44 new textbooks! Thank you to all the hardworking and dedicated volunteers who help put books in our students' libraries. Click here to view in plain text.

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


The Power of Books: Encouraging Conversations on Social Justice

On Monday, June 15th, our very own Terrie Noland sat down with renowned actor, Michael Burgess. Burgess has appeared in over 100 commercials, television shows, and films and is now a volunteer for Learning Ally. 

 

Over the past two months, Noland has been hosting live read-alouds every Monday with Learning Ally volunteers on our Facebook Page. This particular read-aloud was one of our most powerful and engaging, as it corresponds to the social justice movements happening around the world today. 

 

During the read-aloud, Burgess narrated The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander. After the reading, Noland and Burgess dove into a discussion on the importance of welcoming conversations with families and friends to talk about race and social injustice. Noland and Burgess also talked about how the resolve of the human race is necessary as the world strives to effect change for equality and inclusion.

 

Here is a brief excerpt from Michael during the conversation:

“We come to a place where all of us have to share in that sense of finding a way to work through the difficult. It's no longer the work of any one group to have to deal with difficulties and say ‘You know what, I’m gonna work through it. I’m gonna keep my head up.” Now we have a national obligation to say there are many things we are suffering across the board and we’re going to have to work through it, we’re going to have to walk through it and we are going to have to get to the other side so we can look back as a nation and say ‘Wow that did happen and I'm still standing.’” 

 

You can find the rest of the read-aloud and conversation here: Learning Ally Reads Aloud

 

Our team at Learning Ally has compiled a collection of human-read audiobooks to help readers talk about race and social justice in and outside the classroom. Here is an interactive list of books that are included in the Social Justice Audiobook collection. More titles will be added on an ongoing basis. 

A List of Social Justice Books Included in the Social Justice Audiobook Collection. The books are separated by grade levels K-5, 6-8, and 8-12.

 

As our library continues to grow, we are in need of volunteer voices to help diversify our audiobook collection. Learning Ally is recruiting volunteers whose voices and backgrounds match the cultural experiences of the characters they narrate and the students who will be listening. We are currently in need of more volunteers who are African-American, Latinx, and/or fluent in Spanish and English to read literature and textbooks. Our casting team is working hard to find voices that will bring characters and stories to life and give students a more diverse group of voices to read to them.

 

If you or a friend is interested in volunteering, visit our Volunteer Opportunities page to learn more about how to get involved. 


Volunteer Spotlight: Marc Richman

Marc Richman started volunteering in March 2020 and has since contributed to reading textbook chapters ranging from design work to U.S. history and has even dabbled in a literature project set in the 13th century. In his professional career, Marc is a computer programmer, but he has interest in subjects such as art, science, language, literature, philosophy, singing, and now, narration. 

 

This is an image of Marc Richman, seen smiling and facing the camera. Behind him there is a close-up of a large pillar, with green landscape in the far background.

Marc first discovered he enjoyed narration when reading stories to his children before bed. Once his children grew older, Marc began volunteering at an assisted living facility, where he read stories and articles to residents every week. Marc later heard about Learning Ally through a work colleague. With his passion and experience in narration, Marc thought recording audiobooks might be something he could do if given the opportunity. Now he says he is “tuned in to all things voice.” 

 

When asked what motivates him to keep volunteering his time, Marc responded: “I really love the chance to create something -- using source text as the raw material. I enjoy bringing a bunch of my interests, ideas, and sensibilities to bear in transforming the written word into the spoken.” Marc said he feels encouraged by the mission of Learning Ally, as it has been heartening to see the dedication of all those who he has come in contact with, whether it is a volunteer or staff member. He added, "I am delighted to be involved with a mission that is so positive and participants that are always willing to help." 

 

If you would like to try recording audiobooks for Learning Ally, Marc recommends gathering the equipment you need and jumping in. When he first started, Marc said he pushed himself to audition for a project in the Literature Community that needed a narrator with a British accent. Marc added: “Sure, I had Jim Dale and Eric Idle in my head, but could I really read a story -- out loud -- that anyone would want to listen to? Well I got that assignment, and I had tremendous fun with that project. It was a leap I'm glad I took.” 

 

Three months later after taking that leap, Marc has contributed over 148 hours of service in the textbook, literature, and VHOC communities, bringing essential books to students in and outside the classroom. 


Staff Spotlight: Stacie Court

Stacie Court facing the camera and smiling

What do you do at Learning Ally? I lead the Foreign Language Community, supervising the recording of all foreign language textbooks, and I lead the TOC Community, a group of organized, computer-savvy volunteers who help set up the textbooks so they are ready for the other volunteers to work on.  In non-COVID times, I also handle a lot of engagement and outreach initiatives in Georgia, mostly with the Lions Clubs and University of Georgia faculty and students.

 

How long have you worked at Learning Ally?  I became a volunteer almost as soon as I heard of it, in July 2007, and by the next summer I was on staff.

 

What made you want to work at Learning Ally? I can't imagine NOT wanting to work here.  Each day is different, so I don't have time to be bored, and all day, everyday, everything I am doing is helping someone in need.

 

What's something most people at LA don't know about you? What do you do during your free time? I grew up in a military family and have trouble sitting still. I'm 55, and have moved 32 times in my life, living in places as scattered as Maine and Florida, and California and Guam.  I love to travel, and am never happier than when I can get my husband and/or one of my children to go adventuring with me.  We are all hoping to go together to Norway for my 60th birthday, so I am (slowly, in my free time), studying Norwegian.

 

This is a newspaper article showing Stacie Court in high school, dressed in a traditional dirndl with her peers. Stacie is a brunette in the right foreground, holding up her dance partner, Bill, for the highpoint of the Mühlradl, where the guys swing their legs up and down to imitate the workings of a mill).

What is your favorite book? I don't really have a favorite but the two that probably had the most impact on my life were the unabridged versions of Johanna Spyri's Heidi  and Mary Mapes Dodge's Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates  which I received for my seventh birthday. They were the first "real" books I read, and at seven they were a bit of a challenge.  But, I read them, and I loved wrapping my head and tongue around the foreign words and cultural differences. I sometimes wonder if I joined the German folkdancing group at my high school so I could dress in a dirndl like Heidi and Gretel--?

 

H.G. Wells facing the camera and smiling kindly

If you could be any fictional character for a day, who would you be and why? H.G. Wells in the TV show Warehouse 13: she's absolutely brilliant, a good person deep down, and at about 140 years old she still looks stunning.

 

If you could write a book about your life, what would the title be and why? Say Yes to Adventure! I love a good adventure, and they usually happen when I take a chance and say yes.


We Are Grateful for Your Overwhelming Support

Volunteers! We are grateful and overwhelmed by your tremendous support over these last few months. Through your efforts, we have been able to support more students with more audiobooks than ever before. Here are some numbers to show just how unbelievable you have all been:

This is an image of a chart showing the average number of volunteer applications received before the month of March in 2020 and after after March 2020. Before March, there was an average of 200 volunteer applications. After March, there is an average of 1,012 applications per month.

  • We have received over 4,000 new volunteer applications since March!  To put this in perspective, we typically receive about 200 new volunteer applications each month. We have been averaging 1,012 applications per month since March --  that's 5 times more! See the bar chart on the left. 
 
  • We have had 340 new volunteers donate service since March -- over 3 times more than over the same period last year (97)! See the bar chart on the right. 
 
  • We have had 662 total volunteers donate service hours since March --  58% more than we had over the same period last year (418)!
 
  • Volunteers have donated 69,000 hours of service since July 1, 2019, with 43% or 29,490 of these hours donated since March 2020. This is 44% more than we had over the same period last year (418)! 
 
  • We produced 51% more audiobooks (479) between March and June than we did during the same period last year (317). 

This is an image of a chart showing the average number of volunteer applications received before the month of March in 2020 and after after March 2020. Before March, there was an average of 200 volunteer applications. After March, there is an average of 1,012 applications per month.

 

As we head into the summer months, we will be focusing heavily on the most important books needed for summer reading, as well as for back to school in the fall. 

 

Also, due to the unprecedented and appreciated influx of prospective volunteers during these last few months, we will be limiting new applications starting in July. This will allow us to catch up on communications to all of our new prospects, as well as continuing to support the onboarding of those that have progressed through training into our audiobook production communities or other new volunteer roles. 

 

Please note, we will not always have consistent and continuous work for all volunteers. Please feel free to check in with your production staff leads when you are looking for work through your usual communication channels. We will also reach out directly when we have a specific project need that we feel is a good fit for your skills and interests.

 

Thank you again for your amazing work supporting our audiobook solution and for your commitment to our mission to transform the lives of struggling learners.


High School Junior Shares Why She Reads for Learning Ally

Isabella Han smiling for the camera with her small dog, named Ketchup, who is also facing the camera and smiling.Yunqing Han, also known as Isabella, is an inspiring and determined high school junior from Beijing, China. She currently studies at a boarding school in Virginia, plays the piano in her free time and is a volunteer for Learning Ally! Yunqing has been reading with Learning Ally for almost 2 years now. 

 

Yunqing’s journey with Learning Ally began after realizing she had a passion for education. Before becoming a volunteer, Yunqing’s school offered her a co-curriculum opportunity where she would spend 5 weeks in a professional setting. During this time, Yunqing was partnered with a special education school where she became a teaching assistant for students with severe physical and learning disabilities. After completing her time with the school, Yunqing became inspired to find more opportunities to help students. With a long browse on the internet and lots of determination, Yunqing found Learning Ally.

 

When asked how she balances schoolwork with volunteering and what incentivises her to do so, Yunqing said she found time to volunteer on the weekends when the school library was less crowded and more quiet. Yunqing said she also found added benefits to volunteering, other than being able to help students with learning differences. 

 

Reading the textbooks and literature books has allowed Yunqing to improve her English fluency, as it is not her native tongue. When COVID-19 came about, Yunqing’s classes moved online and she had less opportunity to practice English with her classmates and teachers. Reading for Learning Ally gave her the opportunity to continue practicing her English conversation skills and improve pronunciations. 

 

In addition to growing her speaking skills, Yunqing also did some studying while volunteering. She recalls: “I actually studied part of my AP European history exam with Learning Ally’s textbooks. I happened to be recording a chapter on the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal empires and by reading the material, I essentially reviewed what I needed to know about Islamic influences on Europe for the exam.” 

 

When asked if the pandemic challenged her as a student and in volunteering, Yunqing found a silver lining. Due to the quarantine, Yunqing moved home to Beijing. Now that she is home, Yunqing records with an audience in her parents’ living room, rather than her quiet, private nook in the school library. From reading in front of her parents, Yunqing has discovered that she reads with more focus, clarity, and has a much better delivery when someone is sitting right beside her listening. Yunqing suggests that all readers/narrators pretend as if there is a person listening to them read. Not only does it improve your sound, but Yunqing says “Everytime when I feel like I do not want to continue reading after the first hour or so, I imagine someone sitting right in front of me saying ‘I want to listen to one more chapter’ and then I keep reading.” Yunqing added: “ I really enjoy reading for Learning Ally, sometimes I think it helps me more than I help it.”

 

Check out Yunqing Han's narration of "Yen-Shen: A Cinderella Story From China". 

 

Yunqing, you are an inspiring, young professional. From all of us in the Volunteer Nation, we want to say thank you for all you do! 


Celebrating Volunteer Jerry Byrd's 300th Book

Jerry Byrd in his home recording studio, facing the camera.

Today at Learning Ally we are celebrating Jerry Byrd on reading his 300th book!

 

Jerry started volunteering with Learning Ally 18 years ago back in 2002, but has been reading audiobooks for the blind since the mid 1960s. Jerry got his start in recording audiobooks when he joined the St. Louis public library’s recording studio. For his first project, Jerry was given a book, a stack of cassettes, and off he went! He continued his narration when working as a professor at California State University in Long Beach, the Monterey Society for the Blind, and later Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, now known as Learning Ally. 

 

One of Jerry’s favorite memories from working in the Learning Ally studio was meeting the students who stopped in to share their stories. He recalls one student saying: “I was nine in the third grade. I couldn’t read. The teacher thought I had problems; the kids thought I was dumb; I thought I was dumb. Now I am a doctoral student in anthropology.” Jerry said that inspiring stories like these were accomplishments he wanted to share in. 

 

When Learning Ally made its shift to recording online, Jerry went with them. When asked what motivates him to continue to volunteer with Learning Ally, Jerry recalled a lesson he learned from his mother. “My mother always inculcated in me the idea that you don’t do everything for yourself. People do things for you; your dentist, your car mechanic. So you do something for somebody else. I feel privileged that I have the education and the voice to be able to do this for somebody else.” Since narrating audiobooks, Jerry says he has become more aware of the blind and dyslexic community and the people who depend on audiobooks for their education, livelihood and quality of life. 

 

Jerry offered a piece of advice and encouragement for Learning Ally volunteers. He said: “Stop and think about this whole idea that we exchange gifts in life. I can’t fix my car, I can’t fix my teeth, but I can read for people who cannot read and they will do something for me in the long run. They will be that doctor of anthropology or historian for me. We are all in this together. We are dependent on each other. We don’t go this alone. It’s a gift that we shouldn’t turn away. We should use the gifts we have.” 

 

Thank you Jerry for 300 books, 6,000+ hours, and 100,000+ pages. You are inspiring!