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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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--?
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.