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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
Richelle Feigin - Volunteer of the year at VTLO
Richelle has been volunteering for Learning Ally since April 2020. Recently, her company selected her as “Volunteer of the Year'' for her time and energy spent doing community service. With this accomplishment, Richelle was asked to select a nonprofit organization that her company could make a donation to in her name. Richelle selected Learning Ally and we graciously received a donation from Vitiello Communications Group (VTLO) in November. We want to congratulate Richelle on this incredible achievement and highlight her journey through our volunteer program. We want our Volunteer Nation to learn more about her and why volunteering for Learning Ally was important to her.
Richelle Feigin is a Senior Account Director at Vitiello Communications Group (VTLO), a communications agency that partners with Internal Communications, Human Resources, and Business Leaders to connect employees to the workplace and community. She has been with VTLO for 11 years.
Rachel has been actively volunteering in her community for as long as she can remember. However, when COVID hit back in March, she was looking for ways to give back from home while in lockdown. She used VolunteerMatch to search for causes she cares about so that she could use her skills to make an impact on others. That’s when she found Learning Ally. “It was a perfect way for me to be able to volunteer during quarantine and use my communication skills in a new and different way..” she said. In her own words, volunteering has reinforced her love of reading and her focus on details.
Richelle perfectly understands the literacy problem that the US is facing and found Volunteer Nation to be the perfect channel to try to help resolve this systematic problem. “I believe that literacy is the foundation for all learning throughout your life. Knowing that the work that I do helps kids become better readers is very rewarding. I’ve seen videos of students who use this tool and there is nothing better than witnessing their transformation from being shy and apathetic in the classroom to thriving emotionally, socially, and academically.”
In her personal life, Richelle is also a wife and a mother of two teenagers. She has two Dalmatians, named Chip and Dale (after the Disney chipmunks)! When asked what her favorite audiobook is and why it’s her favorite, Richelle recalled the first book she worked on, Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton. “It’s a very inspiring story, filled with faith and love and determination. She’s a wonderful role model for anyone struggling to overcome hardships in life.”
Richelle shared a piece of advice to her fellow volunteers. “Sign up today! It feels good to give back, especially knowing that the work I do turns embarrassed, frustrated, and timid students into confident, engaged learners who are empowered to succeed.”
We are so glad you decided to take this journey with us, Richelle! Thank you for all you do for Learning Ally and our students.
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
Thanks to all our volunteers in the Instructional Textbook Community for their dedication.
Information by Lori Leland.
This season while shopping online for gifts, please consider using our Learning Ally Amazon Smile account. When you do, 5% of your purchases are donated to Learning Ally. All you have to do is shop for gifts and other items as you normally would on Amazon. Just make sure you bookmark and shop from our Learning Ally Amazon Smile URL.
Please note that for this to work, you need to make all of your purchases through the AmazonSmile site. Purchases through the regular Amazon site and their mobile app will not give a donation. Here are some tips to make it easy:
Please share with family and friends and continue to use the Learning Ally Amazon Smile URL when you shop on Amazon even after the holidays. It is at no cost to you! Thank you for your multiple efforts in supporting our struggling learners!
Watch the video below to understand why we are excited about Learning Ally's Great Reading Games event!
Learning Ally's Great Reading Games is a 7-week event proven to help educators engage students and increase reading stamina. Struggling readers return to class each day excited to see how many pages they read and if their school has moved up on one of the 12 school leaderboards. Dyslexic and struggling readers have the motivation they need and the recognition they deserve for their reading achievements! The 2020 Great Reading Games will run from 1/13/20- 2/29/20!
Here are some highlights from last year’s Reading Games:
• 2,086 schools participated in the 2019 Great Reading Games.
• 37,500 participating students read close to 12 million pages throughout the 2019 Great Reading Games.
• 12 schools earned the coveted title of “1st Place in their Bracket”. 120 total schools were awarded prizes.
• Schools participated in social media challenges, which allowed them to celebrate their success and accomplishments.
• 2020 will be the biggest Great Reading Games yet!
How can you help?
“I am a 6th grade Sped Teacher and the fact that my students can read books that their peers are reading does wonder for their confidence. Most of my students LOVE reading on LA. The Reading Games were FANTASTIC!! They begged to go on, we came in 4th place for our division. They have never experienced such success with reading and it was amazing. Thank you so much for that. Thank you for the shirts and the earbuds and the certificates, they walked around proudly that day! I love Learning Ally."
“I LOVE LEARNING ALLY!!! I could be your spokesperson!!! It is difficult to find quality reading resources to help high school-aged students but this is perfect!!! We subscribed for the 2018-19 school year. We promoted it during the first semester, but no one used it. At the start of the new year, I started going into classrooms, signing up students, and modeling how to use it for teachers and students together. About 30 kiddos began to use it, some more than others. There are about 16 who use it regularly. These students have been changed by this gift of reading! They show a new sense of pride where before they were embarrassed about their reading abilities. Several of them have even stopped into my library office to share with me about how much THEY love it and how it is helping them! One of them even placed 6th in our division for the Learning Ally Great Reading Challenge that ended in February! We are ending the year with these students reading over 18,000 pages and having spent over 300 hours reading! I am so proud of them and so happy to have found Learning Ally! In my 30 years of teaching, I have not found anything that has helped high school readers like Learning Ally. Thank you!”
Once again, the Production and Volunteer Nation teams are thrilled to share that after two of our books being nominated for the Voice Arts Awards by the Society of Voice Arts and Sciences, the leading industry organization for professional voiceover work, we have won in one of the two nominations. These nominations are for the best of the best in the Voiceover world! Award winners were announced on Sunday, November 17th during the Voice Arts® Awards Gala at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, CA
Learning Ally’s book was the winner for Audiobook Narration – History, Best Voiceover category, going to Learning Ally volunteer Dave Fennoy for his work on March Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. Dave is a well-known industry powerhouse, with extensive experience in commercials, documentaries, and especially video games. His vast talent is put to work on this amazing project, as he brings Lewis's searing memoir of the fight for Civil Rights to life in an extraordinarily vivid way. See a picture of Dave with the award!
Take a listen to the "book trailer" below to hear this great voice, and then add to your bookshelf to listen to the whole thing!
March Book Three: Learning Ally Audiobook Trailer
Catalog link for March, Book 3: NA898
The second nomination we had was for Audiobook Narration – Teens, Best Voiceover, going to Learning Ally volunteer and intern Clyla Destiny for her work on Unbound by Ann E. Burg. Although this her very first audiobook, Clyla turned in a fantastic performance and is competing with narrators with hundreds of books of experience! Her background in spoken-word poetry proved a good match for this unforgettable story of escaped slaves fighting for survival.
Unbound: Learning Ally Audiobook Trailer
Catalog link for Unbound: A Novel in Verse: NA591
Like all of our books, these nominees were part of a real team effort! Additional production credits and congratulations on these nominations go to volunteers Susan Smith and John Arnott, as well as staff members Dave Kozemchak, Michael Kinsey, Alexis Bourbeau, and Kevin Ziegler.
Take a listen to the "book trailers" on the links above. Enjoy!
What do you do at Learning Ally?
I am a reader and a checker. But over the last 18 months, I have been checking more files than reading. I find that I make more mistakes reading than I want to, but I really enjoy listening to a number of excellent readers who make few if any mistakes.
How long have you volunteered at Learning Ally?
I started with RFB&D, Learning Ally's previous name, in the spring of 2009 after I retired from the maritime and oil industries. I began in the New Haven office, then transitioned to the New York office when the NH office closed. I also had occasion to record in the Upland and DC facilities when visiting my sons living near those facilities. And once Christine and Stacie even allowed me to record one (yes, that's right, one) file in the Athens office! After moving to Florida in 2014, I became part of the virtual community.
What made you want to volunteer at Learning Ally?
Certainly, part of my decision was based on the fact that my dear aunt was almost totally blind, and I wanted to "pay it forward" for her. I also had been doing "voice work" of one kind or another since I was 16, and as I was looking to volunteer somewhere after retirement, it seemed to be a "fit."
What's something most people at Learning Ally don't know about you?
In line with the previous question, I was asked by school mates to announce the music played by the school dance band, but it would be silly of me just doing the announcing. So...I pretended to play the bass during the musical numbers and then before the next musical number announce what we had just done or what was coming up. Duh! I couldn't play a lick! That's me -- the great pretender -- in the accompanying photo.
What do you like most about volunteering at Learning Ally?
A number of things: firstly, the sense that we, the volunteers, are doing something that benefits others. Secondly, working with a tremendous staff, learning from them. Thirdly, "meeting" both physically -- at times -- and virtually, other volunteers and staff. I have been very lucky that way in that I have been able to work at or visit a number of Learning Ally's brick and mortar facilities, attended a Gala dinner in Denver, been to the Princeton office, and meet once a year or so with other volunteers from the Southern California community for lunch or breakfast or whatever. That group has grown from 3 of us to a group of a dozen or more, although with time constraints, travel distances, etc., the group that actually meets is about 6 or 7, but growing.
Do you have any advice for prospective Learning Ally volunteers?
2 things: Learn the reading conventions and don't be afraid to ask questions or challenge decisions. What we do changes with the times as do the conventions.
Actually, there is a third piece of advice: don't take things personally. Edit notes are not personal attacks. They are meant to improve the overall product that we are putting out. Okay, okay, okay! One last piece of advice: thank the staff for what they do! They do a great job!
What is your favorite audiobook/book if you have any?
Books, in general, not audiobooks: I love almost anything Michael Connelly writes but there are so many other authors that I like I could fill the page with them. And I much prefer to hold the book in my hands and physically turn the pages. No Kindle or mp3 player for me.
What do you do during your free time?
Actually, I spend most of my time volunteering, whether it is with earning Ally or other reading services, tutoring at a local elementary school (2nd and 3rd graders mostly, learning to read), calling BINGO once a month, doing other non-profit voice work, etc. I am also the disembodied voice at two maritime conferences in Connecticut telling attendees where to go and what to do next and have for the last few years been the house announcer for the Orange County Children's Theater (California) reminding folks about photography, food, etc. I have also voiced several online courses for two maritime not-for-profit entities, In fact, I average about 150 hours a month of volunteer work -- when not traveling -- doing this type of "work."
When not doing that, my wife and I like to travel. We are lucky to have been able to visit about 100 countries -- for work or pleasure -- between the two of us. I envy some of the places she has been and she would definitely not like several of the places I have been.
What is your Favorite movie or TV series?
In the overall scheme of things, I don't watch "that much" TV but when I do, I binge watch programs like Chicago PD (my home town!), Law and Order SVU, or Bosch (I told you I like Michael Connelly, the writer).