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


Paula Restrepo
Paula Restrepo
Paula Restrepo's Blog

Volunteer Spotlight: Marsha Poppie

Marsha Poppie 

What do you do at Learning Ally? 

I mostly do recording of instructional text with occasional checking of other’s files.  In the 90’s, I was on the board of directors for the Orland Park studio. 

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How long have you volunteered at Learning Ally?

This is my 25th year of volunteering for Learning Ally (previously known as Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic).

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What made you want to volunteer at Learning Ally?

After all my children were out of the house and off to school, I had more free time on my hands and wanted to volunteer. I have always felt that blind people faced challenges in everyday life and learning and so I wanted to share my eyesight in a constructive helpful manner.

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What's something most people at LA don't know about you?

Perhaps, that I used to work as an extra in TV and film.

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What do you like most about volunteering at LA?

With the advent of our virtual studio, I like the flexibility it affords me in sitting to record at any time of the day I wish.  I also enjoy the gratification I receive in knowing that some student somewhere really needs the book I’m working on and will learn from it. Moreover, another thing I enjoy about recording for LA is that I am learning as well from every book I read.

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Do you have any advice for prospective LA volunteers?

Ease into the process and understand that you will not know everything at once.  Staff and other volunteers are very helpful and always there to lend advice. Even now, I still learn new things.

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What is your favorite audio book/ book if you have any?

When I was recording Inferno by Dan Brown, I became so engrossed in the story that I was going to the studio extra days to read it.  

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What do you do during your free time?

During my free time I most enjoy singing in a choir, making quilts, going to movies, reading, traveling and spending time with my family of six children, their spouses, and eleven grandchildren.  

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What is your Favorite movie or TV series?

I like all the PBS shows, Downton Abbey, Grantchester, Call the Midwife, Doc Martin etc.  The intrigue of Raymond Reddington on Blacklist captivates me.  

 


Volunteer Spotlight: Shelley Cincotta

                                                                                               Shelley Cincotta

What do you do at Learning Ally? 

As part of the Literature community, I am happy to be narrating children’s books and I am learning a lot from the other volunteers in the virtual literary salon.

As a checker in the Textbook community, I have listened to many well-spoken narrators!  This summer, I joined the textbook pre-production pilot where I am writing project guidelines for textbooks, mostly English textbooks.  I have also helped to update the project guideline template to make it easier to use.

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How long have you volunteered at Learning Ally? 

I started volunteering at Learning Ally in Fall 2018.

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What made you want to volunteer at Learning Ally?

My son is dyslexic and, for the past five years, he has used the LA app to read higher level books.  He listens to LA books almost every day. I wanted to contribute to this great cause to help children with learning differences love reading. I enjoy reading to my son and wanted to “read” to other children by narrating books.

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What's something most people at LA don't know about you?

I enjoy hiking and have hiked in ten National Parks so far. My goal is to hike in all National Parks in the US. Also, I would love to work for LA as part of the staff.

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What do you like most about volunteering at LA?

Because it is a virtual working environment, I can work on my own time and at my own pace. I like interacting with the staff and other volunteers on hangouts. Everyone is extremely nice!!

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Do you have any advice for prospective LA volunteers?

You can find a niche for yourself in any of the writing, editing, narrating opportunities.

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What is your favorite audiobook/ book if you have any?

I enjoy listening, with my son, to the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan.

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What do you do during your free time?

I like to spend as much time as I can with my family at the ocean, swimming, kayaking, walking, and eating ice cream.

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What is your Favorite movie or TV series?

Lately, I have been watching the Jack Ryan series on Amazon.


Staff Spotlight: Eleanor Cotton

Eleanor Cotton

What do you do at LA?  

I am currently the Director of Production Technology & Training. I direct the development of our production software and volunteer website and assist in their maintenance, and also design and develop our online training modules and lessons with Russell Collins, our excellent Instructional Designer. I recently completed an M.Ed. degree in Learning, Design & Technology. 

 

How long have you worked here?

I have worked at LA for 16 years as of September 22nd.

 

What made you want to work at LA? 

I was a volunteer and really loved  it...I had little kids at the time, and it was great to exercise my mind, talk with adults, and use my law degree to help record massive law textbooks. When a part-time position was available, the timing was good so I started working here as well.

 

What's something most people at LA don't know about you?

I like to make beaded jewelry, we have a rescue dog named Lucy, and we're keeping my daughter's pet rats before she moves for a clerkship next month.

 

What do you like the most about working at LA? 

I love working at Learning Ally because of the people. One of our core values is that "people matter" and the staff and volunteers inspire and challenge me to do my best to help students get what they need to succeed and learn to love books!

 

What is the most challenging aspect of your work? 

It's difficult to find enough time to do all that needs to be done, and we also try to do everything efficiently to make the best use of our funds and that can be challenging at times.

 

Do you have any advice for prospective LA volunteers?

Relax and work through the training...it will help but you'll also continue to learn on the job! Producing audiobooks is very rewarding and many volunteers love doing it...but it's not a casual volunteering activity. For those who are looking for a less involved task, we recommend the QA opportunity where you can review our audiobooks in the same app that our students use. Always remember that we are glad to help as well..reach out through the training hangouts, email or however you prefer...we are there for you!

 

What is your favorite audiobook/ book if you have any?

I read mostly science fiction and fantasy, and some of my favorites include Ender's Game, Hyperion, Altered Carbon, The Sparrow, Cryptonomicon, and Ready Player One.

 

What do you do during your free time?

Read of course ;-), play games (board, card, and computer games), water aerobics, and watch TV.

 

What is your favorite movie or TV series? 

It's a Golden Age of television in my opinion; bingeing a TV show has become more enjoyable as they have been able to explore niche genres and compelling story arcs. Recently we have enjoyed Chernobyl, The Expanse, Stranger Things, Black Mirror, The Americans, Killing Eve. and When They See Us.

 


Literature Books Completed in June, 2019

The Literature Community finished recording 90 books in June!! I want to thank both our volunteers and staff members for helping us record these books.

 


Staff Spotlight : Kristin Longmuir

Kristin

What do you do at LA? 

I am the Content Acquisition Specialist/Librarian which means that I am responsible for reviewing, selecting and acquiring the books that we add to the collection as part of our Audiobook Solution.  I assist with processing the books through our Production System to get them into the hands of our volunteers. Furthermore, I make sure that the book record information on our website is accurate once the books are available for download.  

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How long have you worked here?

I have worked at LA for 20 years.  

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What made you want to work at LA? 

I came to LA (at that time Recording For The Blind & Dyslexic) to interview for a part-time book cataloging job in the Library Services Department back in May 1999.  The Library Services Manager inquired whether I might be interested in interviewing for an open full-time Librarian position instead. At that time, I was working as a Library Specialist in the Book Order Division of Firestone Library at Princeton University and attending Rutgers to get my Master Of Library Science degree.  I actually came across RFB &D when doing some research for a project at school and since I have a brother who struggled throughout school, I was immediately drawn to our mission and thereafter joined LA.

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What's something most people at LA don't know about you?

I am adopted and searched for/found/met my birth mother a number of years ago.   

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What do you like the most about working at LA? 

Through LA,I get to share my love of literature and be surrounded by books on a daily basis - and knowing that what I do every day can make a difference in a student's life. 

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What is most challenging aspect about your work? 

Meeting the needs of our educators and students in a timely manner

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What is your favorite audio book/ book if you have any?

Too many to name! If I had to pick favorites, I would say the “Little House On The Prairie” series and “The Secret Garden” when I was young and any Stephen King book in my middle and high school years.  I usually have 2-3 books going at any one time.  

Right now I'm reading a book about the Delaware River flooding in 1959, a novel by Kate Morton and a novel by Caleb Carr.  

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What do you do during your free time?

Reading (of course!), summer vacations in Maine, taking road trips (in particular to as many national parks as possible), crossword and jigsaw puzzles

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What is your Favorite movie or TV series? 

Jeopardy (I make my husband watch every night!), American Horror Story TV series, The Cider House Rules movie.  I'm looking forward to the upcoming movie “The Goldfinch” because of course it's based on a book! Unsurprisingly, I generally end up preferring the book version over the movie version. 


Why Are We Recording Books That Are Already Available on Audible?

Recently there have been some questions from volunteers about Learning Ally and why we create audiobooks that are also readily available on other platforms such as Audible.  

 

Indeed, many of our books have existing audiobook versions. The reason for needing a new recording is related to copyright law. As an educational non-profit, Learning Ally has the right to create audio versions of copyrighted material because of the population we serve, those who struggle to read. This includes those with dyslexia, visual impairment, physical disabilities that make accessing text difficult, or other barriers to reading. We operate under the Marrakesh Treaty, which is an international copyright agreement designed to help ensure access to printed material to those that would otherwise be denied.  

 

So we rely on talented volunteers like you to record our books even when other versions exist. One additional and unique feature that Learning Ally provides is that our final product for Literature books is an ebook with sentence-level highlighting that is synced with your voice-- what we call VOICEtext. Other text-to-speech engines can do this, but not with human-read audio.

 

Also, using Learning Ally's catalog means that students can access thousands of books, most often through their school, without having to purchase individual audio-only titles, the combined cost of which would render them inaccessible to most of our students. So you should all know that by volunteering, you are creating a tremendously impactful experience for students who struggle to read, potentially changing their educational outcomes (and lives) in the process!

Here's an example of the finished product from a recent popular title.  It was made into a movie as well - The Hate U Give:

 

So.....what is this Marrakesh Treaty?

The Marrakesh Treaty is international copyright law. The treaty allows Learning Ally to produce and record copyrighted audiobooks because we serve kids with learning differences. Marrakesh Treaty, in particular, allows us to provide help to students with a reading deficit, blindness or visual impairment and other physical impairments such as cerebral palsy, etc. Once students are evaluated by qualified educators or medical professional, then they become eligible to use our services. 

                                                                                          

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Marrakesh Treaty, in particular, allows us to provide help to students with a reading deficit,
blindness or visual impairment and other physical impairments.

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Studies estimate that 20% of students may be eligible for our services, so the work we do every day is very important and we want to reach more students and individuals who can benefit from our services.

As always, Learning Ally is immensely grateful for the great work done by our volunteers and staff! 

 

 


Volunteer Spotlight: Seyun (Alice)

Meet our young volunteer, Seyun, who recently went on a trip to Buryatia, Russia, where she taught English to young kids. She and other high- schoolers coordinated the events for these children and they did a wonderful job. Read on to learn about our volunteer...

 

What do you do at Learning Ally?

I am a reader volunteer at the Literature Community in Learning Ally. I first started out as a listener at the Textbook Community, though, after my first training as a Textbook listener. Then gradually, I became a textbook reader, and then slowly transitioned into the literature community.

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How long have you volunteered at Learning Ally?

I embarked on my journey as a volunteer at Learning Ally from June 2018, so it has been a little over a year since I volunteered at Learning Ally.

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What made you want to volunteer at Learning Ally? 

Currently, I am a rising senior in high school. During the first three years of high school, I have been participating in an Asia Pacific Forensics Competition, competing in Oral Interpretation and Solo Acting. I have always known about Learning Ally after my research online because I knew I wanted to assist those who struggle with education and words. By experiencing the power of words through my competitions, I longed to share the burden of those who grapple with words in their daily lives. In my prospective college, I want to study cognitive-linguistic science, psychology, and possibly education, but I did not start my Learning Ally volunteering until 2018 because I did not yet feel qualified to listen and read the books. However, after receiving two champions and one silver for Oral Interpretation and one champion for Solo Acting, I finally felt ready, and thus began my volunteer work at Learning Ally. In addition, meeting Hannah, my dyslexic friend, in January of 2018 influenced me to look into Learning Ally more and start volunteering.

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What's something people at LA don't know about you?

I am comparably a newcomer at Learning Ally, so there are various things I could uncover about myself.  One thing most people at Learning Ally do not know about me is that I am Korean-living in China, seventeen, and am left-handed (that looks like more than one, but they are all descriptions to the "Korean," so technically, it is one!).

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What do you like most about volunteering at LA?

Working at Learning Ally has taught me so much: time management, communication, passion, etc. The one thing I absolutely LOVE about Learning Ally is its volunteers. Although I have not been volunteering for a long time, every single person I communicated with throughout my one-year adventure has been helpful, encouraging, and polite. By knowing that I am volunteering with people who share the same passion of education for those who might be excluded in our everyday lives, I am able to both mature as a reader and a person. Whenever I was faced with a problem, I had people to talk to, who never failed to provide me with a solution or suggestion. Whenever I felt tired of reading the same line for the one-thousandth time, the emails from the volunteers reminded me of the smiles I will be able to bring to the students' faces, thereby, motivating me to do better. Without these volunteers, I would not have made it thus far, and I am delighted to be part of the community, and possibly that helper for other volunteers in the future.

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Do you have any advice for prospective LA volunteers?

  1. Communication is key! Do not stay silent. If you know you cannot make it to that deadline, communicate that information with your volunteers. They are extremely understanding and flexible in their schedule.
  2. Time management! Sometimes, I left my readings at the last moment, thinking that I could finish it quickly. Do not do that (: Schedule out your time wisely so that you can provide the best audiobooks for those listening.
  3. Enjoy and remember that there are a great number of people who are grateful to you and your work! Thank you, 谢谢, 감사합니다, спасибо, danke schön, gratias tibi!

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What is your favorite audiobook/ book if you have any?

This is a difficult question; I have so many favorite books! My three absolute favorites are Tuesdays With Morrie- Mitch Albom, The Neverending Story-Michael Ende, and The Shack-William P. Young.

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What do you do during your free time?

Read, watch movies, go to the gym. Books and movies for the soul + mind, and gym for the body. I adore food, so I like to think that by working out, I can excuse myself for my eating. 

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What is your favorite movie or TV series? 

My favorite movie is Inception directed by Christopher Nolan. The whole concept of the mind and dreams inside a dream completely stunned me when I first watched it in freshman year, with my sister. I have watched the movie seven times now and it infallibly shocks me every time.

 

 

 


Staff Spotlight: Christina Trejos

What do you do at Learning Ally?

Hi, my name is Christina Trejos and I am on the Production team.  My job responsibilities have me working closely with both the Literature and Instructional Text Communities as well as the Education Solutions Department.  I work on title review and selection to determine which titles should get selected for recording, book acquisition and book record processing which includes how we will be recording the title (Classic audio or Voicetext format). 

 

Furthermore, I am the liaison with our conversion vendor in India, who processes our XML files for all VOICEtext projects. In addition, I  support the priority management process for VOICEtext projects in the Literature Community and Classic Audio projects in the Textbook community.

How long have you worked at Learning Ally?

I have been with Learning Ally, formerly known as Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic for 18 years.  I started out as a part-time employee working second shift hours to quickly becoming a full-time employee. During those years, my job roles have evolved as our organization shifted from audiobooks on tapes and CDs to digital downloads.  

What made you want to work at LA?

At the time that I started working for LA, I was only looking for a part-time job since I had been at home with my youngest son for the past 3 years.  I quickly became excited about the mission, our members and all of the people that I was able to work with so I looked for a full-time position. I am happy to say that I have enjoyed working at LA for the past 18 years.

What's something most people at LA don't know about you?

My family and I have spent many years volunteering for animal rescues fostering over 40 dogs until they found their forever home.  It is very hard to work with animals and not want to take them all home with you. I, myself, have three dogs and two of them were foster failures (failure in the best way possible since they immediately became part of the family).

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What do you like most about working at LA?

I love our mission and the members that we serve.  There is no better feeling than being a part of a team that is able to produce an audiobook for students/members to read with their friends or classmates.  

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What is the most challenging aspect of your work?

The most challenging part of my job is not always being able to produce every member’s request for a book when they need it. I am excited for the day when there are enough volunteers to serve all our members.

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What do you do during your free time?

In the little bit of free time that I have, I enjoy spending time with my family.  We enjoy traveling to the Smoky Mountains in the summer. I also enjoy going to the beach, local wineries and country music concerts.


Staff Spotlight: Abigail Shaw

Abigail Shaw

What do you do at Learning Ally?

My name is Abigail, and I’m part of the production staff (specifically literature) at LA. My job responsibilities include a mix of things: I oversee the QA process of our already existing titles--looking for ways to make the books we already have recorded even better, or if they need to be re-recorded--, interfacing with volunteers in the process of narrating and listening to literature titles, and creating conventions and processes surrounding graphic novel image descriptions for blind/visually impaired students.

How long have you worked at Learning Ally?

It's been just over three years that I’ve worked with the organization, splitting my time between production of our audiobooks, as well as coordinating our virtual mentoring program for visually impaired/blind college students in our College Success Program. Actually, if you include the fall semester I worked part-time as a mentor, October will be four years with the organization.

Why did you choose to work at Learning Ally?

Initially, I was just interested in giving back as a mentor for the College Success Program. Opportunities eventually opened up for me to coordinate the mentoring program, as well as to lend my skills with audio production. My bachelors is in music and audio recording, and because of a lot of experience with our College Success Program students, I am now pursuing my masters in social work.

What's something most people at Learning Ally don't know about you?

In March of 2012, I hiked part of the Appalachian Trail with a group of friends and my former guide dog, Alexa. If given the time and money, I would consider doing a through hike.

Any Hobbies?

In my free time, I occasionally pick out popular songs or practice classical music on my upright piano, affectionately dubbed Barb, and I’m a long-distance runner. Currently, I am training for a half marathon in September. 

What do you like most about working at Learning Ally?

Our mission, the volunteers, and my colleagues. Getting to see how all of our work impacts students is incredibly rewarding.

What is your favorite audiobook/book, if you have any?

It's always hard to pick just one! For reading, via braille or synthetic speech, “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake,” by Aimee Bender, “Jane Eyre,” by Charlotte Bronte, and a commercially produced audiobook I really enjoy is the “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” by Jonathan Safran Foer.

What is your favorite movie or TV series?

Gilmore Girls. The dialogue and cultural references are priceless.

Kit: my preferred method of transportation in NYC