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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


The Multiple Benefits of Virtual Volunteering

In 2019, we all know how important one’s time is. There are always errands to run, calls to join or meetings to attend and a seemingly long workweek has passed by in a flash. Yet there is something so special about the feeling we get when we set aside time and donate to a mission we believe in. Truly, there is no better feeling than when we can see the impact of our donated time and efforts in real, life-changing situations.

 

We have seen in many cases that our time spent volunteering is often more appreciated and recognized than our regular work. This satisfaction and sense of positive impact, that come from volunteering is hard to get doing other activities.  At Learning Ally, our volunteers are influencing the lives of individuals who struggle to learn every day. After experiencing the benefits of our solutions, our students feel part of their learning community again and gain the confidence and skills to lead a successful and normal life.

 

As you all may know, Learning Ally’s Volunteer Nation is virtual. We are proud of this unique virtual volunteer model with its amazing Volunteer Nation Portal that will guarantee all resources needed by volunteers are in just one place.

 

Here are some benefits of virtual volunteering:

Flexible

Considering our busy lives, long days at work, family commitments and all the responsibilities and different activities we have to complete every week, we sometimes feel we are not doing enough for society. Having to drive weekly or monthly to a place where you want to volunteer is becoming more and more difficult. Virtual volunteering offers a solution to this problem – you can eliminate transportation time and gain the flexibility of volunteering from the comfort of your home.  All our Learning Ally volunteering opportunities are now performed online.

Broader Community of Volunteers

Virtual volunteering empowers a wider group of participants to give back. In person volunteering events will always be limited by space and resources. Our volunteers will not face these restrictions; in most cases, all of the work can be done using technology.

Service is not limited to particular geographies

Our volunteers can contribute skills and service to projects no matter where they are located. A volunteer in Seattle may support an organization’s mission or client in North Carolina, or in any place in the world!

Volunteering is Skill-Based

Most virtual volunteering engagements are skill based and require a level of technical knowledge. An active or retired professional can mentor a client interested in growing his/her business in a similar industry to their own. Similarly, at Learning Ally, an experienced math teacher can record books for struggling learners anywhere in the U.S.

Volunteers are part of a Virtual Community

Your network opportunities in a virtual community of volunteers grow exponentially. When you belong to a private Google Hangout, LinkedIn or even Facebook group of professionals who volunteer, “you can easily connect with hundreds of like-minded people with in-demand skills” (Raber, huffingtonpost.com)


 


Volunteer Spotlight: Beira Winter and the Rose Parade

Rose Parade float detailImagine having something you have created seen by millions of people around the world. That’s what happened for me on January 1, 2019 during the annual Tournament of Roses Parade.  Here’s the story.

 

While the large, elaborate floats are commercially built, there are 6 smaller floats that are “self-built.” That means that all aspects of the float are handled by volunteers. I have friends who are volunteers with the Burbank Tournament of Roses Association. Each year they design, create, build and decorate the Rose Parade float that represents the City of Burbank.  

 

Much as I would love to be part of that, I am a complete disaster when it comes to glue or paint. Not to mention the more skilled tasks like welding, sculpting, animating, and well, you get the idea. But last year, there was something I could do that none of the regular volunteers could do. I can spin fiber into string.

 

If you saw the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day, you may remember the Burbank float presented cartoon animals who brought their instruments together to jam. It was an eclectic collection with a saxophone playing pig, a bass drum playing skunk, a huge bear with a concertina, and an alligator playing a washboard.  

 

Then there was also a hound dog playing a banjo. A wolf playing a fiddle and a HUGE white rabbit playing a string bass. That’s where my contribution came in. One of my friends who works on the float knew about my spinning, and asked me if I could spin strings from raw cotton for those instruments.  

 

Spinning is easy, but cotton is hard, because the fibers are short and they tend to ball up instead of lying flat. But with patience, I came to a compromise with the cotton and was able to produce custom strings for each instrument.  The fiddle strings were thin, the banjo strings were more funky, and the string bass had thick strings. The bass strings took the most time because I had to spin 4 threads then ply them together.  

 

Spinning was something I learned when I was working in a living history center in Maryland.  We used antique wheels to demonstrate making wool yarn, therefore, I never learned to use modern tools.  That was unfortunate for the float because the rabbit was supposed to be covered completely in cotton “fur.” I had to help the decorators find a woman with the machine that could produce batts (flat plates) of cotton. She prepared over 4 pounds of cotton batts needed to completely cover the 6 foot tall rabbit.

 

No, I didn’t go to the parade, I watched it on TV. But after the parade, all the floats are parked together to allow people to see them up close.  I had seen the pieces while they were being built and decorated, but seeing the completed float with my strings on the instruments was breathtaking. Building a float takes thousands of hours by many talented people. Being a very small part of something as big and amazing as a rose parade float is a memory I will treasure.  

 

From Staff:  Beira has been a volunteer since 2006 and has managed to rack up almost 1700 hours of time as a listener for Instructional Text and the Literature team.  


New Volunteer Nation Manager

I am Paula Restrepo, and I have been working with Virtual Volunteer Communities in the U.S. for more than 13 years. I personally have recruited more than 2,500 volunteers while simultaneously creating a  unique model of virtual volunteering for nonprofit organizations.

 

I am originally from Colombia and have a background in Engineering and Nonprofit Management…I know that could be strange, but the combination of backgrounds and experiences have been essential in my career. This combination allows me to understand different sides of the equation and to think outside the box. I am a “people” person and I love interacting with volunteers - making sure they have a positive experience while accomplishing our important mission.

 

I have experience with voice recording as my husband and I host a podcast. Our weekly podcast BetterVida is oriented to the skilled Latino immigrant community in the U.S. Through this podcasting experience, I have learned so much about recording, editing and making sure our sound quality improves with every new podcast. I can relate to your challenges when recording or doing quality control of our audiobooks.

 

Learning Ally represents an amazing professional challenge in my career.  I want to build a solid, easy to navigate virtual community. My goal is to shape a community that simply recreates what we feel when we belong to any community that interacts in person. We all know organizations are becoming “more virtual” every day and the solutions that Learning Ally currently offers to struggling learners are based on virtual technology. Our volunteers need to be prepared and equipped for this big change and, most importantly, feel comfortable working virtually.

 

I want you to be in constant contact with me. I want you to help me better understand your needs and challenges. We want to create processes and community structures that are dynamic and flexible and become more efficient at producing audiobooks that are engaging and useful for struggling learners. Our differentiator is the human voice! Your voices make us unique and engaging. I want to hear your voice not only in our audiobooks, but also telling me how we can do things better. Please keep an eye on things that we can improve and feel free to share your thoughts with me.

 

My email is prestrepo@learningally.org and my direct line is 609.243.7099

 

I look forward to working with you all!


New Checking Audition Coming Soon

Seasons Greetings to Our Volunteers!

As we end the year we look back on what we have completed and forward to the tasks we have waiting for us. Our standards and training have been steadily updated through the year, but our checking audition project is in need of a serious update. While it still reflects our needs for standards and quality, we've learned a great deal about the errors our home readers encounter, and want new training to reflect that. The training will be better focused and more successfully with examples that demonstrate those frequently reported issues and what steps the checker can take to correct them. 
 
A new checking audition sample will be released early in January. If you are already in the process of auditioning, then please finish your work on the current version. If you haven't yet begun, you may choose to delay starting over the holidays and audition with the new audition project. Please note as well that we'll be phasing out the old checking audition project, and it will no longer be available by the end of January, so if you are already working with it then please finish your auditions and revisions promptly. 
 
Please direct your questions to the usual channels, either through email or chat, and thank you for volunteering! 

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