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


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. 


Summer Pause and Twist

Greetings Volunteers,

We hope the summer finds you well and that you're able to enjoy good weather and some relaxation. As a reminder, if you're going on vacation for a few weeks be sure to let the book production staff know when you'll be unavailable to volunteer. Our book production calendar keeps on rolling!
 

Audiobook Recruitment Pauses

 

The biggest, and probably most surprising news is that we have put audiobook volunteer recruitment on pause for the rest of the summer. The tremendous influx of volunteers through the spring has overwhelmed our ability to provide enough content to supply the demand of volunteers. Already, we see large groups of volunteers waiting for books to read or to check, and eager to jump in on that work the moment it's available. Unfortunately, that means many others are kept waiting for the next project and opportunity. They always say "it's the kind of problem you want to have," but that doesn't mean it's not a problem. 

 

 

In the meantime, we will be collecting information from potential volunteers so that we can reach out to them later, when the program reopens. However, there are still some areas of our audiobook production program where we are lacking in volunteers!

 

We are still on the lookout for bilingual volunteers, particularly Spanish speakers, to work on foreign language textbooks. Professional voiceover artists are still needed for some of our dramatic and performed literature titles. We also have a number of African-American focused stories in our literature queue and are looking for authentic voices to record this content. If you can help us meet these needs, then reach out to a Learning Ally staff member, or email volunteers@learningally.org

 

Let's Do The Twist

 

If you attended our last Volunteer Nation Live event, or if you've been keeping up with the blogs, you'll know about our plans to gradually transition our chat client over from Google Hangouts to Twist. This change has been a long time coming, and is even more necessary now as the number of volunteers in our programs has surged. Check out this video for the overview, or watch the recorded Volunteer Nation Live event for more background on why we chose Twist. We look forward to seeing (and chatting with) you there!
 


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.


Introducing Twist...a new way to communicate!

Let's Twist!

As you've probably heard, we’ve seen a lot of new volunteers since March and the limitations of Google Chat, our old messaging client, have become more apparent. We need a better way. We need to be able to keep all our volunteers and staff members connected in easy to manage groups, with a centralized interface, and easy to use tools.
 
So say hello to Twist!
 
Twist is a modern communication tool that provides us with a flexible and easy forum for community discussion. With apps for macOS, Windows, iOS, Android, Linux, and the web, our conversations will stay synced across all devices. Visit Twist's download center for details on the different versions available!
 
The roll-out for this new tool will be gradual, starting with the large Chat hangouts like the Virtual Water Cooler, Literary Salon, Listener Bureau, Training Hangouts, and QA Hangouts. When those groups have changed over, and everyone is comfortably using Twist, we can  move Project communication too. Starting with Literature projects, and then Textbooks. We’ll allow for a few months to complete this transition as we all get accustomed to this new tool! Once complete, we’ll have all volunteers working and chatting together in the same teams with the ability to join larger group conversations too!
 
We added a text Twist Reference Guide to our Resources page and we encourage you to watch this introductory video about Twist! 
 

 

The link to join Twist is here: https://twist.com/j/2abbc2863c6e85d3502548e77f1f59e0  Please join the conversation!

 


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.


Reading in the Time of COVID

 

Image: young girl trapped in a birdcage


 

If you’re like me, you’ve spent some of the past few months mourning the loss of various activities and freedoms thanks to the international COVID-19 emergency.  It’s been a rough time for everyone, and no one has been untouched by it.  We’re all feeling a little off-kilter, topsy-turvy, crowded and cramped, and even just plain crabby.


 

 Image: blue crab alone and cornered in the bottom of a basket






 

But then, here comes that Pollyanna of poetry, Emily Dickinson:


 

There is no frigate like a Book

To take us Lands away,

Nor any Coursers like a Page

Of prancing Poetry--

This Traverse may the poorest take

Without oppress of Toll--

How frugal is the Chariot

That bears a Human soul.




 

So, my question:  where is your reading taking you this summer?  And what do you think of it?   We’d like you to send us your own (BRIEF) book reviews--let us know what you’ve been reading, what you recommend, what you don’t.  It’s a great way to learn about new reading opportunities and learn from each other’s experiences, too.


 

Please include the following and email to me (Stacie) at sCourt@LearningAlly.org:

  • Title

  • Author

  • BRIEF review

  • Your name


 

All reviews received by July 20th will be considered for inclusion in the following week’s blog post (basically, we’ll print them all but reserve the right to edit to keep them appropriate for our audience).  Any book you've read/started to read since locking down is eligible for inclusion.  We will also print multiple reviews of the same book if received.



 

To get you started, here are a couple of sample book reviews:



 

Funny Girl: A Novel                           Nick Hornby

 

I love Nick Hornby’s writing! (in case you’re not familiar with him, among many others he also wrote High Fidelity and About a Boy)  In this book, Barbara leaves her working-class home in Blackpool, England, to follow her dream of becoming Britain’s version of Lucille Ball.  The writing is superb and the story is great, combining Hornby’s tongue-in-cheek comic sense with a nostalgic view of 1960s TV.  I kept David awake with my giggling while reading this wonderful little book.




 

Billy Budd                      Herman Melville

 

This was the shortest book I was assigned to read in high school...and the only assigned reading I did not finish.  I have since read Moby Dick and loved it, so I determined to give Billy another try  this summer.  Guess what?  I’m still not finishing it.  I find it dreary and deadly boring.  I cannot stay awake.  I did some research and discovered that even Melville himself got bored with it and never completed the book.  If he didn’t feel the need to finish it, neither do I.  Goodbye, Billy Budd.



 

Happy Reading!



 

Image: old-fashioned clipper ship with body of ship replaced by an open book, floating through a dreamy, cloudy sky


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! 


The School Year Draws To a Close

Hello Once Again Volunteers,

 

The school year, such as it was, is winding down in many places but our work continues. Maintaining a love for reading means always having a book at hand and we aim to meet that need. Whether it's summer reading assignments or just enjoying a graphic novel sitting on the porch, we want to make sure borrowers can find and access books as easily as anyone.

 

Photo of Little Free Library in Easthampton, MA

Image by John Phelan / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)


Office Hours Reminder

 

Every Thursday afternoon we have an Office Hours meeting with representatives of Learning Ally staff from the Training and Support, VHOC, Textbook, and Storyteller teams. These are open-forum online meetings without an agenda, intended to be your opportunity to ask questions about book production, but they are more than just informational sessions. Office Hours are also an opportunity to get to know one another as volunteers and people. Remote volunteering can feel isolating, especially before you've learned the ropes, so having some facetime can do a lot to remind you who we are and why we do what we do.

 

The increase in volunteers in our programs has led to us expanding the Office Hours webinars as well. We now make use of "breakout rooms" to create special subgroups for the discussion of particular topics. If you feel a general subject discussion isn't to your liking, or if you've already finished training programs and would like to talk about advanced training or user tips, you can join a breakout room for VHOC or Storyteller grads.

 

We set up our Office Hours meetings to support our trainees and recent grads, but these are not exclusive events. If you've got a free hour, feel free to visit the webinar and get to see some of the new faces

 

You can join our Office Hours Thursday afternoon at 3:30 PM Eastern Time, 12:30 PM Pacific. For links and password information, just check the Communication Lesson on any Course on the Volunteer Training Site.

 


Congratulations To Our Recent Training Grads!

 

Douglas C-K, Jeniffer R., Christine P-P., Erica B., Christopher B., Jerald H., Howie McD., Ben K., Alyssa L., Susan B., Mitchell H., Jo M., Jennifer M., Talha T., Thritha A., Audrey P., Giselle, Ann R., Almaelisa G., Sandra M., MJ J., Amandi, Andrew D-H., Kendell H., Latisha V., Jamie N., Vince R., Michelle B., Sabrina M., Sedi-Anne B., Michael W., Stacy C., Kadier C., Anita J., Kevin M.,  Wendy L., Maya N., Alinnette H., Emma N., Kristen Y., Pete J., Elizabeth W., Patricia C-D., Adrienne J., Jerry Z., Simon Y., Jessica D., Erica B., Claire T., Emily S., Carol P., Dai G., Debra S., Yvonne M., Charis G., Laura R., Aren F., Deema S., R. W., Kyle C., Stacy G., Melissa E., Irene A., Aaron H., Zoe L., Wilson A., Kyieta B., Sally H., Nicholas A., Gela A., Christopher C., Meg M., Sharon S., Olivia K., Mackenzie B., James H., Joy P., Rachel S., Dexter B., Melie V., Camari M., Sianaleen L., Shawkin K., Samantha K., Ursula M., Sadaf F., Marissa M., J. M., Christina L., Karen T., Ardent G., Pazam S., Christina W., Robin B., Maria G-J., Marty J., Chloe G., Kelly H., Arysta V., Alexa J., Chloe C., Bob A., Terrill D., Mark B., Sathya D., Riley K., Jean E., Marylou A., Claire Z., Pooh P., Paula M., Julia S., Taurin W., Cato B., Lily G., Muriel W., Emilie T., Seth McL., Claire A., Regina L., Alisha K., Rasleen D., Sara J., Kelly D.