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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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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, 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.
Image by John Phelan / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
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.
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.
Always be Ready for Anything
It was going to be an epic adventure. We were taking a small ship cruise from New Caledonia across northern Australia up to Indonesia and finally to Singapore. Another week in Singapore would top it all off before we came home. In the middle of the trip was my husband, Steve’s birthday.
That was the plan.
We sailed from New Caledonia to Cairns Australia with no issue. Two days after leaving Cairns we were told that we were headed back, the cruise was over and we needed to find our way home as we would not be allowed to stay in Australia. That was March 13.
We flew from Australia to Singapore, over-nighted in the airport and then attempted to catch our flight's home. Singapore to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Guayaquil Ecuador. As we checked in for our flights we were told that Ecuador had closed its borders. We asked if we could make it as far as Amsterdam and then figure it out from there, especially since Singapore had made it clear we could not stay there. We arrived in Amsterdam and were welcomed. While we do live in Ecuador, we are US citizens and considered trying to get back there but that would put us at risk on yet another plane ride and when we got there we would just be in the same situation we are in here.
Amsterdam had already closed all non essential businesses until June 1, that is all museums and shopping and churches, pretty much everything except grocery stores and restaurants that are allowed to do delivery or take out. Hotel restaurants are also closed but are allowed to deliver room service to guests. It became apparent quickly that we would need a place with a kitchen. We found a vacation rental and made a reservation until April 6, when Ecuador was supposed to reopen its borders. The criteria was kitchen and washer/dryer. We were near the end of our stay in this rental and it did not look like we were going home anytime soon, so we found another more comfortable place. We moved there on April 6. There is a beautiful park nearby that I anticipate many walks in. We initially packed for a tropical vacation, not March in the Netherlands, so we picked up some warm souvenirs rather quickly.
Our days are a mixture of watching the news, I have always been a news watcher and this crisis is not something I can turn away from, and focused distraction. We started walking around to Amsterdam's attractions and taking photos outside them. It is a beautiful city and the citizens are taking social distancing very seriously, we do as well, and are doing all we can to keep ourselves and others around us safe. Facetime has been a great way to stay in touch with our loved ones during this time, technology is fantastic.
As I said, groceries are open, but they only allow a certain amount of people at a time inside. The stores have the allowed number of baskets at the front door, when you go inside you pick up a basket, if there are no baskets, you wait until there is one. Once someone pays for their purchases, the basket is cleaned and placed back at the door. If you need to wait outside you stand in a 1.5 meter apart queue.
One of the best things for me personally throughout this situation has been projects I am working on with Learning Ally. I can DO something and feel good about doing it. I feel that it is something that helps me maintain my sanity, so thank you all for that! I attended the recent webinar (It was 10:00 pm here) and that was wonderful for me to feel connected. Bonus, I now know how to green screen my Zoom background, thanks Russell.
I am currently acting as listener for a few literature books.
“The Poet X” which is being narrated by Krysta Gonzalez is a true joy! Krysta is absolutely lighting up this performance and I want every young woman in the world to hear it, especially latinas!
“Lu” is being narrated by Gregory Jacques and is the third in the track series that I have worked on. Just started, but I have high hopes!
“The Sacrifice of Sunshine Girl” narrated by Rebecca Carter is an awesome and fun YA syfy type book that is going to give a lot of readers fantastic distraction.
“The Big Game” narrated by Jacob Lindsey is a coming of age, while playing football and trying to step out of your fathers shadow story. Jacob is hitting all parts gloriously.
“Cilla Lee-Jenkins Future Author Extraordinaire” narrated by Victoria Rivera is such a fun book, it has made me laugh out loud a couple of times and I have made Steve listen to passages just because it is so cute. A lot of that is thanks to Victoria really making this character pop!
“Five Feet Apart” narrated by Holly Russo and William Wright is a love story between two teens with cystic fibrosis. I don’t think I will make it through this one dry eyed, especially because Holly and William are really bringing it with their performances.
I don’t know how much longer we will be here, but I do know that I am so fortunate to have my Learning Ally projects to keep my mind active and give me a sense of contribution.
Did I mention we wanted an epic adventure?
Jerry started volunteering with Learning Ally 18 years ago back in 2002, but has been reading audiobooks for the blind since the mid 1960s. Jerry got his start in recording audiobooks when he joined the St. Louis public library’s recording studio. For his first project, Jerry was given a book, a stack of cassettes, and off he went! He continued his narration when working as a professor at California State University in Long Beach, the Monterey Society for the Blind, and later Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, now known as Learning Ally.
One of Jerry’s favorite memories from working in the Learning Ally studio was meeting the students who stopped in to share their stories. He recalls one student saying: “I was nine in the third grade. I couldn’t read. The teacher thought I had problems; the kids thought I was dumb; I thought I was dumb. Now I am a doctoral student in anthropology.” Jerry said that inspiring stories like these were accomplishments he wanted to share in.
When Learning Ally made its shift to recording online, Jerry went with them. When asked what motivates him to continue to volunteer with Learning Ally, Jerry recalled a lesson he learned from his mother. “My mother always inculcated in me the idea that you don’t do everything for yourself. People do things for you; your dentist, your car mechanic. So you do something for somebody else. I feel privileged that I have the education and the voice to be able to do this for somebody else.” Since narrating audiobooks, Jerry says he has become more aware of the blind and dyslexic community and the people who depend on audiobooks for their education, livelihood and quality of life.
Jerry offered a piece of advice and encouragement for Learning Ally volunteers. He said: “Stop and think about this whole idea that we exchange gifts in life. I can’t fix my car, I can’t fix my teeth, but I can read for people who cannot read and they will do something for me in the long run. They will be that doctor of anthropology or historian for me. We are all in this together. We are dependent on each other. We don’t go this alone. It’s a gift that we shouldn’t turn away. We should use the gifts we have.”
Thank you Jerry for 300 books, 6,000+ hours, and 100,000+ pages. You are inspiring!
On April 21st we had a very special Volunteer Nation Live event in celebration of Volunteer Appreciation Week. We were able to feature several students and teachers who use Learning Ally books in their schools who shared their stories of learning and growth with audiobooks, as well as answering questions from our volunteers in attendance. If you missed the event we strongly urge you take the time to watch the recording on our Resources Page.
We drive ourselves by asking Why: Why do we make the time and the effort to provide our services and resources? And we get our answer every time we see the people who benefit from our work. It's a beautiful reminder that we're doing more than making books - we're improving lives; offering success to people who would otherwise be forced to struggle. We bring out our best and afford others the chance to do the same.
One of the results of having so many new volunteers (over 100 training graduates this month) as well as volunteers with extra time to donate, is that we are actually experiencing a shortage of work in some places. While it's exciting to see that we are not falling behind on deadlines, we are also fielding many requests for book project assignments, particularly in QA and in Storyteller narration. If you are looking for a project in those areas, we suggest you use the contact forms for Learning Ally staff assistance, such as the Assignment Request form for Storytellers. We can earmark an appropriate book or project for you before we even list it in the catalog.
Please note however, we are still limited by staff hours and book acquisition budgets. We have had to establish a "waiting list" of sorts for high-demand subjects or large casting pools. We thank you for your patience as we try to keep up with demand. Remember that we are always working to meet the needs of our students, as well as those of our volunteers.
One way to help our Storyteller volunteers find more projects to record is to diversify your Learning Ally narrator skills. If you are a Storyteller narrator interested in helping us record textbooks, we've prepared a special course designed to fast-track experienced narrators with lessons on the specialized reading conventions and best practices for textbook narration. If you are interested in participating in this program please contact the volunteer training and support team by emailing email@example.com. If you are uncertain or curious about textbook projects, why not take a look through the catalog of books in production. You'll see that a wide range of subjects and grade levels are available.
Kourtney I., Trudi D., Luke B., Rohan B., BASIL G. S., Esme S., John B., Liza C., Rene R-R., Kylah F., Edita K., Sarah C., Julie M., Divyanshi S., Hermione P., neha K., Becky R., Colleen A-F., Ben H., Meredith S., Tim S., Chris G., Justin S., Hisham G., Arthur Q., Andy G-R., Latifah M., Carol B., Allison H., Shelby S., Laureanne P., David T S., Shaila M., Beverley H., Meghan L, Christopher C., Amy Z., Jaren J., Jennifer C., Ankitha S., Doris L-T., Oyindamola O., True T., Maureen D., Leslie E., JM J., Theo S., Estelle T., Lisa W., Heather S., Izzy L., April F., Richard K., Kai W., Jessica H., Kelly D., Ivy R., Swethaa R., Jenny S., Kathy O., Bo K., Belinda L., Mark C., Althea B., Priya K., Shyamala C., Anna C., AHUVA S., Haley K., Christina L., Richelle F., Janice O., Shayla B., Narineh S., Yvo S., khardema, Siya B., Smriti D., Jessica H., Michelle G., Edward B., F R., JM J., Erin C., Lisa W., Robyn W., Gustavo F., Mary A., Seattle S., Janet B., tolulope A., Neya G., Katie M., Abbie G., Sthiti P., Robert W., Mark C., Jennifer C., Belinda S L., Gary M., Maria F., Freya S., Rosalyn G., Becky C B., Lisa W., Dan E., Naomi P., Barbara F., Robert W., Shyamala B C., Alexis M., Melanie W., Heidi F., Wendy T., Sandra R., Zachary K-S.,
With National Volunteer Week (April 19-25, 2020) right around the corner, we want to thank and recognize you all for the tremendous impact you’ve had on students who struggle to read. Since the start of the school year, 231,067 students have listened to over 118 million pages of Learning Ally audiobooks.
What’s even more amazing is the impact our audiobooks solution has had in just the last month as schools across the country have closed and moved to remote learning due to COVID-19. Of the 231,067 students reading, over 23,000 (10%) read their first pages since March 6th. And of the 118 million pages read, over 19 million (16%) were read since March 6th.
This would all not be possible without the effort you have all put in. Since July 1, 2019, we’ve had 624 volunteers donate a total of 47,000 hours -- an average of 75 hours per volunteer! Over 6,700 (14%) of these hours were donated in March. We appreciate how you all have stepped up during this time of need.
Thanks again to all of you! Our students need you.
You’re reading along, either as a Narrator/Reader or a Listener/Checker, and suddenly you run into something you’re not sure about, something that doesn’t seem to be covered in your Project Guidelines. It’s 10:00 Saturday night and you’re pretty sure all the staff are off-duty. What should you do?
Write a long rant in the Hangout or Google Group, complaining about the ridiculous state of education in our country.
Just make a guess; you’re pretty smart, anyway.
Check out the Resources Tab at the Volunteer Portal.
Quit and never respond to any communications from staff ever again.
Well, you probably ARE pretty smart...but if you are, you will choose C. The Resources Tab at the Volunteer Portal can be your best friend in tricky situations. So, let’s take a look at it together; we’ll give a brief overview of each section. NOTE: you do not need to be a member of any specific community to explore that community’s links. You never know what useful information you’ll find!
The Textbook Community section includes a variety of very useful documents, ranging from conventions and helpful guides to forms:
Computer and Code Guidelines: directions for computer-related items like reading code, how to announce various symbols within code, etc.
Conventions Wiki: the general guidelines for Textbook Community projects
Famous Names and Places: great tips on how to research the pronunciations of famous names and places; this document includes all kinds of helpful links to sites specific to occupations and locations around the world.
Figure Description Crib Sheets: instructions for reading all those pesky non-text items like tables, vo-tech figures, and the dreaded infographic.
Foreign Language Wiki: TWO SECTIONS: (1) conventions for the Foreign Language Community; and (2) resources for pronunciations of words in many different foreign languages, ranging from Amharic and Punjabi to Lithuanian and Lang Belta, as well as a section on science terminology (because science is a language of its own).
Law Links: hints for learning how to say all those convoluted abbreviations used in legalese.
Math Reading Guidelines: does your history book suddenly, bizarrely, have a math equation in it? Try this document to learn how to read that unholy aberration.
Science Terms and Conventions: Did the authors of the writing style guide you’re reading use examples from a science text? Go to this document for help with that situation.
Writing/Style Guide Conventions: all we have on reading those crazy writing and style guides.
Checking Instructions: examples of good versus bad wave forms and instructions for leaving kind yet informative notes to Narrators/Readers.
Project Guidelines Help Sheet: help for learning what is meant by the various terminology used in your Project Guidelines.
Recommended Equipment list: equipment recommendations from Textbook Community staff
Upcoming Absence form: form to let staff know when you’ll be absent for more than a day or two.
The Literature Community also has some useful links:
Audition Reminders: directions for submitting an audition for a Lit project
Book Trailer Request form: application to have staff create a trailer from your completed Lit project
Literature Conventions: general reading conventions for Lit projects
Literature Fast-track Summary & FAQ: information for Narrators working outside of EasyBooks
Narrators: instructions for Narrators
Listeners: instructions for Listeners
Recommended Equipment list: equipment recommendations from the Lit Community staff
Software & Apps: just what you think it would be
Welcome to webEB!: gives EasyBook users a look at the differences between the two
webEB Reference Guide: place to go to access directions and links for using our new web-based software: no more worry about what type of computer you use, or all the files building up on your device!
EasyBooks for PC Reference Guide: guide to all things EasyBooks
EasyBooks (PC): instructions for EasyBooks for PC; includes link to latest version
Google Hangouts Extension install link: link to install Google Hangouts
Adobe Reader install link: link to install Adobe Reader
Chrome install link: link to install Chrome
General: a catch-all for some items that didn’t fit in the other categories:
Common Abbreviations: directions for reading a variety of abbreviations
Reference Links: links to online dictionaries, etc.
Try out LAABS!: directions for using the Learning Ally Audio Book Solution--check out the user experience on the books you’ve worked on
Volunteer Submitted photo album: a place for volunteers to share photos
Meet the Team: image and brief audio for each staff member
Hangouts: document with links to various Hangouts for meeting other volunteers and staff
Volunteer Nation Live! Events: links to the all the VNL webinars
Training Resources: Links to a variety of Mini-Lesson, Videos, and Documents; in the top paragraph there is a link to the Virtual Training Center
So, as you can see: even when staff are off-duty, you’re never far from a source of help! Dive into this tab full of great resources, and see what you find.
Cynthia Hamburger, COO and CIO of Learning Ally led a webinar to explain, in detail, what actions we are taking, and have already taken, to provide for our students and balance our business model. With school closures and more students learning at home, the usage of our Learning Ally Audiobook Solution has surged over ten times the numbers we saw last year. As schools recognize the importance and value of our learning tools, we are extending trial periods and contracts with those schools so that they can continue to offer our valuable solutions to students whose semesters have been disrupted.
For more information, as well as an explanation of how we are revising fundraising needs and our "sales" plan to reach new students, you can watch a recording of the full webinar presentation on the Resources page of the Learning Ally Volunteer site.
In times of difficulty we are always happy to see people rise to the challenge and give what help they can. And with the present conditions keeping many people at home, volunteer opportunities like our online book production have become an excellent way to help struggling learners. Not only are our volunteers continuing the educations of our students, they are providing more books to keep them engaged with reading and entertained in the hours when they most need the comfort of a good book and a friendly voice.
We have seen a massive increase in volunteer activity, with new volunteer applications at 250% what they were this same time last year. Our training programs and meetings are full of new names, new faces, and new voices.
All Learning Ally staff are now working from home. Fortunately, the online nature of our volunteering opportunity means our Production department has needed minimal adaptation to make this transition. Still, we are adjusting hours, availability, and workflow to support a large number of people with training and support needs in a very short time. We thank you for your patience and understanding as our efficient little team works to keep us all online and active.
If you have questions or concerns, be sure to reach out through the Volunteer Portal, Volunteer Training Site, Google Hangouts and Groups, and other channels.