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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


Why is Logging Hours important?

We get asked often, why logging hours is important. To help answer, here are some ways the data is used in managing our volunteer program. 

 

  • Volunteer Recognition! We appreciate everything you do. This data helps us recognize milestones and outstanding service!
  • Program Health. We can use this data to evaluate the health of our volunteer program. We can see the effort that goes into audiobook production and other Learning Ally initiatives that volunteers support. We can project how many new audiobooks we can produce during a year, measure volunteer retention, and build recruitment plans to grow and fill areas of need. 
  • Reporting. The value of your donated service is required in our financial reporting. We can also provide reports, when requested, to companies that give to nonprofits where their staff volunteers, and to foundations that are interested in our volunteer program.

 

Some cool numbers based on logged hours that you might find interesting. From July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019, we had 604 volunteers donate a total of 57,143 hours to Learning Ally -- an average of almost 95 hours per volunteer! Many in more than one role…

 

  • 244 volunteers donated 12,373 hours Narrating new audiobooks in the Literature Community.
  • 94 volunteers donated 5,241 hours Listening and checking those new audiobooks for our Literature Community.
  • 61 volunteers donated 452 hours performing Quality Assurance testing on audiobooks completed in the Literature Community.
  • 216 volunteers donated 24,034 hours Reading new textbooks.
  • 201 volunteers donated 10,436 hours Checking those new textbooks for the Instructional Text Community.
  • 141 new volunteers donated another 1,738 hours of Checking as part of our Virtual Hands-on Center (VHOC).
  • 36 volunteers donated 2,248 hours performing Pre-production tasks for the Instructional Text Community. This included tasks like ToCTool, writing project guidelines, and PDF bookmarking for textbook production.
  • 17 volunteers donated 115 hours providing Career Development Support to graduating Blind or Visually Impaired students from our College Success Program.

 

Gathering volunteer service hours is not unique to Learning Ally. This is something that most volunteer programs do, especially those of our size. However, speaking for Learning Ally on the subject, without you logging hours, we would not be able to truly understand or recognize the work and effort that you all put into providing students with the tools they need to succeed. With that in mind, I will finish with text straight from our Recognition Page on our Volunteer Nation Community Portal:

 

You matter. You make a difference.

 

Your great generosity has had a profound and lasting impact on our students. Your willingness to share both your time and your talent says a lot about each of you as human beings. Your willingness to give selflessly to help others speaks to both your strength and the quality of your character.
 

When you volunteer, you are making a commitment to share that most precious of resources – your time – to make life better for those who are in need. The fruits of your labors make a tangible impact, of course, but perhaps it is the fact that you are willing to share your time and talent to lend a helping hand and to show kindness and caring that makes the greatest difference in the lives of the individuals who learn to love reading from listening to the audiobooks YOU help produce.
 

While we know that you choose to volunteer selflessly and without expectation of being recognized or rewarded, we want to take the time to let you know just how much your dedication is appreciated and to make sure you know that everyone at Learning Ally is forever grateful to each of you. Whether you are a long-time volunteer or if you got involved fairly recently, and regardless of how many hours you choose to give, it’s important for you to know that what you do makes a difference.
 

Words cannot adequately express the gratitude that we wish to express. Please know that your service is recognized, appreciated, valued and cherished. We thank you and look forward to continuing to work with you in the future.
 


Literature Books Completed in July, 2019

The Literature Community finished recording 80 books in July, 2019! Thank you all for all the hard work.


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.  

 


From The Training Center - How To Use This Course

Hello Learning Ally Volunteer Trainees,

Schools are opening all across the country once again, and teachers and students are settling in to their new year's routine. Likewise, we have some volunteers returning to our training programs along with our new arrivals. 

 

Getting Around the Training Lessons

 

So you've signed up to volunteer and got sent a link to a training site. What now? Well, the good news is that the site begins with a lesson on lessons. So, start reading! (You'll be doing an awful lot of reading as a Learning Ally volunteer, so you may as well start now.) One of the most important things you'll find is a short (less than five minute) video: How To Use This Course. If you don't see it right away, just scroll down the page a little. The following image is what one of these videos looks like and they can be found in the Textbook and Storyteller courses in our Virtual Training Center.

 

 

 

The training video will explain the different parts of the lessons, what kind of content you'll find there, how to complete lessons and move forward. Note that some of the steps are automatically completed by reading lessons, watching videos, and interacting with links, but there are some steps (like auditions) that require feedback from a staff member or peer reviewer. 

 

Need more information? Visit the Course Resources page for Textbook or Storyteller training. It's a library of documents and links that we'll refer to throughout our training program. 

 

Office Hours

 

Don't forget, Learning Ally staff are online to answer your questions live on alternating Wednesdays at 2 PM EST. You'll find links, and more information on the training site.

 

Congratulations to Our Training Graduates

 

William C., Tammy L., Suzanne M., Shiou-Yun L., Sally W., Patrick M., Misty R., Marli W., Lorraine G., Lora R., Linda W., Kelly G., Kay A., Kathy O., Kari W., John C., James T., Gary C., Daoud B., Christine W., Chelle C., Blake V., Beth K., Asha L., April C., Andrea H., Amy S., Amy B., Alex M., A. B., Timothy S., Rebecca D., Emma M. 


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. 


WOW! What Great Staff!

 

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WOW!  Learning Ally staff members are so great!  What is it that makes us so terrific?


 

Maybe it’s our WOWs: Ways of Working.  A set of guidelines for positive action, we refer to them and incorporate them into all our personal and organizational goals.  By following the WOWs, we all work together to make Learning Ally a great place to work and volunteer.


 

Maybe you’d like to consider adding some or all of our WOWs to your own toolbox?  Here they are for you to ponder:


 

a. Focus on customer needs as we embrace continuous change.

b. Project ahead to find and deliver on the changes that need to be made.

c. Find the meaning in the data.

d. Make fact-based decisions and remain aligned with those decisions until a new case is made and a new decision is reached.

e. Ask how we can do it better, consistently and often.

f. Display bravery and be comfortable standing up and taking an unpopular view on issues.

g. Assume positive intent.

h. Communicate truthfully, candidly, and constructively.

i. Demonstrate concern for all functions and see the organization as one.

j. Acknowledge and celebrate team efforts and wins.

k. Address issues with each other directly before taking them up with others.

l. Set clear expectations and define everyone’s role (ownership) for achievement.

m. Ensure the right people are in the room when making decisions.

n. Regularly ask for and give feedback.

o. Openly acknowledge mistakes, seek solutions, and not blame.



 

Some of these WOWs seem so obvious, but others maybe not so much depending on your personal background and the experiences you’ve had.  Confession time: I grew up in a very negative household. A few years ago, when a member of our Senior Leadership Team told me, “Assume positive intent”, it hit me like a thunderbolt.  I was stunned. At that moment, I realized all my life I had assumed negative intent, and it had colored so many of my experiences as an adult. I have been grateful to that person ever since then for taking the time to tell me that, and am pleased to see it as a part of our WOWs.  Just that one WOW has had such an impact on me personally; imagine how incorporating ALL of them can create positive, dynamic change in all of us?


 

Pick a WOW and try it on for size.  I bet you’ll like it.