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Volunteer Nation Blog


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

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 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


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.

Tech Tips: Literature Portal login

You may have noticed that we use a lot of Google products: Google login, Hangouts chat, Google Groups, Google Drive cloud storage of audio files, Chrome browser (recommended), etc. It is a ubiquitous platform that offers a lot of flexibility and is very low-cost for nonprofits. We understand that others have a preference for other browsers or email clients for whatever reason, but using Google makes it much easier for us to develop and maintain our production systems. Almost everyone has a Google account these days and you can create one or easily tie a different email account to a Google account as well. 


We use Google login for the Training Site, EasyBooks, and the Literature Portal. However, we see some common issues with login in the Literature Portal that we'd like to cover today. Here are the troubleshooting steps we recommend if you're not seeing what you expect in the portal, i.e., missing PDF Download button or Google Group, or nothing in the My Projects tab when you have assigned projects:

  1. Be sure you're logging in at top right with the Google account we added to the Literature community;
  2. Try logging out and back in
  3. Try using an incognito window to login and see if that helps (in Chrome PC Ctrl-Shift-N or Mac Cmd-Shift-N); if that does help, try logging out by left-clicking the profile image picture at; select Sign Out and then sign in just the account you want to use;
  4. If third-party cookies are blocked in your browser, you may be able to log in and download the PDF, but the Google Group will fail to display:
    To fix this, you need to allow third-party cookies from Google Groups:
    In Chrome, open the More action menu (3 vertical dots) at the top right of the screen and:
    - Select Settings in the drop-down menu;
    - Scroll down and press Advanced;
    - Open the Content Settings;
    - Open the Cookies Settings;
    - Under Allow, press Add; 
    - Enter and click Add; and
    - Go back to the project site in the portal and refresh the screen
We hope this helps those who have had these's an instruction sheet with more information and screenshots if you need it.

Falling in Love


Maria Luna and other teachers crowd together, celebrating with big smiles and big jazz hands


Have you ever fallen in love? As staff member Terrie Noland says, “So many feelings pop up when you fall in love!  You want to spend time get those butterflies in your stomach.”


Bilingual Literacy and Dyslexia Interventionist Maria Luna (above, with fellow staff members at Central Elementary in Lewisville, Texas) writes to us:


I have fallen in love with Learning Ally!!  I have seen it change my students’ reading lives!  They love being able to choose their own books (with a few suggestions from me ), and they also love being able to have book discussion with their peers!  I just have so many good things to say about it!


Terrie adds, “As school is kicking off around the country, we have teachers and students that can relate to those feelings of falling in love to their experience with Learning Ally.  They don’t want to be without us, they want to spend time with us and they quite possibly get butterflies in their stomach when reading so many great...titles.”


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Metrics Update for this week:


  • Our readers increased (from zero last week) to 16,545!


  • Pages read by school readers has climbed to 3,719,966!


Happy Reading, everyone!


*at frequency = students are reading books multiple times during the school year, with a general target of thirty times (more for lower grades, less for upper grades).  Our data shows that most of these students read for at least 20 minutes each time.

From the Training Center - Ed Solutions and Office Hours

Greetings Learning Ally Volunteer Trainees!

We're in the season we call "peak" around here, but the end is in sight as the new school year begins. Peak is the time of year that we see the greatest demand from our students. New and school accounts are being set up, reading lists finalized, and book requests fulfilled. It's an especially busy time for Education Solutions.  


Education Solutions

School Solutions team members huddle-up.

Learning Ally is a full-service learner support system, and that means training for teachers and software solutions for them as well. You may be acquainted with how students use our software - logging in, picking books, and downloading them - but it's our Educator Portal that lets us reach whole classrooms and schools. Teachers add books to students accounts and use that system to check up on their students' reading progress.


As you can imagine, using that system requires support and that's one of the duties of our Customer Success teams. They build relationships with teachers. They coordinate to help them set up these systems, show them how to use the systems and best practices for them and answer questions to keep things running smoothly. Right now they are hard at work with 17,000 schools across the country, changing the educational journey for our students.

If you want to know more about our solutions and support there's an entire section of the Learning Ally website devoted to the subject.



Office Hours Meetings

We've instituted a series of Office Hours Webinars. These relaxed and casual meetings are meant to give you more opportunities for facetime with Learning Ally trainers and staff, without the structure of our Volunteer Nation events. During Office Hours, you set the agenda. Bring your questions and comments to us, and we'll even let you use your microphones to ask them! You'll find the Office Hours meetings announced in the Communication section of your course on the Voltraining Website. When it's meeting time you'll find a link there to join in. 




Congratulations To Our Training Graduates

Crawford A., Nancy C-J., Etienne D.,  Mary D., Terry F M., Ariana G., Joseph G.,  Justin G., Lorraine G., Jan H., Marcia H., Scott H., Jaimi J., John J., Nick J., Janette K., Jordan K., Laura M., Sean O., Sandy P., Stephanie P., Kathy R., Richard R., Alison S., Bob S., Elizabeth S., Gary S., Jackie S., Rachel W., and Tom W.

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year


Sad brother and sister face towering shelves of school supplies while father gleefully glides through the store as he pushes the cart


Remember that old Staple’s commercial, with the father gleefully purchasing back-to-school supplies to the soundtrack of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”?  In the commercial, the children appear quite despondent, dismayed by the imminent arrival of the impending school year.  


We adults all laughed at this commercial (for a bit of nostalgia, click here to view it again:, but for many families back-to-school really is a terribly stressful time.  For about 20% of students, school is pure torture, and it makes family life difficult as well.  For those students who use Learning Ally, however, school can be more like it was for me: an exciting day filled with learning and fun.  Thanks to the work of our many volunteers, these children’s sadness can be turned to joyful expectation! Instead of automatically expecting humiliation and failure, they can anticipate another year of personal growth and success in school.


Excited and enthused young boy eagerly raises his hand in class.


As we move into the new school year (yes, schools in the South have started already!), here at Learning Ally we reset all our counters that measure the schools’ and students’ activity over the year.  So, here’s where we are:


Back to School Countdown counter image: zero days, zero hours, zero minutes, zero seconds


2,965,350 books on student bookshelves were set back to zero 


697,280 students had their reading data set back to zero


17,583 schools had their reading data set back to zero


41,129 new school year emails sent out on August 1st, with an additional 82,258 going out in the days to come


How do you want students to feel on the first day of school?  Here are some of the answers staff came up with at a Back-to-School Pep Rally last week:


Pencil-shaped word cloud with words like joyful, excited, hopeful, curious, gritty, heroic, prepared.


And it’s all possible--VERY possible--because of all the hard work staff and volunteers (YOU!) put into helping these families.  Thank you!


Happy Reading!