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


A New Era

 

Image: entryway of Learning Ally Athens Studio, with colorful Learning Ally banner hanging from ceiling just inside the door


On October 29th, I handed over the keys to the Learning Ally Athens (Georgia) Studio to the University of Georgia.  A bittersweet moment, it marked the end of more than fifty years of Learning Ally on the UGA campus.  Fifty-plus years of love, laughter, and friendship, and many, many books recorded in several formats.  I thought you might be interested in reading about the why and how this came to happen.

 

First, some background:  back in 1953 Learning Ally (then Recording For the Blind) first organized a chapter at UGA, moving from building to building as University and Learning Ally needs changed.  By the 1960s it became clear a permanent space was needed.  Volunteers at the time worked hard, wheeled and dealed, and got the Callaway Foundation to agree to donate the money to construct a building for us if the University would loan the land.  In the end, Learning Ally paid $1 for a 99-year lease.  We were responsible for all utilities and maintenance inside the building, while the University covered maintenance costs from the studs-out.  The Athens Studio was completed in 1967.

 

Plaque with text:  This building is a gift from Callaway Foundation, Inc. LaGrange, Georgia  to the University of Georgia for work of The Athens Unit of Recording for the Blind, Inc. Erected 1967.


 

So, for fifty years we recorded in that studio space, bringing in a cadre of volunteers who represented the great variety of the population of Athens.  University professors, homemakers, business professionals, school teachers, college students, blue-collar workers, local celebrities and even some homeless people: they all came through the studio and volunteered, supporting the work we were so well-known for.  University and community groups got involved as well, especially the Lions Clubs, the Kiwanis Clubs, the Junior League of Athens, Delta Gamma sorority, and First Book UGA.


 

Two plaques on a recording booth door:  (1) manufacturer's logo and contact information; (2) Digital Booth Converrsion funded by the Lions Club International Foundation and the Lions of Georgia, 2001-2002




 

Over the years our recording equipment and methods changed drastically, and our use of the studio space changed as well.  In the 2000s, while still using VRW software in the studio, we also began using GABR software, developed here in Athens by staff member Fred Smith.  GABR allowed some volunteers to work from home.  GABR was the precursor to EasyBooks (also developed here in Athens by Jay and Eleanor Cotton), which really opened the door to Learning Ally’s entry into the world of virtual recording.


 

As many of you know, we took all of our production completely virtual in 2017.  While closing nearly every other studio in the country, we held onto the Athens Studio as we observed and assessed the effectiveness of our move to virtual production.  While the majority of local volunteers began working from home, I continued hosting events with UGA and community groups, and area Lions continued to come in each month to record their national magazine.



 

Even before the issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw that our move to virtual was the right way to go: we’ve been able to involve even more volunteers from all over the country (and the WORLD!), and we’ve created even more audiobooks than we had in studio-based production years at a much lower cost.  


 

Since the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve found we’re even more efficient and effective than even we thought, and the reality is that we just do not need the studio space any more.  All of the events and activities we did at the studio can be handled online.  


 

Although Learning Ally paid no rent for the space, the Athens Studio cost us about $30,000 a year to maintain (utilities, repairs, maintenance of equipment, insurance, etc. all adds up).  While we loved the space and hated saying goodbye to the folks at UGA, we simply could not in good conscience continue spending that much money on what amounted to nostalgia.  It’s just not good stewardship of the funds so generously given, especially when those funds could be put towards our many wonderful programs that directly benefit blind and dyslexic students, their families, and their teachers every day.


 

Because of COVID restrictions, I couldn’t just bring in a bunch of local volunteers and staff to come in and have a clean-out party (too bad, that would have been nice!).  So, the first thing I did was bring in local staff (and some helpful spouses) to sort through various categories of items: electronics, paperwork, furnishings, etc.  Masked and distanced, we each went through our assigned areas and made determinations about the future of fifty-plus years’ worth of STUFF (imagine going through the home after the death of a crazy uncle, one who collected late-model computer and recording equipment, and never threw anything away).


 

Next, I brought in local volunteers and supporters, one at a time, and offered them items that I thought might have personal significance to them.  For example, one of our booths had a plaque dedicating it to the memory of a woman named Ellen.  I was able to contact her daughter, Deirdre, and she came in to receive the plaque.  Ellen had died when Deirdre was a young child, and Deirdre had many memories of coming to the studio with her father to see the wonderful work being done in her mother’s memory.  She was so grateful to receive the plaque.



 

Eleanor Cotton helped me get in touch with the family of volunteer emerita Ellen Hanna, who was instrumental in having the studio built all those years ago.  Ellen was terminally ill this fall  but we were able to give her family awards she had garnered and art work she had lent the studio.  The Hanna family was so happy to have these mementos of the life’s work of their beloved mother and grandmother.  Note: Ellen died soon afterwards; see the November 25, 2020 blog:  https://learningally.org/Solutions-for-School/Educator-Blog/in-gratitude-to-ellen-hanna-lifelong-volunteer






 

The next step was to separate out the tech equipment that needed to be shipped to Princeton, and that which we could donate to a local charity.  Once that was done, local volunteer Elizabeth DeLaney Hoffman helped me transport items to be donated.

 

Image: trunk of car, filled to the brim with computers, backup batteries, keyboards, etc.



 

Many, many hours were spent boxing up, weighing, and shipping computer monitors, cables, routers, etc. back to Princeton.  (and returning to the store for more tape, more boxes, more bubble wrap, etc.)

 

Image: more than a dozen computer monitors, waiting to be packed and shipped back to Princeton




 

I was distressed about the many years of memorabilia: plaques, photographs, scrapbooks, etc.  Because we had been on the UGA campus for so long, I reached out to the folks at the Special Collections Library to see if they would want any of it.  I didn’t really expect them to want any of it...but they did!  It was such a good feeling to pass it all on to their safekeeping, and to know that the information would be there in the archives, available to anyone looking to research Learning Ally’s presence in Athens.

 

Image: one of several carts full of scrapbooks, logbooks, recordings, photographs, etc.



In addition, we had paintings of significant local interest: they had been done by Irene Dodd, the daughter of Lamar Dodd, for whom the UGA School of Art is named.  I was very pleased to pass those valuable artworks on to the school for its collection.

 

Image: abstract oil painting by Irene Dodd, with strong lines and thick impasto, all with muted colors and no discernable figures


 

As you can imagine, there was a LOT of paperwork to go through.  I am very grateful to volunteers Caren Snook and Elizabeth DeLaney Hoffman for their help with this task.  We were able to recycle a lot, but there were still bags and bags of shredded documents, much of which I used to pack items going back to Princeton.


Local staff and volunteers were given the opportunity to take home furnishings, shelving, etc., and the rest was donated to a local nonprofit for its thrift store.  Many thanks go to staff member Christine Hoffman and her husband Chris Sparnicht, and my husband, David Court, who all came to help load the thrift store truck.

 

Image: one of several truckloads heading to Project Safe; the panel truck is filled to the top with file cabinets, chairs, desks, artwork, etc.



 

In all, we donated:

  • 2 ½ truckloads of furnishings to the nonprofit Project Safe to help families working their way out of crisis; 

  • 2 packed-to-the-gills carloads of technical and office equipment to the nonprofit Free IT Athens to help low-income families and new small businesses with access to affordable technology; 

  • 50+ years of scrapbooks, programs, recordings, and other memorabilia to the UGA Special Collections Libraries;

  • 2 paintings by Irene Dodd to the UGA Lamar Dodd School of Art;

  • several commemorative plaques to family members of those commemorated


 

I threw out as absolutely little as possible, recycling and gifting as much as I could.


 

As part of our closure, UGA made a $25,000 donation to Learning Ally, money that will further help us in our mission.  We are all so grateful for the relationship we’ve had with the University.  I know this will not be the end; it will be interesting to see how the relationship transforms over the years to come.


Sometime next year, the University will raze the building and the lot will become an extension of the parking deck next door.  As it is directly across from the Special Collections Library, I expect, like many local staff and volunteers, to park there in the future when I attend events at the Library, and remember our days on campus fondly.


 

Image: UGA Special Collections Library, a majestic building in red brick with columns.  Hidden off to the left and across the street is the Learning Ally Athens Studio, a humble one-story yellow-brick building.


Reading in the Time of COVID Part 2

 

Woman comfortably reading in a well-stocked library while lounging on a leather sofa


 

         To recap:  

 

 

 

Last month I whined about not getting to go on all my planned trips this year (the Pollyanna in me thinks:  HEY!  When this is all over, I have MONDO e-credits with Delta and AirBnB!  YIPPEE!)

 

I also asked YOU:  while you’ve been semi- or fully-quarantined, what have you been reading?  Where have you been going in your “book time”? 

 

I invited you to submit your own mini-reviews of books you’ve read (for Learning Ally OR for pleasure)...and here are some that I’ve received since then.

 

If you’d like your book recommendations/reviews/pans to be posted next month, please include the following and email to me (Stacie) at sCourt@LearningAlly.org:

  • Title

  • Author

  • BRIEF review

  • Your name


 

Enjoy!




 

book cover: Redhead by the Side of the Road, Anne Tyler: silhouette of man jogging with a city skyline in the background

 

Redhead by the Side of the Road    

Anne Tyler 

submitted by volunteer Caren Snook

 

 

I enjoyed Anne Tyler’s latest, Redhead by the Side of the Road.  If you're thinkin' that's a person, you'll be surprised! The story revolves around the adult life of the youngest child, and only son, of a haphazard family. For some reason, he just doesn't quite fit in.




 

Book cover: Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America's Most Storied Hospital, David Oshinsky; image of front gates of Bellevue Hospital

 

 

Bellevue, Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital

David Oshinksy

Submitted by volunteer Beira Winter

 

I had already started Bellevue before the COVID-19 pandemic started.  I chose it because Bellevue Hospital’s roots pre-date the American Revolution.  The story of this public hospital presents US history through the lens of public health, sanitation, and medicine.  As the extended title hints, there are plenty of personalities, politics, and prejudice; not just the challenges like distinguishing medical care from butchery and quackery, treating mental illness, training women as nurses, and that all people, not just the wealthy, should have access to good medical care.  

Since Bellevue is a public hospital, it has been on the frontline of battles against everything from gruesome Civil War injuries, to addressing public health issues of Cholera and Typhoid, to the full spectrum of care for minorities and poor New Yorkers, as well as national epidemics including Spanish Flu, Polio, AIDS and SARS.  The chapters addressing AIDS and SARS were haunting, as I adjusted to COVID 19 quarantine. 

It’s a big book, but the pages fly by as the stories unfold.   I found it very engaging and thought provoking.   



 

Book cover: David Baldacci: Walk the Wire; image of two people walking a lonely desert road, with an abandoned car on the side of the road

 

Walk the Wire     

David Baldacci

submitted by volunteer Caren Snook

 

I made myself plod through Walk the Wire, by David Baldacci, because the library had made it possible for me to put it on hold, download it, and read it on my tablet. Otherwise, I wouldn't have bothered. Baldacci was at his best when he wrote the Camel Club series, but his new characters are not very interesting.





 

Book cover: Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot; image of older woman in widow's weeds standing to greet a man being shown into her living room by the maid

 

The Idiot

Fyodor Dostoevsky   

submitted by volunteer Brian Hill

 

I'm not ALL the way through it yet, but I can report that I'm enjoying it greatly.  I became interested in translations a couple of years ago (never really thought of it before) when I happened upon Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. To be honest I think I find translations easier to read (mostly) than earlier time period British writers, probably mostly because they have been often translated by modern scholars. 

 

What I find enjoyable about the Russian writers is their almost microscopic look at ordinary interactions and relationships.  We're all aware of all of the detailed nuances of interpersonal relationships, but having them described in such original and really, eye opening ways has been a real joy for me. 

 

I AM going to have to double back though, and I know I'll enjoy it even more the second time (get all the multiple names and perhaps backgrounds of peripheral characters straight).  I was so friggin animated last night just reading a seemingly simple description of our hero being walked to the front door by one of the hosts (albeit a somewhat special one) and the conversation they had.along the way.  I was laughing, whooping, re-reading and eventually read the whole few pages over again, to my great delight. The guy will bring to the top of your mind things you probably are subconsciously aware of, but haven't put into words. He puts it into words and so makes you more aware of...the human condition I guess. 

 

Nothing 'Idiotic' about this book, and better than hearing 'social distance' (isn't that an oxymoron) fifty thousand times!

 

 

 

 

Book cover: John Sandford: Masked Prey, The Global Bestseller; image of Jefferson Monument from the reflecting pond

 

Masked Prey     

John Sandford

submitted by volunteer Caren Snook

 

John Sandford's latest, Masked Prey, is a page turner, of course. Lucas Davenport is in Washington, DC this time. Unfortunately, the plot is entirely believable, which makes it worrisome.





 

 

 

Book cover: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, Kim Michele Richardson; image of old-timey country woman sitting in a chair and holding a stack of books in her lap

Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

Kim Michele Richardson

Submitted by volunteer Beira Winter

 

I knew nothing about the depression-era Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project.  It was a depression-era program that paid people, mostly women, to be traveling librarians, delivering free books and magazines to people in the isolated areas of the Appalachian Mountains.  

Richardson brings the program to life by creating an isolated mountain community and a “Blue” woman, Cussie May Carter, as her central character.  Through Cussie and other traveling librarians,  Richardson presents the dedication of the mule-riding librarians and the challenges they faced.  She also introduces readers to the prejudices and real dangers faced by an overlooked minority, “Blues,” white people born with a genetic mutation that produces blue-tinged skin.  

Richardson waits until the end of the book to address the realities of misguided medical attempts to “cure” Blues like Cussie of their skin color.  It was easy to identify with Cussie’s passion for books and her determination to bring the world to her isolated neighbors through the books in her saddlebags.  





 

Book poster: Stephen King Reads from If It Bleeds; image of Stephen King holding book, which has an angry-looking black cat's face on the front

If It Bleeds      

Stephen King

submitted by volunteer Caren Snook

 

 

Stephen King's latest, If It Bleeds, is a collection of short fiction. The title novella features PI Holly, who is a main character in several of King's recent books. My favorite was "The Life of Chuck", an amazing short story.






 

Book cover: The Library Book, Susan Orlean, Author of The Orchid Thief; book is a deep red with gold striping and an image of a flame in the middle

The Library Book

Susan Orlean

Submitted by staff member Stacie Court

 

On April 29, 1986, I was teaching French I and Introduction to Foreign Languages at two public middle schools in Newport News, Virginia.  I came from a military family, I had met my husband in AFROTC, he was stationed at Langley AFB, and most of the children I taught were either Navy, Air Force, or Army dependents.  Most of the stories focused on by area news stations and print outlets focused on military-related stories, so I rarely knew of much else going on across the country.

 

I had no idea that while I was teaching seventh and eighth graders to conjugate verbs, the Central Library in Los Angeles, California, was burning...and so many lives were changing.

 

Susan Orlean’s book is not only a real eye-opener about the event, but it is very interesting to read during this time rampant with so many things seemingly beyond our control.  Orlean talks about everything--EVERYTHING--she can think of related to the burning and its aftermath.  At one point she even describes her own experience of burning a book while researching this event: she felt compelled to experience the burning of a book, but couldn’t bring herself to burn any that she thought of--the idea was total anathema.  Then, she found the perfect book, and burned it.

 

This is a story of many details, many books, and many people, but Orlean is able to weave it into an easy narrative, bringing us into the heartbreak and desolation experienced by the Los Angeles librarians (and the mourning of librarians the world over), as well as the hard work of the thousands of volunteers who helped bring the library back to life.  She also helps us feel just a little bit of that debt we all owe to libraries and their patrons everywhere (including Athens, Georgia, where I borrowed this book from the public library).


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


Resources Tab at the Volunteer Portal: An Overview

 

man sitting at computer writing down information on a piece of paper

 

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?

 

  1. Write a long rant in the Hangout or Google Group, complaining about the ridiculous state of education in our country.

  2. Just make a guess; you’re pretty smart, anyway.

  3. Check out the Resources Tab at the Volunteer Portal.

  4. 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!



 

Image of Textbook Community set of links     Stack of college textbooks, ranging from Cellular Biology and Sociology to a Latin textbook



 

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.

 

 

  • 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.

 

 

  • 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.

 

 

  • Checking Instructions: examples of good versus bad wave forms and instructions for leaving kind yet informative notes to Narrators/Readers.

 

 

 




 

Image of Lit Community list of links      Bookcases packed full of literature books, titles not legible


 

The Literature Community also has some useful links:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 






 

Image of Software and Apps list of links         Image of various Google links on a computer screen

 

Software & Apps:  just what you think it would be

 

 

  • 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 (PC):  instructions for EasyBooks for PC; includes link to latest version

 

 

 





 

Explorer in a pith helmet, hiding in a bush as he looks into the distance through a set of binoculars     Image of the General section's links

 

General: a catch-all for some items that didn’t fit in the other categories:


 

 

 

  • Try out LAABS!:  directions for using the Learning Ally Audio Book Solution--check out the user experience on the books you’ve worked on

 

 

 

  • Hangouts: document with links to various Hangouts for meeting other volunteers and staff




 

poster reads               Image of Volunteer Nation Live! Events section start

 

Volunteer Nation Live! Events:  links to the all the VNL webinars





 

Image of happy female weight trainer             Image of Training Resources section links

 

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.


 

Archimedes next to his bathtub, shouting


Getting to Know You

 

 

There are many different ways to get to know someone.  In-person communication works best in most cases, but isn’t always possible.  

 

Another good way is through today’s many forums that imitate the old penpal and note-passing experiences: our online spaces that allow us to communicate immediately with people faraway.  These places include social media like FaceBook, Instagram, and others. They also include private and public chats, like those found in Google Hangouts.

 

Learning Ally uses Google Hangouts to offer a number of options for getting to know staff and other volunteers.  Besides your STAFF and project-specific Hangouts, we’ve created a number of Hangouts around specific topics (Foreign Languages, TOC Pre-Production, etc.) as well as locality-based Hangouts for volunteers living in the same general area.  

 

The links to all of these Hangouts can be found at the Volunteer Portal; follow this pathway to find the document with all the links:


 

Volunteer Portal/Resources/General/Hangouts

 



 

Or click on this link:  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JsS-XigskhVKSGI0NAV6zY58QNBF_VzjRIsVqI0jHYk/edit


 

You are welcome to join any of those Hangouts, and you don’t have to live in that area to join a locality-specific Hangout. If you’ll be traveling to Southern California, for example, and would like to try to meet up with staff and volunteers there, join the SoCal Volunteers Hangout and post a message about your upcoming trip.


 



 

If you’d like to try to get to know other volunteers in your area and don’t see a link for it, contact Stacie Court (sCourt@LearningAlly.org, or through your STAFF Hangout) and she’ll look into creating one for you.

 

Over the past few years several groups of volunteers have gotten together for meals and other events.  It just takes one person to get the ball rolling--post in your Hangout and see what happens!

 

 

Images: (left) SoCal volunteers plus Don Sheetz get together for a casual lunch;

(right)  Texas current and alumni volunteers get together for coffee



 

 

Image: Athens volunteers and staff meet for lunch at a local restaurant


New Year's Greetings




 

No matter our background, most of us will very soon be celebrating New Year’s Day, even if it’s just the day we stop writing “2019” on checks (checks? how old-fashioned!).  Have you ever wondered how January 1st became recognized as New Year’s Day throughout most of the modern world?



 

Image: Babylonian New Year’s festival of Akitu


 

According to multiple sources, the earliest recorded New Year’s celebration was a long time ago in Mesopotamia (c. 2000 BC).  Then, the new year was recognized as beginning with the vernal equinox (mid-March for us today). Other cultures, such as the Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians, celebrated the new year at the autumnal equinox (our mid-September).




 

Image: Roman Colosseum


 

The Romans originally celebrated New Year's on March 1st of their ten-month, 304-day calendar (side note: the reason our last four months are named “SEPTember”, “OCTober”, “NOVember”, and “DECember” is because they were the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth months of the year).  Somewhere around 700 BCE two new months, January and February, were added, but New Year’s was still celebrated on March 1st.


 

Around 153 BCE the Roman civil year began on January 1st, so many people started celebrating New Year’s on January 1st at that point.  However, it was not an official change and many people continued celebrating New Year’s in March.



 

           

Image: Julius Caesar                                    Image: Janus, God of Gates


 

The Julian Calendar was introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE, along with a decree that New Year’s would be celebrated on January 1st, to coincide with the civil year and the celebration of Janus, the god of gates.  So, January 1st was THE date...for a while, anyway…





 

In 567 CE the Council of Tours abolished January 1st as the date for New Year’s.  Until the institution of the Gregorian Calendar by the Council of Nicaea in 1582, New Year’s was celebrated on a number of days throughout medieval Europe, often coinciding with major Christian feasts, ranging from December 25th (Birth of Christ) to March 25th (Feast of the Annunciation).


 

Images: front page of Gregorian Calendar; Pope Gregory XIII

 

HOWEVER...Pope Gregory’s calendar still didn’t unify Europe under one New Year’s celebration.  For example, the British (and their colonies) did not switch to the Gregorian calendar until 1752.  Today, most of the world uses the Gregorian calendar, and observes January 1st as the beginning of the New Year.


 

Modern countries that do not use the Gregorian calendar include Afghanistan, Iran, Ethiopia, and Nepal.  Countries that use their own plus the Gregorian calendar include Bangladesh, India, and Israel. Countries that use modified versions of the Gregorian calendar include Taiwan, Thailand, North Korea, and Japan.  China uses the Gregorian calendar for civil record-keeping but use the traditional Chinese calendar for the dates of festivals.



 

    

    Image: polar bear plunge

 

 

All cultures that observe New Year’s have developed traditions around the celebrations.  Some of these traditions include making resolutions for the New Year; dressing up for parties on New Year’s Eve, with a special toast and noisemakers at midnight; polar bear plunges into frigid water; eating special foods for luck such as black-eyed peas, lentils, soba noodles, or grapes; and singing “Auld Lang Syne” around a bonfire.  Here in the U.S., it’s often a time to gather with friends and family to watch a bowl game on tv (or, if you plan ahead, attend one live).




 

Image: volunteer recording an audiobook for Learning Ally

 

Anyway you celebrate it, the New Year is always felt to be a time for new beginnings and fresh starts, a time for casting off the old and ringing in the new.  What new and exciting things will you do this year? Maybe...help with more books for Learning Ally? Go through Reader Training and become a Reader/Narrator? Become a mentor to new volunteers?  Maybe you’ll get some of your friends involved, and start your own local Learning Ally group? The sky’s the limit!  

 

It’s going to be a wonderful year!  Happy 2020, everyone!


 

Image:  Eleanor Roosevelt with quotation, "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

 


Tech Tips: Volunteer Sitemap

A Common New Volunteer Story

As a new volunteer excited to start helping our struggling students, you may start at our main website and fill out a registration form, but you then get sent to another site for training. You get an email response with the same links just in case you lose them, but maybe that email gets buried by others and although you logged into the training center and started a course, you're not sure how to get back to it, and what is this volunteer portal you've heard about as well and are you supposed to go there for training? And why can't you log in at LearningAlly.org to continue your training? How can you find your way?!

 

We know our various sites and resources can seem like a maze! Navigating our volunteer system can be challenging at times and producing audiobooks is not a simple task. We started weekly Training Office Hours meetings where new volunteers and recent graduates can tune in and ask questions and get answers right away. We are also available through our Training chat for quick questions, and both communities also use their own Google chat channels for communication too (Virtual Water Cooler, Literary Salon, Textbook Staff hangouts, etc.). And there's always email as well. Paula Restrepo and Lori Leland also reach out to volunteers via email and phone to ensure they have what they need to succeed as volunteers. We wish we could be there looking over your shoulder to help when you're stuck, but our virtual volunteering system doesn't allow us to be there with you physically. 

 

What is virtual volunteering?

We use the term "virtual volunteering" sometimes to describe what you do since your volunteer activity is done online and from your own home. However, we do NOT consider you a "virtual volunteer"! You are very real and gracious folks who give your time and talents to help others succeed and we really, really appreciate you! We are here to help you navigate and figure out how you can help our students.

 

Try our new Volunteer Sitemap!

To alleviate some of this confusion, we created a Volunteer Sitemap mini-lesson that explains our various sites and what they do. New volunteers get a link to this in their initial emailed registration response, and it's also in our Virtual Training site dashboard and in the Volunteer Portal's Resources section at the bottom of the page. Traditionally, a sitemap is a map of a single Internet site, but out Volunteer Sitemap is designed to help you navigate all the sites you may encounter in our volunteer community. We hope this helps and feedback is always welcome!

 

Please reach out to us if you have any questions...we are here to help!


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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CD1PffNbZls), 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!


Pass It On

 

Bryanna Marbury has dark skin, black hair, brown eyes, and wears glasses and a big, radiant smile!



 

Bryanna Marbury is a success, and Learning Ally volunteers made the difference for her.  Watch this video and hear what her mother, Barbara, has to say about Learning Ally’s impact on the community.

 

https://youtu.be/7477Cjy_4OI


 

To hear what Bryanna herself has to say, click here:  https://youtu.be/-t9vT54-Ufo

 

Since these videos were made, Bryanna has gone on to a career in early education, working with children through Grade 5.  Because you made a difference, Bryanna is making a difference!



 

Colorful graphic of celebratory confetti and streamers rising up from festive party hat-like cones


 

Metrics Update for this week:

 

  • Our readers increased to 211,289

 

  • We had 47,029 reading at frequency*

 

  • Pages read by school readers increased by 64% over this time last year!



 

Happy Summer, and 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.


We love BUGS!

 

Ad for Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School, including images of happy children involved in a variety of science-based activities


 

This past year Learning Ally Education Solutions GM Tim Wilson approved a special project where we provided a license to the Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School (affectionately known as BUGS) in return for the opportunity to study their experience with Learning Ally solutions.  It was a truly fruitful year for the students and teachers, and yielded results even we did not expect.


 

During their introduction to Learning Ally in November, teachers were thrilled by the variety and quality of our solutions, with teacher Betsy McGowan, the school’s reading specialist, exclaiming, “It looks like Christmas came early this year!”  By January all of Betsy’s students with reading deficits were registered with our program.

 

Betsy McGowan has shoulder-length light brown hair, brown eyes, and a big smile.


 

BUG’s eighth-graders were all assigned a dystopian novel, one which was available through our audiobook solution.  More than a few students told Betsy that this was the first time they had read an entire book--Learning Ally made it possible for them.


 

Cover of Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, including image of young biracial Trevor with his Xhosa mother in the foreground.

 

The next assigned book, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, was in our queue but unavailable when assigned.  Encouraged by their success with their first book, many of the students were inspired to work really hard and read the print version!  It took longer and they had to work much, much harder to keep up, but they liked the feeling of understanding and participating in the class discussions.


 

Cover art for George Orwell's Animal Farm: white cover with stylized pink pig


 

The final book for the school year was George Orwell’s classic, Animal Farm, already available through Learning Ally.  One student told Betsy she had been able to learn so much more vocabulary using Learning Ally’s audiobook solution.


 

A few weeks ago we received a surprise at our Princeton office:  a huge card thanking the Learning Ally team (that includes YOU, volunteers!).  Each student signed their name and gave us the number of pages they read, all of them (and their teachers) so proud of their progress.


 

Large black card (science fair display size) with colorful message thanking Learning Ally and smaller messages from students



 

This kind of success is possible because of all the great people we have working on our solutions.  This is just one example of how our volunteers make a difference in people’s lives every day--a difference that supports them through a lifetime of learning.  Thank you all for the gifts of your time, talent, and treasure. Our friends at BUGS are just one small group that is grateful every day for your presence in their lives.



 

Colorful graphic of celebratory confetti and streamers rising up from festive party hat-like cones


 

Metrics Update for this week:

 

  • Our readers increased to 211,197

 

  • We had 46,753 reading at frequency*



 

Happy Summer, and 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.