Select the search type
  • Site
  • Web
Search

 

 

Volunteer Nation Blog

rss

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


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. 

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

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).

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

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.

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

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.

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

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.

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

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.

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

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.  

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

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.  

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

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.  

 


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.

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

How long have you volunteered at Learning Ally? 

I started volunteering at Learning Ally in Fall 2018.

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

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.

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

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.

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

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!!

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

Do you have any advice for prospective LA volunteers?

You can find a niche for yourself in any of the writing, editing, narrating opportunities.

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

What is your favorite audiobook/ book if you have any?

I enjoy listening, with my son, to the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan.

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

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.

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

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.  

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

How long have you worked here?

I have worked at LA for 20 years.  

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

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.

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

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.   

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

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. 

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

What is most challenging aspect about your work? 

Meeting the needs of our educators and students in a timely manner

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

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.  

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

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

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

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!

 

  Big gold star, with smaller gold stars embedded in it


 

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.


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 together...you 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.”



 

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


 

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.


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!


Why Are We Recording Books That Are Already Available on Audible?

Recently there have been some questions from volunteers about Learning Ally and why we create audiobooks that are also readily available on other platforms such as Audible.  

 

Indeed, many of our books have existing audiobook versions. The reason for needing a new recording is related to copyright law. As an educational non-profit, Learning Ally has the right to create audio versions of copyrighted material because of the population we serve, those who struggle to read. This includes those with dyslexia, visual impairment, physical disabilities that make accessing text difficult, or other barriers to reading. We operate under the Marrakesh Treaty, which is an international copyright agreement designed to help ensure access to printed material to those that would otherwise be denied.  

 

So we rely on talented volunteers like you to record our books even when other versions exist. One additional and unique feature that Learning Ally provides is that our final product for Literature books is an ebook with sentence-level highlighting that is synced with your voice-- what we call VOICEtext. Other text-to-speech engines can do this, but not with human-read audio.

 

Also, using Learning Ally's catalog means that students can access thousands of books, most often through their school, without having to purchase individual audio-only titles, the combined cost of which would render them inaccessible to most of our students. So you should all know that by volunteering, you are creating a tremendously impactful experience for students who struggle to read, potentially changing their educational outcomes (and lives) in the process!

Here's an example of the finished product from a recent popular title.  It was made into a movie as well - The Hate U Give:

 

So.....what is this Marrakesh Treaty?

The Marrakesh Treaty is international copyright law. The treaty allows Learning Ally to produce and record copyrighted audiobooks because we serve kids with learning differences. Marrakesh Treaty, in particular, allows us to provide help to students with a reading deficit, blindness or visual impairment and other physical impairments such as cerebral palsy, etc. Once students are evaluated by qualified educators or medical professional, then they become eligible to use our services. 

                                                                                          

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

Marrakesh Treaty, in particular, allows us to provide help to students with a reading deficit,
blindness or visual impairment and other physical impairments.

A small green rectangle to divide sections of the document

 

Studies estimate that 20% of students may be eligible for our services, so the work we do every day is very important and we want to reach more students and individuals who can benefit from our services.

As always, Learning Ally is immensely grateful for the great work done by our volunteers and staff!