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


Volunteers Share Words of Affirmation for Students, Parents, and Teachers

Students, parents and educators are headed back to school this Fall, whether that is in person, remote, or in a hybrid-learning environment. This academic year will be like no other, and that’s why Learning Ally volunteers want students, parents and teachers to know they are thinking about them. This past month, our volunteers came together to share words of affirmation for all those who are headed back to school. No matter where or how learning takes place this year, our volunteers are here to cheer you on.

 

The words of affirmation have been shared on Learning Ally’s blog, the Parent Gazette, and the Parent Chat on Facebook. They will also be featured on Learning Ally’s Instagram and the Volunteer Nation Instagram and Facebook group. Be sure to follow along as we welcome students, parents and teachers back to school!


To read and listen to more of the heartfelt words we received from our volunteers, follow this link.


Staff Spotlight: Gigi Franklin

Gigi Franklin facing the camera and smiling

This month, we are recognizing our staff member Gigi Franklin who is celebrating 20 years with Learning Ally!

 

Franklin got her start with Learning Ally in 1995 as a volunteer and has since held many different roles. Five short years later, Franklin became a part-time Volunteer Coordinator at Learning Ally’s Austin Studio. In 2004, she became a full-time staff member in the role of Book Ordering Guru for the Texas TEA contracts. She then moved on to becoming a Studio Producer and then Studio Director by 2010. Franklin had hands in the Literature Community and is now working with the Textbook Community, holding the role of Virtual Production Administrator. When reflecting on her time with Learning Ally, Franklin said: “Through it all, the best part for me is working with our fantastic volunteers! They amaze and inspire me every day.” 

 

When asked what made Franklin want to work with Learning Ally, she mentioned it was a  personal connection that originally brought her to volunteer. Her grandmother, mother, two of her uncles, and an aunt have all experienced visual impairments. Franklin explained her motivation was to bring the printed word to the blind and now it has become her passion.  

 

Outside of Learning Ally, Franklin said she likes to read, cook and spend time watching shows and movies with her husband, especially the renowned musical Hamilton. With stay at home orders, Franklin said she found herself with an excuse to stay home and indulge in these favorite activities and even slow down and reflect, which is something she had been needing recently. The past three years had been challenging for Franklin and her husband as Franklin’s mother and father-in-law passed, and shortly after her mother-in-law became ill. When reflecting on these unprecedented challenges, Franklin said they taught her to find joy in every day and to take life a bit slower whenever you get a chance because time flies. 

 

We asked Franklin what is something most people at Learning Ally do not know about her and she said: “I'm pretty quiet, so people are surprised that I won the Texas State Informative Extemporaneous Speaking contest as a Junior in High School. I also worked the first 8 years of my career out of college at the NBC Television affiliate in Dallas/Fort Worth on their 5, 6 & 10 pm newscasts as a graphics producer and computer operator.” In addition to her extensive work experience, Franklin and her husband owned a Welsh Terrier show dog. Franklin and her husband competed against professionals and led the dog to his championship. She said, “If you have ever seen Best in Show the movie, that is not too far from the truth!” 

 

We also learned that Franklin is an avid reader, which seems fitting for a Learning Ally employee! From her childhood, Franklin recalls her favorite books to be the Little Women, the whole Louisa May Alcott series, the Anne of Green Gables series, the Little House books, and the Tales of the City book series. Franklin shared that her favorite book to read now is any book she is reading at the moment and the book she reads the following week usually becomes her new favorite. 


It's Back To School Time

Students and teachers across the country and around the world are discovering new challenges to learning as the summer comes to an end. In some places we see new opportunities however, and as an organization dedicated to providing educational opportunities, we need to be a leader in the field of serving students. 

 

Messages of Encouragement

Group of cheering people

 

We invite you to join us in welcoming our new and returning students. Until September 3rd, we are collecting brief messages of encouragement to our students, in writing and as recorded audio samples.  Email your notes or recorded audio files to Maria Lelie. If you would prefer to submit your audio through our EasyBooks software, rather than using a smart phone or other application, you can log into EasyBooks and search for the "SchoolProject." Use the End button to skip to the end of the file and record your brief message.  You can find more information on the volunteer Facebook group.

Remember, the deadline is September 3rd, so get those messages in now! 

 

Back To School with Volunteer Nation Live

 

This past Monday Dawn Ulley and Michelle Lenihan shared more about how learning ally is working for students in the new school year in our Volunteer Nation Live event. If you were unable to attend the webinar, you can view a recording of it on the Resources page of the Volunteer Portal, or on our YouTube page. We urge you to find out more about what we're doing, as well as submit your ideas and questions to our team. Email volunteer@learningally.org, or visit the Volunteer Nation Twist site

 

Textbook QA - Expanding Volunteer Opportunities

 

Though we are still on our summer pause, and not adding new volunteers to our existing roles, we are opening up more opportunities for quality assurance work in our textbook library. Volunteers in this role will help us assess completed books from our catalog to find those that need to be re-recorded, replaced, or featured as top quality content. New training materials are being prepared and the team are ramping up to begin welcoming new volunteers. To learn more about this opportunity you can email the textbook QA lead Audrey Santos or visit the team QA channel on Twist. We are always looking for more ways to help you, help our students to succeed. 

 

 

Congratulations Recent Training Graduates!

 

Kim A., William W., Rebekka P., Pranavi G., Ashish B., Paul B., Jordan E., Kim W., Angela R., Georgia C., AngelaM., Prajanya K., Mya F., Rebecca L., Leslie G., Nancy S., Matt P., J M L., Sabrina D., Veronica W., Lauren R., Marty J., Fely F., Jason L., Jody L., Shawn P., Fadra N., April R., Brittany A., Patricia C., Bernadette H., S.M.S., India T., Jcnv B., Thera F., Ktrktr R., Sephra S., Katlin I. S., Lisa S., Elena V., Daisy P., Carla G. V., Emily W., Gabriel S., Sandra B., Chris G., Polina K., Gillian N., Natalia R. R.
 


Working Hard to Get Students the Books They Need

 

We have welcomed a nice influx of new volunteers over the last few months, allowing us to move more quickly through projects. This has allowed us to get more books out of production and onto the bookshelves of the schools and students that need these titles. Teachers and students appreciate having these titles available and our ability to turn them around more quickly.

Unfortunately, this also means you may find it more difficult at times to find projects to work on. Your time is valuable, so the last thing we want to do is select more books just to keep you busy. We remain focused on selecting the books that schools and students are requesting and need most. 

 

As a reminder, when looking for a project, please be mindful of your selection. Be sure you are choosing subject areas you are comfortable reading. Also, be aware of the grade level of the students that will be using the textbook you are reading or checking. Please narrate with an appropriate style and pace that will best engage a student at that age. How we read to elementary school students should be different from how we read high school or college level textbooks. Visualize the student that will be using that textbook sitting across from you, and read to that person.

 

We will have several TEA and Florida contract projects available soon for recording, so please watch for them. These projects have a very short turn around time so we can use everyone’s support in getting these out for students heading back to school.  Thank you for your patience.

 

If you cannot find anything in our project menu that is a good match for you, please reach out to staff about other volunteer opportunities at volunteers@learningally.org

 

Thank you for volunteering with Learning Ally and providing a solution to students who struggle to read. We appreciate your patience and dedication to service.


Textbooks in Our Library - July 2020

Thank you to all the dedicated volunteers who helped produce 39 new textbooks in July! As always, we are grateful for your hard work and will to improve the lives of struggling readers. Click here for plain text.

A list of books completed in June 2020. Includes titles and names of contributors. Plain text is available in the link provided.

A list of books completed in June 2020. Includes titles and names of contributors. Plain text is available in the link provided.

A list of books completed in June 2020. Includes titles and names of contributors. Plain text is available in the link provided.


Literature Books in Our Library - July 2020

In July, our hard working volunteers completed 78 literature books! Thank you to all the volunteers who contributed to these texts. We are always grateful for your commitment to service and improving the lives of students. Click here for plain text.A list of books completed in June 2020. Includes titles and names of contributors. Plain text is available in the link provided.


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).


Literature Books in Our Library - June 2020

Thank you to all the dedicated volunteers who helped produce 110 new literature books in June! We are grateful for your commitment to service and improving the lives of students. Click here for plain text.

 

A list of books completed in June 2020. Includes titles and names of contributors. Plain text is available in the link provided.

 


The Power of Books: Encouraging Conversations on Social Justice

On Monday, June 15th, our very own Terrie Noland sat down with renowned actor, Michael Burgess. Burgess has appeared in over 100 commercials, television shows, and films and is now a volunteer for Learning Ally. 

 

Over the past two months, Noland has been hosting live read-alouds every Monday with Learning Ally volunteers on our Facebook Page. This particular read-aloud was one of our most powerful and engaging, as it corresponds to the social justice movements happening around the world today. 

 

During the read-aloud, Burgess narrated The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander. After the reading, Noland and Burgess dove into a discussion on the importance of welcoming conversations with families and friends to talk about race and social injustice. Noland and Burgess also talked about how the resolve of the human race is necessary as the world strives to effect change for equality and inclusion.

 

Here is a brief excerpt from Michael during the conversation:

“We come to a place where all of us have to share in that sense of finding a way to work through the difficult. It's no longer the work of any one group to have to deal with difficulties and say ‘You know what, I’m gonna work through it. I’m gonna keep my head up.” Now we have a national obligation to say there are many things we are suffering across the board and we’re going to have to work through it, we’re going to have to walk through it and we are going to have to get to the other side so we can look back as a nation and say ‘Wow that did happen and I'm still standing.’” 

 

You can find the rest of the read-aloud and conversation here: Learning Ally Reads Aloud

 

Our team at Learning Ally has compiled a collection of human-read audiobooks to help readers talk about race and social justice in and outside the classroom. Here is an interactive list of books that are included in the Social Justice Audiobook collection. More titles will be added on an ongoing basis. 

A List of Social Justice Books Included in the Social Justice Audiobook Collection. The books are separated by grade levels K-5, 6-8, and 8-12.

 

As our library continues to grow, we are in need of volunteer voices to help diversify our audiobook collection. Learning Ally is recruiting volunteers whose voices and backgrounds match the cultural experiences of the characters they narrate and the students who will be listening. We are currently in need of more volunteers who are African-American, Latinx, and/or fluent in Spanish and English to read literature and textbooks. Our casting team is working hard to find voices that will bring characters and stories to life and give students a more diverse group of voices to read to them.

 

If you or a friend is interested in volunteering, visit our Volunteer Opportunities page to learn more about how to get involved. 


Summer Pause and Twist

Greetings Volunteers,

We hope the summer finds you well and that you're able to enjoy good weather and some relaxation. As a reminder, if you're going on vacation for a few weeks be sure to let the book production staff know when you'll be unavailable to volunteer. Our book production calendar keeps on rolling!
 

Audiobook Recruitment Pauses

 

The biggest, and probably most surprising news is that we have put audiobook volunteer recruitment on pause for the rest of the summer. The tremendous influx of volunteers through the spring has overwhelmed our ability to provide enough content to supply the demand of volunteers. Already, we see large groups of volunteers waiting for books to read or to check, and eager to jump in on that work the moment it's available. Unfortunately, that means many others are kept waiting for the next project and opportunity. They always say "it's the kind of problem you want to have," but that doesn't mean it's not a problem. 

 

 

In the meantime, we will be collecting information from potential volunteers so that we can reach out to them later, when the program reopens. However, there are still some areas of our audiobook production program where we are lacking in volunteers!

 

We are still on the lookout for bilingual volunteers, particularly Spanish speakers, to work on foreign language textbooks. Professional voiceover artists are still needed for some of our dramatic and performed literature titles. We also have a number of African-American focused stories in our literature queue and are looking for authentic voices to record this content. If you can help us meet these needs, then reach out to a Learning Ally staff member, or email volunteers@learningally.org

 

Let's Do The Twist

 

If you attended our last Volunteer Nation Live event, or if you've been keeping up with the blogs, you'll know about our plans to gradually transition our chat client over from Google Hangouts to Twist. This change has been a long time coming, and is even more necessary now as the number of volunteers in our programs has surged. Check out this video for the overview, or watch the recorded Volunteer Nation Live event for more background on why we chose Twist. We look forward to seeing (and chatting with) you there!