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Volunteer Nation Blog

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


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. 


Staff Spotlight: Stacie Court

Stacie Court facing the camera and smiling

What do you do at Learning Ally? I lead the Foreign Language Community, supervising the recording of all foreign language textbooks, and I lead the TOC Community, a group of organized, computer-savvy volunteers who help set up the textbooks so they are ready for the other volunteers to work on.  In non-COVID times, I also handle a lot of engagement and outreach initiatives in Georgia, mostly with the Lions Clubs and University of Georgia faculty and students.

 

How long have you worked at Learning Ally?  I became a volunteer almost as soon as I heard of it, in July 2007, and by the next summer I was on staff.

 

What made you want to work at Learning Ally? I can't imagine NOT wanting to work here.  Each day is different, so I don't have time to be bored, and all day, everyday, everything I am doing is helping someone in need.

 

What's something most people at LA don't know about you? What do you do during your free time? I grew up in a military family and have trouble sitting still. I'm 55, and have moved 32 times in my life, living in places as scattered as Maine and Florida, and California and Guam.  I love to travel, and am never happier than when I can get my husband and/or one of my children to go adventuring with me.  We are all hoping to go together to Norway for my 60th birthday, so I am (slowly, in my free time), studying Norwegian.

 

This is a newspaper article showing Stacie Court in high school, dressed in a traditional dirndl with her peers. Stacie is a brunette in the right foreground, holding up her dance partner, Bill, for the highpoint of the Mühlradl, where the guys swing their legs up and down to imitate the workings of a mill).

What is your favorite book? I don't really have a favorite but the two that probably had the most impact on my life were the unabridged versions of Johanna Spyri's Heidi  and Mary Mapes Dodge's Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates  which I received for my seventh birthday. They were the first "real" books I read, and at seven they were a bit of a challenge.  But, I read them, and I loved wrapping my head and tongue around the foreign words and cultural differences. I sometimes wonder if I joined the German folkdancing group at my high school so I could dress in a dirndl like Heidi and Gretel--?

 

H.G. Wells facing the camera and smiling kindly

If you could be any fictional character for a day, who would you be and why? H.G. Wells in the TV show Warehouse 13: she's absolutely brilliant, a good person deep down, and at about 140 years old she still looks stunning.

 

If you could write a book about your life, what would the title be and why? Say Yes to Adventure! I love a good adventure, and they usually happen when I take a chance and say yes.


New Volunteer Nation Manager

I am Paula Restrepo, and I have been working with Virtual Volunteer Communities in the U.S. for more than 13 years. I personally have recruited more than 2,500 volunteers while simultaneously creating a  unique model of virtual volunteering for nonprofit organizations.

 

I am originally from Colombia and have a background in Engineering and Nonprofit Management…I know that could be strange, but the combination of backgrounds and experiences have been essential in my career. This combination allows me to understand different sides of the equation and to think outside the box. I am a “people” person and I love interacting with volunteers - making sure they have a positive experience while accomplishing our important mission.

 

I have experience with voice recording as my husband and I host a podcast. Our weekly podcast BetterVida is oriented to the skilled Latino immigrant community in the U.S. Through this podcasting experience, I have learned so much about recording, editing and making sure our sound quality improves with every new podcast. I can relate to your challenges when recording or doing quality control of our audiobooks.

 

Learning Ally represents an amazing professional challenge in my career.  I want to build a solid, easy to navigate virtual community. My goal is to shape a community that simply recreates what we feel when we belong to any community that interacts in person. We all know organizations are becoming “more virtual” every day and the solutions that Learning Ally currently offers to struggling learners are based on virtual technology. Our volunteers need to be prepared and equipped for this big change and, most importantly, feel comfortable working virtually.

 

I want you to be in constant contact with me. I want you to help me better understand your needs and challenges. We want to create processes and community structures that are dynamic and flexible and become more efficient at producing audiobooks that are engaging and useful for struggling learners. Our differentiator is the human voice! Your voices make us unique and engaging. I want to hear your voice not only in our audiobooks, but also telling me how we can do things better. Please keep an eye on things that we can improve and feel free to share your thoughts with me.

 

My email is prestrepo@learningally.org and my direct line is 609.243.7099

 

I look forward to working with you all!