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


Volunteer Spotlight: Marc Richman

Marc Richman started volunteering in March 2020 and has since contributed to reading textbook chapters ranging from design work to U.S. history and has even dabbled in a literature project set in the 13th century. In his professional career, Marc is a computer programmer, but he has interest in subjects such as art, science, language, literature, philosophy, singing, and now, narration. 

 

This is an image of Marc Richman, seen smiling and facing the camera. Behind him there is a close-up of a large pillar, with green landscape in the far background.

Marc first discovered he enjoyed narration when reading stories to his children before bed. Once his children grew older, Marc began volunteering at an assisted living facility, where he read stories and articles to residents every week. Marc later heard about Learning Ally through a work colleague. With his passion and experience in narration, Marc thought recording audiobooks might be something he could do if given the opportunity. Now he says he is “tuned in to all things voice.” 

 

When asked what motivates him to keep volunteering his time, Marc responded: “I really love the chance to create something -- using source text as the raw material. I enjoy bringing a bunch of my interests, ideas, and sensibilities to bear in transforming the written word into the spoken.” Marc said he feels encouraged by the mission of Learning Ally, as it has been heartening to see the dedication of all those who he has come in contact with, whether it is a volunteer or staff member. He added, "I am delighted to be involved with a mission that is so positive and participants that are always willing to help." 

 

If you would like to try recording audiobooks for Learning Ally, Marc recommends gathering the equipment you need and jumping in. When he first started, Marc said he pushed himself to audition for a project in the Literature Community that needed a narrator with a British accent. Marc added: “Sure, I had Jim Dale and Eric Idle in my head, but could I really read a story -- out loud -- that anyone would want to listen to? Well I got that assignment, and I had tremendous fun with that project. It was a leap I'm glad I took.” 

 

Three months later after taking that leap, Marc has contributed over 148 hours of service in the textbook, literature, and VHOC communities, bringing essential books to students in and outside the classroom. 


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!
 


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


High School Junior Shares Why She Reads for Learning Ally

Isabella Han smiling for the camera with her small dog, named Ketchup, who is also facing the camera and smiling.Yunqing Han, also known as Isabella, is an inspiring and determined high school junior from Beijing, China. She currently studies at a boarding school in Virginia, plays the piano in her free time and is a volunteer for Learning Ally! Yunqing has been reading with Learning Ally for almost 2 years now. 

 

Yunqing’s journey with Learning Ally began after realizing she had a passion for education. Before becoming a volunteer, Yunqing’s school offered her a co-curriculum opportunity where she would spend 5 weeks in a professional setting. During this time, Yunqing was partnered with a special education school where she became a teaching assistant for students with severe physical and learning disabilities. After completing her time with the school, Yunqing became inspired to find more opportunities to help students. With a long browse on the internet and lots of determination, Yunqing found Learning Ally.

 

When asked how she balances schoolwork with volunteering and what incentivises her to do so, Yunqing said she found time to volunteer on the weekends when the school library was less crowded and more quiet. Yunqing said she also found added benefits to volunteering, other than being able to help students with learning differences. 

 

Reading the textbooks and literature books has allowed Yunqing to improve her English fluency, as it is not her native tongue. When COVID-19 came about, Yunqing’s classes moved online and she had less opportunity to practice English with her classmates and teachers. Reading for Learning Ally gave her the opportunity to continue practicing her English conversation skills and improve pronunciations. 

 

In addition to growing her speaking skills, Yunqing also did some studying while volunteering. She recalls: “I actually studied part of my AP European history exam with Learning Ally’s textbooks. I happened to be recording a chapter on the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal empires and by reading the material, I essentially reviewed what I needed to know about Islamic influences on Europe for the exam.” 

 

When asked if the pandemic challenged her as a student and in volunteering, Yunqing found a silver lining. Due to the quarantine, Yunqing moved home to Beijing. Now that she is home, Yunqing records with an audience in her parents’ living room, rather than her quiet, private nook in the school library. From reading in front of her parents, Yunqing has discovered that she reads with more focus, clarity, and has a much better delivery when someone is sitting right beside her listening. Yunqing suggests that all readers/narrators pretend as if there is a person listening to them read. Not only does it improve your sound, but Yunqing says “Everytime when I feel like I do not want to continue reading after the first hour or so, I imagine someone sitting right in front of me saying ‘I want to listen to one more chapter’ and then I keep reading.” Yunqing added: “ I really enjoy reading for Learning Ally, sometimes I think it helps me more than I help it.”

 

Check out Yunqing Han's narration of "Yen-Shen: A Cinderella Story From China". 

 

Yunqing, you are an inspiring, young professional. From all of us in the Volunteer Nation, we want to say thank you for all you do! 


The School Year Draws To a Close

Hello Once Again Volunteers,

 

The school year, such as it was, is winding down in many places but our work continues. Maintaining a love for reading means always having a book at hand and we aim to meet that need. Whether it's summer reading assignments or just enjoying a graphic novel sitting on the porch, we want to make sure borrowers can find and access books as easily as anyone.

 

Photo of Little Free Library in Easthampton, MA

Image by John Phelan / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)


Office Hours Reminder

 

Every Thursday afternoon we have an Office Hours meeting with representatives of Learning Ally staff from the Training and Support, VHOC, Textbook, and Storyteller teams. These are open-forum online meetings without an agenda, intended to be your opportunity to ask questions about book production, but they are more than just informational sessions. Office Hours are also an opportunity to get to know one another as volunteers and people. Remote volunteering can feel isolating, especially before you've learned the ropes, so having some facetime can do a lot to remind you who we are and why we do what we do.

 

The increase in volunteers in our programs has led to us expanding the Office Hours webinars as well. We now make use of "breakout rooms" to create special subgroups for the discussion of particular topics. If you feel a general subject discussion isn't to your liking, or if you've already finished training programs and would like to talk about advanced training or user tips, you can join a breakout room for VHOC or Storyteller grads.

 

We set up our Office Hours meetings to support our trainees and recent grads, but these are not exclusive events. If you've got a free hour, feel free to visit the webinar and get to see some of the new faces

 

You can join our Office Hours Thursday afternoon at 3:30 PM Eastern Time, 12:30 PM Pacific. For links and password information, just check the Communication Lesson on any Course on the Volunteer Training Site.

 


Congratulations To Our Recent Training Grads!

 

Douglas C-K, Jeniffer R., Christine P-P., Erica B., Christopher B., Jerald H., Howie McD., Ben K., Alyssa L., Susan B., Mitchell H., Jo M., Jennifer M., Talha T., Thritha A., Audrey P., Giselle, Ann R., Almaelisa G., Sandra M., MJ J., Amandi, Andrew D-H., Kendell H., Latisha V., Jamie N., Vince R., Michelle B., Sabrina M., Sedi-Anne B., Michael W., Stacy C., Kadier C., Anita J., Kevin M.,  Wendy L., Maya N., Alinnette H., Emma N., Kristen Y., Pete J., Elizabeth W., Patricia C-D., Adrienne J., Jerry Z., Simon Y., Jessica D., Erica B., Claire T., Emily S., Carol P., Dai G., Debra S., Yvonne M., Charis G., Laura R., Aren F., Deema S., R. W., Kyle C., Stacy G., Melissa E., Irene A., Aaron H., Zoe L., Wilson A., Kyieta B., Sally H., Nicholas A., Gela A., Christopher C., Meg M., Sharon S., Olivia K., Mackenzie B., James H., Joy P., Rachel S., Dexter B., Melie V., Camari M., Sianaleen L., Shawkin K., Samantha K., Ursula M., Sadaf F., Marissa M., J. M., Christina L., Karen T., Ardent G., Pazam S., Christina W., Robin B., Maria G-J., Marty J., Chloe G., Kelly H., Arysta V., Alexa J., Chloe C., Bob A., Terrill D., Mark B., Sathya D., Riley K., Jean E., Marylou A., Claire Z., Pooh P., Paula M., Julia S., Taurin W., Cato B., Lily G., Muriel W., Emilie T., Seth McL., Claire A., Regina L., Alisha K., Rasleen D., Sara J., Kelly D.


Celebrating Volunteer Jerry Byrd's 300th Book

Jerry Byrd in his home recording studio, facing the camera.

Today at Learning Ally we are celebrating Jerry Byrd on reading his 300th book!

 

Jerry started volunteering with Learning Ally 18 years ago back in 2002, but has been reading audiobooks for the blind since the mid 1960s. Jerry got his start in recording audiobooks when he joined the St. Louis public library’s recording studio. For his first project, Jerry was given a book, a stack of cassettes, and off he went! He continued his narration when working as a professor at California State University in Long Beach, the Monterey Society for the Blind, and later Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, now known as Learning Ally. 

 

One of Jerry’s favorite memories from working in the Learning Ally studio was meeting the students who stopped in to share their stories. He recalls one student saying: “I was nine in the third grade. I couldn’t read. The teacher thought I had problems; the kids thought I was dumb; I thought I was dumb. Now I am a doctoral student in anthropology.” Jerry said that inspiring stories like these were accomplishments he wanted to share in. 

 

When Learning Ally made its shift to recording online, Jerry went with them. When asked what motivates him to continue to volunteer with Learning Ally, Jerry recalled a lesson he learned from his mother. “My mother always inculcated in me the idea that you don’t do everything for yourself. People do things for you; your dentist, your car mechanic. So you do something for somebody else. I feel privileged that I have the education and the voice to be able to do this for somebody else.” Since narrating audiobooks, Jerry says he has become more aware of the blind and dyslexic community and the people who depend on audiobooks for their education, livelihood and quality of life. 

 

Jerry offered a piece of advice and encouragement for Learning Ally volunteers. He said: “Stop and think about this whole idea that we exchange gifts in life. I can’t fix my car, I can’t fix my teeth, but I can read for people who cannot read and they will do something for me in the long run. They will be that doctor of anthropology or historian for me. We are all in this together. We are dependent on each other. We don’t go this alone. It’s a gift that we shouldn’t turn away. We should use the gifts we have.” 

 

Thank you Jerry for 300 books, 6,000+ hours, and 100,000+ pages. You are inspiring!


Volunteer Appreciation and the Work Yet To Be Done

Greetings, As Always to Our Loyal Volunteers,

 
We hope you're all staying safe and well. Learning Ally continues its efforts to serve the students and schools disrupted by the pandemic, as well as trying to serve our growing population of volunteers. 

Looking Back on Volunteer Appreciation Week

 

On April 21st we had a very special Volunteer Nation Live event in celebration of Volunteer Appreciation Week. We were able to feature several students and teachers who use Learning Ally books in their schools who shared their stories of learning and growth with audiobooks, as well as answering questions from our volunteers in attendance. If you missed the event we strongly urge you take the time to watch the recording on our Resources Page.

 

Still image of the McCarthy family from our Volunteer Nation Live event

 


We drive ourselves by asking Why: Why do we make the time and the effort to provide our services and resources? And we get our answer every time we see the people who benefit from our work. It's a beautiful reminder that we're doing more than making books - we're improving lives; offering success to people who would otherwise be forced to struggle. We bring out our best and afford others the chance to do the same. 

 

Project Shortages?

 

One of the results of having so many new volunteers (over 100 training graduates this month) as well as volunteers with extra time to donate, is that we are actually experiencing a shortage of work in some places. While it's exciting to see that we are not falling behind on deadlines, we are also fielding many requests for book project assignments, particularly in QA and in Storyteller narration. If you are looking for a project in those areas, we suggest you use the contact forms for Learning Ally staff assistance, such as the Assignment Request form for Storytellers.  We can earmark an appropriate book or project for you before we even list it in the catalog. 


Please note however, we are still limited by staff hours and book acquisition budgets. We have had to establish a "waiting list" of sorts for high-demand subjects or large casting pools. We thank you for your patience as we try to keep up with demand. Remember that we are always working to meet the needs of our students, as well as those of our volunteers.

 

Textbook Fast-Track for Storytellers

 

One way to help our Storyteller volunteers find more projects to record is to diversify your Learning Ally narrator skills. If you are a Storyteller narrator interested in helping us record textbooks, we've prepared a special course designed to fast-track experienced narrators with lessons on the specialized reading conventions and best practices for textbook narration. If you are interested in participating in this program please contact the volunteer training and support team by emailing voltraining@learningally.org. If you are uncertain or curious about textbook projects, why not take a look through the catalog of books in production. You'll see that a wide range of subjects and grade levels are available. 


Congratulations To Our Recent Training Grads!

Kourtney I., Trudi D., Luke B., Rohan B., BASIL G. S., Esme S., John B., Liza C., Rene R-R., Kylah F., Edita K., Sarah C., Julie M., Divyanshi S., Hermione P., neha K., Becky R., Colleen A-F., Ben H., Meredith S., Tim S., Chris G., Justin S., Hisham G., Arthur Q., Andy G-R., Latifah M., Carol B., Allison H., Shelby S., Laureanne P., David T S., Shaila M., Beverley H., Meghan L, Christopher C., Amy Z., Jaren J., Jennifer C., Ankitha S., Doris L-T., Oyindamola O., True T., Maureen D., Leslie E., JM J., Theo S., Estelle T., Lisa W., Heather S., Izzy L., April F., Richard K., Kai W., Jessica H., Kelly D., Ivy R., Swethaa R., Jenny S., Kathy O., Bo K., Belinda L., Mark C., Althea B., Priya K., Shyamala C., Anna C., AHUVA S., Haley K., Christina L., Richelle F., Janice O., Shayla B., Narineh S., Yvo S., khardema, Siya B., Smriti D., Jessica H., Michelle G., Edward B., F R., JM J., Erin C., Lisa W., Robyn W., Gustavo F., Mary A., Seattle S., Janet B., tolulope A., Neya G., Katie M., Abbie G., Sthiti P., Robert W., Mark C., Jennifer C., Belinda S L., Gary M., Maria F., Freya S., Rosalyn G., Becky C B., Lisa W., Dan E., Naomi P., Barbara F., Robert W., Shyamala B C., Alexis M., Melanie W., Heidi F., Wendy T., Sandra R., Zachary K-S., 
 


National Volunteer Week is coming soon!

With National Volunteer Week (April 19-25, 2020) right around the corner, we want to thank and recognize you all for the tremendous impact you’ve had on students who struggle to read. Since the start of the school year, 231,067 students have listened to over 118 million pages of Learning Ally audiobooks. 

 

What’s even more amazing is the impact our audiobooks solution has had in just the last month as schools across the country have closed and moved to remote learning due to COVID-19. Of the 231,067 students reading, over 23,000 (10%) read their first pages since March 6th. And of the 118 million pages read, over 19 million (16%) were read since March 6th.

 

This would all not be possible without the effort you have all put in. Since July 1, 2019, we’ve had 624 volunteers donate a total of 47,000 hours -- an average of 75 hours per volunteer! Over 6,700 (14%) of these hours were donated in March. We appreciate how you all have stepped up during this time of need. 

 

Thanks again to all of you! Our students need you.


Challenges and Opportunities for Learning Ally

Greetings Learning Ally Volunteers,

 
We hope that you are all staying safe and sane during these challenging times. As an organization, we are pivoting to meet the sudden changes to the needs of our students and our own business models. At the same time, our volunteers are already showing us a silver lining, making us proud of their efforts to help others affected by the crisis.

A woman holds a candle to light the darknessLearning Ally Responds to COVID-19

 

Cynthia Hamburger, COO and CIO of Learning Ally led a webinar to explain, in detail, what actions we are taking, and have already taken, to provide for our students and balance our business model. With school closures and more students learning at home, the usage of our Learning Ally Audiobook Solution has surged over ten times the numbers we saw last year. As schools recognize the importance and value of our learning tools, we are extending trial periods and contracts with those schools so that they can continue to offer our valuable solutions to students whose semesters have been disrupted. 

 

For more information, as well as an explanation of how we are revising fundraising needs and our "sales" plan to reach new students, you can watch a recording of the full webinar presentation on the Resources page of the Learning Ally Volunteer site.

 

A Volunteer Surge

 

In times of difficulty we are always happy to see people rise to the challenge and give what help they can. And with the present conditions keeping many people at home, volunteer opportunities like our online book production have become an excellent way to help struggling learners. Not only are our volunteers continuing the educations of our students, they are providing more books to keep them engaged with reading and entertained in the hours when they most need the comfort of a good book and a friendly voice.  

 

We have seen a massive increase in volunteer activity, with new volunteer applications at 250% what they were this same time last year.  Our training programs and meetings are full of new names, new faces, and new voices. 

 

All Learning Ally staff are now working from home. Fortunately, the online nature of our volunteering opportunity means our Production department has needed minimal adaptation to make this transition. Still, we are adjusting hours, availability, and workflow to support a large number of people with training and support needs in a very short time. We thank you for your patience and understanding as our efficient little team works to keep us all online and active. 

 

If you have questions or concerns, be sure to reach out through the Volunteer Portal, Volunteer Training Site, Google Hangouts and Groups, and other channels.


Congratulations Recent Training Grads

 
Aniella F., Heather S., Kara C., Robbyn P., Rob McG., Renee J., Eileen Y., Anne R., Annina K., Ryan L., Melissa L., Ariel C., Brittney S., Simon G., John G., Victor G., Michael M., Rich O., Marcelo T., Steve C., Abigail J., Maureen R., Marc R., Nicolas S., Nick F., Kristin O., Mary H., Sousa L., Gwen P., Kathy D., Kelli P., Debbie B., Elysia B., Larissa H., Linnea D., Eric A., Ari W., Andy L., Isabella H., Becky R., Jeffrey C., Yashvini D., Kim W., Laura M., Sthiti P., Robert W., Mark C.

BBSS and WebEB

Greetings Learning Ally Volunteers,

 

Our big fundraising event begins this week and we need proud Macintosh users to lend a hand with our latest software projects.


Building Books for Student Success Is Live 

 

Building Books for Student Success (BBSS) is here! This annual fundraising event is one of the best ways that you can help us continue to do our great work of helping students as well as their schools, teachers, and even parents. Our online program will guide you through putting together a page for collecting donations, sharing the story and goals of Learning Ally, and promoting your own efforts. Visit the Learning Ally Building Books Campaign page on the Learning Ally website to get involved. 

 

BBSS Home page on Learning Ally website

 

If you have questions about the program, need assistance setting up a donation page, or would like to know more about Learning Ally donations, please contact volunteer@learningally.org and put the phrase Donor Support in the subject line of your email. 


Macintosh Test Users Wanted 

 

Our EasyBooks developers are working to create a web application of the software: WebEB. This exciting development will let us keep EasyBooks entirely online, meaning no more downloads or version updates and no need for different versions of the software for Windows or Macintosh users. At present, WebEB is still in testing with a small group of users. But that's where you can help us! We need more users with Macintosh computers to join our test group and use the application.

 

WebEB functions just like EasyBooks with a few changes to the interface and some features still in a development state. Bugs are to be expected - this is a test after all - and you'll be asked to document those experiences and contribute to an online discussion documenting and correcting those flaws. If this project sounds interesting and you have access to the right computer equipment, please contact Eleanor Cotton for more information at ecotton@learningally.org. Please note, this is a test of Mac OS desktop and laptop computers, not iOS devices like iPads or iPhones. Those are not compatible with WebEB and are not part of this test.


Congratulations Recent Training Grads

 

Maria M., CJ H., Kaumeshua H., Emily C., Megan H., Audrey K., Jenna S., Kurt H., Judy S., Dawn K.,  Christian L., Tania P., Aaron T., Alicia H., Therese B., Kristin L., Rick S., Brian H., Derek M., Madi T., Madison S., Bob M., Shannon K., Becky C., Rebecca H-P., Lisa J.