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


Autumn Advances Toward the Holidays

Autumn is always a busy time, often busier than we expect it to be. Schools are all in session, October comes along with its holidays and soon we're prepping for family gatherings. 2020 and the COVID-19 outbreak have changed much of that however. Though we now need to spend those holidays on extended Zoom calls or meeting with only small groups, we should still take that time to share our appreciation for one another. Let these days be times of refreshment and renewal

 

Getting Ready for the Holidays?

 

It seems they come along a little earlier every year. Remember to inform Learning Ally staff when you will be unavailable to volunteer, for holidays, or any other reason. We can keep our scheduling flexible but we can only do that with notice when things change. 

 

The Best Volunteering

 

A calendarYou might have heard me say this before, but the best volunteering is regular volunteering. Learning Ally's volunteer programs are unlike most other volunteer opportunities. They call for some very specialized skills, an investment in equipment, and adherence to some unique rules and guidelines. So how do our volunteers consistently work though these challenges? By working consistently. Repetition is the key to mastery. When you sit down at your computer or stand up at your microphone every day, you're practicing the skills of audiobook production. 

 

When you engage with our guidelines often you internalize them, meaning less time spent looking up a half-remembered rule. Narrating every day builds up your vocal stamina and refines your technique. Likewise, steady listening trains your ears, so that you build an awareness of sound and an audio intelligence from day to day. Even if you're not "working" on a Learning Ally project, you're building those skills and adding to your knowledge whenever you engage with audiobooks.

 

By making volunteering a part of your routine, and sticking to that routine, your good work becomes better. That's why I'll always recommend that you make that schedule and stick by it. Sure, you'll need a break every now and again, and we know that it's demanding work. But not only does volunteering become more rewarding, it also becomes more fun.

 

Office Hours In November

 

Due to some schedule conflicts with Learning Ally all-staff meetings, there will be no Office Hours meeting on Thursday, November 12th. In addition, Office Hours will not happen on The 26th in recognition of the Thanksgiving holiday. 

 

But it's not all bad news! We're adding another opportunity to join us for an Office Hours meeting on Mondays. Beginning on Monday the 9th, there will be an Office Hours time, earlier in the day. We hope that this additional time will allow more volunteers to join us for these informal face-to-face meetings. Bring your questions about volunteering and book production and our staff will  be on hand to provide answers. You can find more information on the volunteer training website and in updates in Twist and hangouts.

 

A Follow Up On October

 

Our October Volunteer Nation Live webinar is available in recorded form on the Resources page of the Volunteer Portal and on our YouTube page. We urge you to take the time to check out this excellent event. Our guest speaker Preston Radtke shared his experiences as a blind student and as an ambassador for our College Success Program. If you want to know more about what Learning Ally is doing to support the blind community in the halls of higher learning, you'll find the answers to many of your questions.

 

And as always, we invite further questions from you. Reach out to us through the Volunteer Nation thread on Twist and we'll bring your questions to our panelists and speakers. Be sure to share your suggestions for other subjects as well, and they may become the topic of a future Volunteer Nation Live event!

 

Congratulations Training Graduates!

 

Rowel L.S.Y., Metsha R-S., Christina O., Andrew C., Jarrett W., Keila S., Gina R S., Kaneesha W., Charvella C., Letitia G., Tyedanita McL., Tony D., Earl F., Dakota H., Vania S., Jo A., Georgia D-B., Marla B., Kyle B., Ruth A., Jacob R., Iara C-C., Joey F., Patricia M., Diane F.


A Volunteer’s Deep Personal Connection Comes Full Circle Years Later

Jani Rad smiling and facing the camera

How are you connected to Learning Ally’s mission? Niranjani Radhakrishnan, also known as Jani Rad, discovered a deep personal connection to Learning Ally ten years after being introduced to the organization. 

 

For Jani Rad, summers as a child were often spent at her mother’s work in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. While her mother was working, Rad would spend time in a small recording studio just around the corner from her office. A recording studio, you ask? Yes, young Rad was a volunteer narrator for the Learning Ally Oak Ridge recording studio, better known as Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFBD) at the time. Rad recalls days of racing to the studio, throwing on her headphones, and bringing her stories’ characters to life. Now, ten years later, Rad returns to Learning Ally and her mic with a new discovery about herself.

 

During high-school, Rad was an avid learner who performed well-academically. However, for as long as she could remember, Rad struggled with test taking. While taking a standardized test, Rad recalls being unable to comprehend the questions in front of her. Rad said: “It’s as if I was reading words in English but the words together in a sentence had no meaning to me.” The overwhelming stress associated with test-taking and the sounds of students scribbling on pages around her had Rad thinking: If I just read this five more times slowly, maybe I’ll understand the sentence. Unknowing the cause of her troubles, the problem persisted throughout college. 

 

It was not until after Rad graduated college that she found what was causing her reading difficulties. While working as a trainer at her alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Rad was responsible for compiling health, wellness, and accessibility resources for students. Intrigued by what she was learning from the resources, Rad explained her personal challenges with reading comprehension to the Director of the Office Of Accessibility Resources. After asking a few questions and a couple tests later, the two discovered that Rad had dyslexia. 

 

Jani's podcast logo, What's on your mind? with Jani Rad

Fast forward a few years later, Rad’s journey came full circle when she rediscovered Learning Ally by chance under its new name. Rad has since returned to volunteer, with a newfound discovery that ties her closer to Learning Ally than she ever imagined. 

 

Today, Rad is sharing her story with the world in hopes to empower others to share their own stories. Rad is a professional speaker, activist, storyteller, trainer, and facilitator of a variety of topics. She even has her own podcast, What’s On Your Mind? In the episode titled "DEF-IN-ET-LY," Rad discusses her experience with dyslexia, the interrelationship between learning differences and mental health, and her unique connection to Learning Ally. You can listen to the episode here. To learn more about Rad’s passion projects and to follow her journey, visit the Jani Rad website.


Dyslexia and Blindness Awareness Month

October is a special month for us at Learning Ally...it's blindness and dyslexia awareness month! This is a time when non-profit organizations like ours call upon the public to take time to learn more about these disabilities and what we all can do to help. Even if you're already volunteering and donating to Learning Ally, there are often resolutions or amendments regarding education and disability that appear as questions on your ballots. Educate yourselves today and you can show your support for disabled people when you submit your absentee ballot or head to the voting booths next month.

 
Empowering Learners Webinar This Week!


Speaking of learning more…in partnership with EdWeb, Learning Ally is hosting special webinar this week: Empowering Learners with Dyslexia to Acquire and Utilize Their Digital Voices. This webinar is a perfect way to kick off Dyslexia month, so join us on Thursday, October 8th, at 3:00 pm EDT to learn more about how using technology gives students with dyslexia greater confidence. Register today!  


What Do You Know?


We all know that Learning Ally's mission is to help students overcome the academic challenges of reading disabilities, but how much do you know about those learning challenges? Our interactive online quiz is a great way to test your knowledge and learn more about these important issues.


Follow this link to take the quiz!


College Success Program


Did You Know?For decades (centuries?) students with disabilities struggled in programs of higher-learning. They faced challenges much greater than their peers. Even 50 years after disabled people first won their rights to equitable access and accommodation, and 30 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, disabled students are still underserved by college programs. Learning Ally's College Success Program helps students and their schools lighten the load that our blind and visually impaired students face.  CSP provides mentorship and support to keep students informed of their rights. We deliver proven strategies for these students to self-advocate and stand up for what they deserve. Even more importantly, our CSP program seeks to educate teachers and administration, so they can be prepared to meet the needs of disabled people before they attend the school. In a truly fair system of education, our students won't need to do the additional work of advocacy - the schools will know what they need and be ready for them.


Our upcoming Volunteer Nation Live! Webinar will introduce you to some of our CSP mentors, and the work they do to support these wonderful efforts. Please join us for this online event. Scheduling details and an invitation to registration will be posted soon.


How To Be a Learning Ally

 
In case you missed it, our September webinar was all about the ways that we can advocate for students with disabilities. Advocacy can be as simple as sharing your volunteer experiences with others. This raises awareness of the challenges students face and the volunteer work that everyone can do to support them. Here's some more information about the ways that you can get involved. You'll find a recording of that webinar on our Resources page on this volunteer portal, along with other past webinars. 

 

A Picture Is Worth…


Are you on Instagram? Follow the Learning Ally Instagram account to say current with Learning Ally and enjoy stories of our volunteers, programs, and audio books. Follow Learning Ally.


Congratulations Recent Training Graduates!


Ileana B., Sindhu M., Bess S., John H., Derria M., Robyn W., Amy T., Darrell J., J H., Ruth H., Cynthia J., Chyanne W., Deirdre S., Sharon P., Bjorn P., Cindy P., Don K., Monifa L., Keane D., Percy H., Sabrina M., Anna W., Terri N., Udeme A., Lynne N., Durga K., Ashisha B.


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.


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).


Textbooks in our Library - June 2020

In June, 2020, our incredible volunteers completed 44 new textbooks! Thank you to all the hardworking and dedicated volunteers who help put books in our students' libraries. Click here to view in plain text.

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