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


Logging Your Service Hours Just Got Easier!

The next time you log in to report your service hours you will notice a change. Starting February 2021, we implemented a small change to the dropdown menu next to Which Assignment Did You Serve In to make it easier to find your assignment. 

 

What exactly is changing? 

Each volunteer assignment will now have a number next to the text. For example, all Literature Community assignments will have the number one next to them, the Textbook Community will have a two, and so on.

 

Assignment list

How can you help us minimize errors in service tracking?

  • All volunteers should be sure their Google profile has their name (not just an email). You can update that information here.
  • All Literature volunteers should be sure to click the Discussion Group tab located in the My Projects tab after they're assigned a project. Volunteers should do this first thing when they get an assignment since that triggers adding them into a private project channel for communication. Also, be sure to use @mentions in Twist.
 

Why is it important to accurately report service hours?

  • Volunteer Recognition: We appreciate everything you do! This data helps us recognize milestones and outstanding service.
  • Program Health: We can use this data to evaluate the health of our volunteer program. This helps us see the effort that goes into audiobook production and other Learning Ally initiatives that our volunteers support. It also helps us determine how many new audiobooks we can produce, measure volunteer retention, and build recruitment plans to fill areas of need.
  • Reporting: The value of your donated service is required in our financial reporting. We also provide reports, when requested, to companies that donate to nonprofits where their employees volunteer and to foundations that are interested in our mission.

 

We recognize that there are many different assignments you must choose from when logging service hours and this in itself can be confusing. We hope this change will help you easily locate the assignment(s) you work on most often and potentially memorize its place in the list to reduce reporting errors. 

 

If you have any questions about which assignment you perform, please reach out to the staff member you work with most frequently and ask them if you’re reporting your hours correctly. 


Digging This Weather

Quite literally. The groundhog saw his shadow, so we're in for six more weeks of winter. As much of the northern US deals with the snow, Learning Ally is looking at what our spring and summer will bring. If you missed the webinar about our direction for the organization in 2021 and beyond, you can find the recording on our Resources page. If you haven't checked in lately, I also recommend perusing the Learning Ally main webpage. We've redesigned our message for students, parents and teachers, so they can see our focus on helping students at the start of their educational journeys. A fence of stacked logs and snow-covered trees beyond.


New Textbook Training Coming in February


Whoa, that's this month! A revised and updated version of our textbook training program is now in testing on the training site. At first, we will be testing with current volunteers, but by mid-February we expect that these new lessons will replace the current ones for all incoming textbook volunteers, and current volunteers are welcome to try it out or cross-train. If you would like to get involved as a tester for the revamped lessons, please reach out to the training center staff: Russell Collins or Eleanor Cotton.


Let this also serve as a subtle reminder for any current trainees: If you are part-way through the current textbook training program, you might want to hurry up and complete your work. Alternatively, you could wait a couple of weeks and start over with the new lessons. We leave that choice to you, but make sure it's your choice, and not an accident!


Office Hours Meetings Changes


Last year we expanded our Training Center Office Hours program to two meetings per week to better manage the large influx of new volunteers. When the pandemic first drove volunteering indoors and online we were scrambling to keep up. Now we've reached an equilibrium with the new arrivals to book production teams, so we now have fewer attendees at each meeting and they are not providing the value they once did. As a result, this Thursday will be the last Thursday Office Hours meeting and we will move exclusively to having these meetings on Mondays at 1:00 PM Eastern. If it proves necessary to expand the program again we may add other times, but we also urge you to reach out to us through other means as well. Remember to email voltraining@learningally.org with your questions about the training program, vol-support@learningally.org for general help requests, and to join our Twist teams and channels for more help.


Congratulations to our recent training graduates


Becky C., Rick R., Lisa V., Hannah H., Derria M., Elaine C., Tiffany A., Tameka B., Nick V., David L., Jaymes P., Joshua H., Byron R., Jennifer A., Aditi V., Anjum M., Dana F., Victoria K., Sharon B-S., Joyce C., Angela H., Rizwana S., Victoria G., Maria M., Ava M., Jason O., Meredith P., Julia B.


Volunteer Spotlight: Valerie Fenwick

Valerie Fenwick smiling and facing the cameraFor over 70 years, Learning Ally has had the pleasure of welcoming volunteers to their mission and discovering what motivates them to donate their time and energy. Volunteers come to Learning Ally with a diverse set of experiences, skills, and reasons why they choose to make a difference in students’ lives. For Valerie Fenwick, a desire to learn, her generous heart, and a personal connection to the mission is what kept her volunteering for so many years. 

 

For most of her life, Valerie has been passionate about reading, literature, and acting. After spending several years doing community theater, her friends suggested she try industrials and voiceover work. In 2012, Valerie made the decision to join Learning Ally in the Palo Alto, California studio to practice voiceover. 

 

While Valerie initially joined Learning Ally because of a desire to learn, she discovered her reason for staying with the organization one year prior to doing voiceover work. In 2011, Valerie began losing sight in her right eye. For a while, her doctors were perplexed by the decline in her vision until a specialist determined Valerie had a rare autoimmune disease, Punctate Inner Choroidopathy. 

 

Using her background in technology and computer science—or as she likes to refer to it as her “nerd brain”—Valerie described her vision-loss as if she was losing pixels. The “pixels” were getting larger and larger, caused by inflammation on her retina that was nearing her central vision. Fortunately, Valerie regained most of her vision and is now in remission. Today, Valerie continues to use her ability to help others. She said: “Reading has been something I have done since I was so little and to be able to give back now, while I still have my vision, it’s such an honor for me to be able to do that.”

 

Valerie has given back to Learning Ally in countless ways. When working in the physical recording studios, Valerie willingly adapted to the technology and transitioned from studio to studio when needed. In 2017, when Learning Ally closed their studios, Valerie jumped on board to continue volunteering from home. Alexis Bourbeau, Director of the Literature Community and Audiobook Quality, described his experience working with Valerie: 

 

"Valerie is literally a perfect volunteer! The care and attention she gives her work is professional-grade, her communication with the staff and fellow volunteers is cheerful and consistent, and she's always living the LA value of self-improvement, eager to share and discuss ways to improve her process. Her work-ethic is also as heroic as the protagonists of many of her projects; she's our go-to narrator for those 600-page fantasy epics! Oh, and she’s a leading evangelist and fundraiser for the cause!”

 

This year, Valerie is closing in on donating 1,000 hours of service. She has narrated 38 books for Learning Ally, including Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life (Dork Diaries #1) with 282 pages and Winter: The Lunar Chronicles with 828 pages. 

 

In addition to volunteering, Valerie generously supports Learning Ally’s annual Building Books Campaign every year. Valerie uses her contagious energy to spread awareness and motivate volunteers to fundraise. She has even teamed up with her current and former employers to donate to the campaign through their matching gifts programs. By donating her time and energy, Valerie’s fundraising efforts have brought in $12,828 to Learning Ally.

 

Valerie’s unfailing dedication has made literacy accessible and equitable for thousands of students. Learning Ally is incredibly grateful for Valerie’s support and for the many other unwavering volunteers who work hard to improve the lives of students, parents and educators. 

 


Changing with the Times: A New Way to Welcome Volunteers

Starting in January, the volunteer Nation Team reengineered the onboarding process for new volunteers. 

2020 and COVID brought new challenges to our team that we never imagined. These challenges required us to rethink our way of onboarding volunteers.   As we felt confident in our virtual process and engagement, we saw ourselves dealing with an unprecedented number of new volunteers willing to help and not enough projects for everybody. 

 

Back in July, we had to put a pause on our volunteer recruitment and implement the “Interest Form,” a way for volunteers to register while they waited for the right volunteer opportunity to arrive. It was a form designed to capture information on potential volunteers interested in our mission but who may not fit the organization’s current volunteer needs at the time of registration. During the first months of the pandemic, this form helped us marshal volunteer resources and offer new non-production opportunities to volunteers waiting to help us. 

 

After everything we learned during the last six months and feedback from new volunteers, we decided that we needed a new onboarding site and process—the new site required to include all available volunteer opportunities and have clearer expectations for potential volunteers.  

 

Given that we have more volunteers than projects in some areas, we needed to be very transparent to potential volunteers in terms of our needs and project availability, and ongoing versus short term opportunities. For those opportunities closed for recruitment, we ask potential volunteers to still complete the “Interest Form” mentioned above so we can let them know when opportunities become available. 

 

We are grateful for the many people wanting to help us, and we appreciate your patience in awaiting a volunteer opportunity. 

 

Please visit our newly renovated “Volunteer Opportunities” site here and see for yourself the new layout. Click on any of the opportunities available and see how you can get more information on these roles’ expectations and responsibilities. You can also see fun pictures of current volunteers.  Feel free to share with your networks!

 

Photo description: 6 pictures aligned horizontally of current Learning Ally Volunteers, some smiling to the camera and some in front of their microphone in their home studios


Happy New Year 2021

Happy New Year lights in the skyJanuary begins with New Years Resolutions and that means folks looking for ways that they can make the world a better place. At Learning Ally, we always see an increase of interest in volunteering and an uptick in new people joining our programs. You'll likely see some new names and faces in group chats, at Office Hours meetings, and on the Facebook group. Be sure to say hello and welcome them to the Learning Ally family.

 

Do note however, that we are still working to balance our intake of volunteers with the projects that we need to produce. On the updated volunteer interest page you'll find a concise breakdown of current needs and volunteer roles. If you've got a friend or family member interested in volunteering and you think they'd be a good match, send them a link and let them know how they can help students in need. 

 

Volunteer Peer Mentoring

 

Would you like to help us to manage our new arrivals? If you're an experienced volunteer looking for more ways to use your skills then why not become a peer mentor? You remember the volunteers who helped you through your own training, providing feedback and guidance for your test projects and coaching you through your first live books. You can do the same for others and help our staff to be in more places at once. 

 

People with a background in teaching and instruction are especially valuable for these programs, but we encourage anyone from subject matter experts to voiceover training tutors to reach out. Contact the staff leaders of your book production teams if you're interested in learning more.

 

January Volunteer Nation Live

 

This month we resume our Volunteer Nation Live events with our 21st webinar. We'll take this beginning of a new year as a "reset" of sorts, as we review the ongoing mission of Learning Ally. In our December blog post we teased how Learning Ally is looking at new strategies and tools to help with early literacy. In this webinar you'll get a first look at some of the concrete plans we have to help these young learners. You'll find more information, including registration links in follow-up messages in our newsletters, on the Facebook group, and through Twist channels.

 

Twist Reminders

 

Speaking of Twist, we want to make sure more of you are using Twist, and using it well. If you haven't already signed up for Twist, be sure to join the conversation.

 

Remember these basics to make the most of Twist: Use @ mentions to contact staff. If you want to call attention to a message then type "@" and begin typing the name of the staff member  then select their name in the popup. Now your message will be at the top in the staff member's Inbox with a notification to check it out. You can also click the Star icon in the top right of a thread if you find it interesting or if it relates to one of your book projects. Whenever that thread gets updated you'll see it in Starred section. No need to go hunting through threads for those updates!. Update your notification settings as well. Though you could have Twist send an email or phone message every time a post comes in, you're more likely to find notifications useful if they only come in from @mentions and 1:1 messages only. 

 

Check out this Learning Ally Twist reference guide for instructions on how to set your preferences and for more user tips for Twist.

 

Congratulations to Our Training Graduates!

 

Laura F., Galit W. B., June W., Davida B., Paula H., Serina D., Elizabeth C., Shreya V., Aquapella M., Wayne M., Alonzo L., Revanth T., Mijo F., Kristina R., Aara C., Afridi M.


Volunteer Spotlight - Richelle Feigin

Richelle Feigin - Volunteer of the year at VTLO

 

Richelle has been volunteering for Learning Ally since April 2020. Recently, her company selected her as  “Volunteer of the Year'' for her time and energy spent doing community service. With this accomplishment, Richelle was asked to select a nonprofit organization that her company could make a donation to in her name. Richelle selected Learning Ally and we graciously received a donation from Vitiello Communications Group (VTLO) in November.  We want to congratulate Richelle on this incredible achievement and highlight her journey through our volunteer program. We want our Volunteer Nation to learn more about her and why volunteering for Learning Ally was important to her. 


Richelle Feigin is a Senior Account Director at Vitiello Communications Group (VTLO), a communications agency that partners with Internal Communications, Human Resources, and Business Leaders to connect employees to the workplace and community.  She has been with VTLO for 11 years. 

 

Rachel has been actively volunteering in her community for as long as she can remember.  However, when COVID hit back in March, she was looking for ways to give back from home while in lockdown. She used VolunteerMatch to search for causes she cares about so that she could use her skills to make an impact on others. That’s when she found Learning Ally.  “It was a perfect way for me to be able to volunteer during quarantine and use my communication skills in a new and different way..” she said.  In her own words, volunteering has reinforced her love of reading and her focus on details.  

 

Richelle perfectly understands the literacy problem that the US is facing and found Volunteer Nation to be the perfect channel to try to help resolve this systematic problem. “I believe that literacy is the foundation for all learning throughout your life. Knowing that the work that I do helps kids become better readers is very rewarding. I’ve seen videos of students who use this tool and there is nothing better than witnessing their transformation from being shy and apathetic in the classroom to thriving emotionally, socially, and academically.”

 

In her personal life, Richelle is also a wife and a mother of two teenagers. She has two Dalmatians, named Chip and Dale (after the Disney chipmunks)! When asked what her favorite audiobook is and why it’s her favorite, Richelle recalled the first book she worked on, Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton. “It’s a very inspiring story, filled with faith and love and determination.  She’s a wonderful role model for anyone struggling to overcome hardships in life.” 

 

Richelle shared a piece of advice to her fellow volunteers. “Sign up today! It feels good to give back, especially knowing that the work I do turns embarrassed, frustrated, and timid students into confident, engaged learners who are empowered to succeed.”

 

We are so glad you decided to take this journey with us, Richelle! Thank you for all you do for Learning Ally and our students. 


A New Era

 

Image: entryway of Learning Ally Athens Studio, with colorful Learning Ally banner hanging from ceiling just inside the door


On October 29th, I handed over the keys to the Learning Ally Athens (Georgia) Studio to the University of Georgia.  A bittersweet moment, it marked the end of more than fifty years of Learning Ally on the UGA campus.  Fifty-plus years of love, laughter, and friendship, and many, many books recorded in several formats.  I thought you might be interested in reading about the why and how this came to happen.

 

First, some background:  back in 1953 Learning Ally (then Recording For the Blind) first organized a chapter at UGA, moving from building to building as University and Learning Ally needs changed.  By the 1960s it became clear a permanent space was needed.  Volunteers at the time worked hard, wheeled and dealed, and got the Callaway Foundation to agree to donate the money to construct a building for us if the University would loan the land.  In the end, Learning Ally paid $1 for a 99-year lease.  We were responsible for all utilities and maintenance inside the building, while the University covered maintenance costs from the studs-out.  The Athens Studio was completed in 1967.

 

Plaque with text:  This building is a gift from Callaway Foundation, Inc. LaGrange, Georgia  to the University of Georgia for work of The Athens Unit of Recording for the Blind, Inc. Erected 1967.


 

So, for fifty years we recorded in that studio space, bringing in a cadre of volunteers who represented the great variety of the population of Athens.  University professors, homemakers, business professionals, school teachers, college students, blue-collar workers, local celebrities and even some homeless people: they all came through the studio and volunteered, supporting the work we were so well-known for.  University and community groups got involved as well, especially the Lions Clubs, the Kiwanis Clubs, the Junior League of Athens, Delta Gamma sorority, and First Book UGA.


 

Two plaques on a recording booth door:  (1) manufacturer's logo and contact information; (2) Digital Booth Converrsion funded by the Lions Club International Foundation and the Lions of Georgia, 2001-2002




 

Over the years our recording equipment and methods changed drastically, and our use of the studio space changed as well.  In the 2000s, while still using VRW software in the studio, we also began using GABR software, developed here in Athens by staff member Fred Smith.  GABR allowed some volunteers to work from home.  GABR was the precursor to EasyBooks (also developed here in Athens by Jay and Eleanor Cotton), which really opened the door to Learning Ally’s entry into the world of virtual recording.


 

As many of you know, we took all of our production completely virtual in 2017.  While closing nearly every other studio in the country, we held onto the Athens Studio as we observed and assessed the effectiveness of our move to virtual production.  While the majority of local volunteers began working from home, I continued hosting events with UGA and community groups, and area Lions continued to come in each month to record their national magazine.



 

Even before the issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw that our move to virtual was the right way to go: we’ve been able to involve even more volunteers from all over the country (and the WORLD!), and we’ve created even more audiobooks than we had in studio-based production years at a much lower cost.  


 

Since the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve found we’re even more efficient and effective than even we thought, and the reality is that we just do not need the studio space any more.  All of the events and activities we did at the studio can be handled online.  


 

Although Learning Ally paid no rent for the space, the Athens Studio cost us about $30,000 a year to maintain (utilities, repairs, maintenance of equipment, insurance, etc. all adds up).  While we loved the space and hated saying goodbye to the folks at UGA, we simply could not in good conscience continue spending that much money on what amounted to nostalgia.  It’s just not good stewardship of the funds so generously given, especially when those funds could be put towards our many wonderful programs that directly benefit blind and dyslexic students, their families, and their teachers every day.


 

Because of COVID restrictions, I couldn’t just bring in a bunch of local volunteers and staff to come in and have a clean-out party (too bad, that would have been nice!).  So, the first thing I did was bring in local staff (and some helpful spouses) to sort through various categories of items: electronics, paperwork, furnishings, etc.  Masked and distanced, we each went through our assigned areas and made determinations about the future of fifty-plus years’ worth of STUFF (imagine going through the home after the death of a crazy uncle, one who collected late-model computer and recording equipment, and never threw anything away).


 

Next, I brought in local volunteers and supporters, one at a time, and offered them items that I thought might have personal significance to them.  For example, one of our booths had a plaque dedicating it to the memory of a woman named Ellen.  I was able to contact her daughter, Deirdre, and she came in to receive the plaque.  Ellen had died when Deirdre was a young child, and Deirdre had many memories of coming to the studio with her father to see the wonderful work being done in her mother’s memory.  She was so grateful to receive the plaque.



 

Eleanor Cotton helped me get in touch with the family of volunteer emerita Ellen Hanna, who was instrumental in having the studio built all those years ago.  Ellen was terminally ill this fall  but we were able to give her family awards she had garnered and art work she had lent the studio.  The Hanna family was so happy to have these mementos of the life’s work of their beloved mother and grandmother.  Note: Ellen died soon afterwards; see the November 25, 2020 blog:  https://learningally.org/Solutions-for-School/Educator-Blog/in-gratitude-to-ellen-hanna-lifelong-volunteer






 

The next step was to separate out the tech equipment that needed to be shipped to Princeton, and that which we could donate to a local charity.  Once that was done, local volunteer Elizabeth DeLaney Hoffman helped me transport items to be donated.

 

Image: trunk of car, filled to the brim with computers, backup batteries, keyboards, etc.



 

Many, many hours were spent boxing up, weighing, and shipping computer monitors, cables, routers, etc. back to Princeton.  (and returning to the store for more tape, more boxes, more bubble wrap, etc.)

 

Image: more than a dozen computer monitors, waiting to be packed and shipped back to Princeton




 

I was distressed about the many years of memorabilia: plaques, photographs, scrapbooks, etc.  Because we had been on the UGA campus for so long, I reached out to the folks at the Special Collections Library to see if they would want any of it.  I didn’t really expect them to want any of it...but they did!  It was such a good feeling to pass it all on to their safekeeping, and to know that the information would be there in the archives, available to anyone looking to research Learning Ally’s presence in Athens.

 

Image: one of several carts full of scrapbooks, logbooks, recordings, photographs, etc.



In addition, we had paintings of significant local interest: they had been done by Irene Dodd, the daughter of Lamar Dodd, for whom the UGA School of Art is named.  I was very pleased to pass those valuable artworks on to the school for its collection.

 

Image: abstract oil painting by Irene Dodd, with strong lines and thick impasto, all with muted colors and no discernable figures


 

As you can imagine, there was a LOT of paperwork to go through.  I am very grateful to volunteers Caren Snook and Elizabeth DeLaney Hoffman for their help with this task.  We were able to recycle a lot, but there were still bags and bags of shredded documents, much of which I used to pack items going back to Princeton.


Local staff and volunteers were given the opportunity to take home furnishings, shelving, etc., and the rest was donated to a local nonprofit for its thrift store.  Many thanks go to staff member Christine Hoffman and her husband Chris Sparnicht, and my husband, David Court, who all came to help load the thrift store truck.

 

Image: one of several truckloads heading to Project Safe; the panel truck is filled to the top with file cabinets, chairs, desks, artwork, etc.



 

In all, we donated:

  • 2 ½ truckloads of furnishings to the nonprofit Project Safe to help families working their way out of crisis; 

  • 2 packed-to-the-gills carloads of technical and office equipment to the nonprofit Free IT Athens to help low-income families and new small businesses with access to affordable technology; 

  • 50+ years of scrapbooks, programs, recordings, and other memorabilia to the UGA Special Collections Libraries;

  • 2 paintings by Irene Dodd to the UGA Lamar Dodd School of Art;

  • several commemorative plaques to family members of those commemorated


 

I threw out as absolutely little as possible, recycling and gifting as much as I could.


 

As part of our closure, UGA made a $25,000 donation to Learning Ally, money that will further help us in our mission.  We are all so grateful for the relationship we’ve had with the University.  I know this will not be the end; it will be interesting to see how the relationship transforms over the years to come.


Sometime next year, the University will raze the building and the lot will become an extension of the parking deck next door.  As it is directly across from the Special Collections Library, I expect, like many local staff and volunteers, to park there in the future when I attend events at the Library, and remember our days on campus fondly.


 

Image: UGA Special Collections Library, a majestic building in red brick with columns.  Hidden off to the left and across the street is the Learning Ally Athens Studio, a humble one-story yellow-brick building.


Montana Voters Information Pamphlet

 

Leading into the 2020 elections, Learning Ally recorded a custom project for the state of Montana to assist Blind and Visually Impaired voters in the state --the Montana Voters Information Pamphlet. This was the first year that the State of Montana approached Learning Ally to assist with this resource. The studio that assisted in the past was not available due to COVID. When their contact reached out to us, they were very excited to hear Learning Ally was 100% virtual recording and would be happy to help with their project. This project followed our conventions that are specific for Blind and Visually impaired readers.  

 

Our narrator was Frank Kouri, proof listener was Paul Kurtz, and final editor was Kathi Jensen.  Frank and Paul are the dynamic duo, and have been working as a close team on multiple book projects together for this past year. When they were approached about working on this special project, they jumped at the chance. Kathi is one of our stellar proof listeners, and also a member of our final editing core of volunteers.  

 

Frank lives in Anaheim Hills, California and has been volunteering with Learning Ally for over six years.  He transitioned to the Virtual Studio from the Hollywood studio, and has over 600 hours of volunteer service. 

 

Paul lives in Athens, Georgia and has been volunteering with Learning Ally for over seven years.  He transitioned to the Virtual Studio from the Athens Studio, and has over 975 hours of volunteer service. 

 

Kathi lives in San Marcos, Texas and has been volunteering with Learning Ally for over twelve and a half years. She transitioned to the Virtual Studio from the Austin Studio, and has over 2,600 hours of volunteer service. 

 

Here is a link to recording on the Montana voters site https://sosmt.gov/elections/ballot_issues/2020-2/.

 

Lisa, our contact in Montana shared, “Your team did an outstanding job, thank you so much!  Everyone who has listened in our office has commented on how professional and what a great job you all did…. We appreciated working with you, it was seamless from start to finish. If you are interested, we may have you produce our audio version in 2022, so please let me know if that is a possibility.”  

 

Thank you to this amazing volunteer team for bringing valuable and important voter information to Montana residents! 


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.