October 13, 2019
August 2, 2019
July 2, 2019
June 4, 2019
April 30, 2019
Always be Ready for Anything
It was going to be an epic adventure. We were taking a small ship cruise from New Caledonia across northern Australia up to Indonesia and finally to Singapore. Another week in Singapore would top it all off before we came home. In the middle of the trip was my husband, Steve’s birthday.
That was the plan.
We sailed from New Caledonia to Cairns Australia with no issue. Two days after leaving Cairns we were told that we were headed back, the cruise was over and we needed to find our way home as we would not be allowed to stay in Australia. That was March 13.
We flew from Australia to Singapore, over-nighted in the airport and then attempted to catch our flight's home. Singapore to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Guayaquil Ecuador. As we checked in for our flights we were told that Ecuador had closed its borders. We asked if we could make it as far as Amsterdam and then figure it out from there, especially since Singapore had made it clear we could not stay there. We arrived in Amsterdam and were welcomed. While we do live in Ecuador, we are US citizens and considered trying to get back there but that would put us at risk on yet another plane ride and when we got there we would just be in the same situation we are in here.
Amsterdam had already closed all non essential businesses until June 1, that is all museums and shopping and churches, pretty much everything except grocery stores and restaurants that are allowed to do delivery or take out. Hotel restaurants are also closed but are allowed to deliver room service to guests. It became apparent quickly that we would need a place with a kitchen. We found a vacation rental and made a reservation until April 6, when Ecuador was supposed to reopen its borders. The criteria was kitchen and washer/dryer. We were near the end of our stay in this rental and it did not look like we were going home anytime soon, so we found another more comfortable place. We moved there on April 6. There is a beautiful park nearby that I anticipate many walks in. We initially packed for a tropical vacation, not March in the Netherlands, so we picked up some warm souvenirs rather quickly.
Our days are a mixture of watching the news, I have always been a news watcher and this crisis is not something I can turn away from, and focused distraction. We started walking around to Amsterdam's attractions and taking photos outside them. It is a beautiful city and the citizens are taking social distancing very seriously, we do as well, and are doing all we can to keep ourselves and others around us safe. Facetime has been a great way to stay in touch with our loved ones during this time, technology is fantastic.
As I said, groceries are open, but they only allow a certain amount of people at a time inside. The stores have the allowed number of baskets at the front door, when you go inside you pick up a basket, if there are no baskets, you wait until there is one. Once someone pays for their purchases, the basket is cleaned and placed back at the door. If you need to wait outside you stand in a 1.5 meter apart queue.
One of the best things for me personally throughout this situation has been projects I am working on with Learning Ally. I can DO something and feel good about doing it. I feel that it is something that helps me maintain my sanity, so thank you all for that! I attended the recent webinar (It was 10:00 pm here) and that was wonderful for me to feel connected. Bonus, I now know how to green screen my Zoom background, thanks Russell.
I am currently acting as listener for a few literature books.
“The Poet X” which is being narrated by Krysta Gonzalez is a true joy! Krysta is absolutely lighting up this performance and I want every young woman in the world to hear it, especially latinas!
“Lu” is being narrated by Gregory Jacques and is the third in the track series that I have worked on. Just started, but I have high hopes!
“The Sacrifice of Sunshine Girl” narrated by Rebecca Carter is an awesome and fun YA syfy type book that is going to give a lot of readers fantastic distraction.
“The Big Game” narrated by Jacob Lindsey is a coming of age, while playing football and trying to step out of your fathers shadow story. Jacob is hitting all parts gloriously.
“Cilla Lee-Jenkins Future Author Extraordinaire” narrated by Victoria Rivera is such a fun book, it has made me laugh out loud a couple of times and I have made Steve listen to passages just because it is so cute. A lot of that is thanks to Victoria really making this character pop!
“Five Feet Apart” narrated by Holly Russo and William Wright is a love story between two teens with cystic fibrosis. I don’t think I will make it through this one dry eyed, especially because Holly and William are really bringing it with their performances.
I don’t know how much longer we will be here, but I do know that I am so fortunate to have my Learning Ally projects to keep my mind active and give me a sense of contribution.
Did I mention we wanted an epic adventure?
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!
Learning Ally volunteer Bernie Strauss appeared on NBC 5 Chicago on an interview about his experience as a volunteer with Learning Ally. It was broadcasted on June 26 and 27.
The segment highlights the volunteer as a retired geneticist, who narrates science textbooks for Learning Ally. Bernard has volunteered for more than 9.5 years with us and transitioned from studio to virtual.
The segment also mentions Daniela, an LA solution user who is a senior majoring in Microbiology who has used the books recorded by Bernard and other LA volunteers.
To watch Learning Ally volunteer Bernie Strauss and Daniela's interview on NBCTV5, click on the video above.
Update for this week: Our readers increased to 209,928 this week – with 46,256 at frequency. Pages read increased by 65% over last year for school readers!
I hope you enjoy the video!
Last week we told you about eighth-grader Tristan and his accomplishment of reading an entire book for the first time in his life, sharing an interview with him recorded by Learning Ally staff member Terrie Noland. The book Tristan read was Swing, by Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess--a wonderful story about people struggling to find their way in a confusing, complicated world.
In response to this post, Literature Community Lead Alexis Bourbeau arranged for Learning Ally’s narrator for Swing, Michael Burgess, to record a message to Tristan, congratulating him and encouraging him to continue. In a heartwarming video, Tristan, Tristan’s teacher Mrs. York, Terrie Noland, and Production Team staff members Alexis Bourbeau and Dave Kozemchak listen to Michael’s message and talk about Tristan’s great accomplishment, encouraging him to continue his quest for great books about subjects he’s interested in. To watch that video, click here:
In addition, at the end of the video is a follow-up email sent by Mrs. York:
Special thanks to Alexis and Michael for making this moment possible!
Metrics Update for this week:
Our readers increased to 206,406
We had 44,925 reading at frequency*
This is why we all do this work: to encourage and inspire struggling yet eager learners to explore the possibilities before them, and to help them succeed in school and beyond.
Happy June, everyone! Thank you for all you're doing to help Tristan and other students like him!
*at frequency = students are reading books multiple times during the school year, with a general target of thirty times (more for lower grades, less for upper grades). Our data shows that most of these students read for at least 20 minutes each time.
The Kump family travels in childhood were limited to infrequent summer vacations from Missouri to Colorado and weekend trips to his grandparents farm in rural Missouri. It wasn’t until Kump joined the U.S. Air Force in 1968 as a recently married college graduate that the travels really began. Included in the couples travels are multiple islands in the Philippines, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Yugoslavia, The Czech Republic, Hawaii, Mexico, Cayman Islands, Honduras and all but about 6 States in the United States.
“As much as I enjoy travel; on planes, autos, RVs, boats, or horseback,” says Kump, “what I really love doing is reading to others. Learning Ally has given me a wonderful outlet for that gift and it has allowed me to help others learn in the process - what could be better than that?!”
Kump has used his reading and speaking interest in a variety of other ways over the years. He was an official spokesman for the U.S. Government in a series of overseas postings, during such international events as President Reagan’s visit to Berlin, Germany (see the side-by-side photos of Kump and his wife, Shirley taken at the same spot in Berlin 20 years apart; the first in 1985, in uniform as an Air Force Lt. Col. and the second as a tourist in 2006). Later, Kump served as a news media liaison for two major aerospace corporations during the Space Shuttle program at Kennedy Space Center. He has also served as an emcee for a number of non-profit fund raising gala’s and community events as Chairman of the local Chamber of Commerce.
That speaking continues to come in handy in his role as Pastor in a local, non-denominational church near the couples home on the Space Coast of Florida.
“I can remember during reading time in grade school raising my hand hoping to be called on to read aloud,” said Kump. “It was the first thing I can remember being able to do with any success.” His reading ability caused him to be recruited for the debate team in high school and in competitive speech contests, helping him earn a scholarship to a college. Later, Kump would use his reading abilities on stage in Summer stock and in college theater productions.
“Reading allows you to travel anywhere in your mind,” says Kump, “And I love being able to take people to far places when I read to them.” When he earned a Masters degree in Education, Kump recognized that in most systems, learning takes place by reading. But not everyone has the same ability or interest in reading. “That’s why Learning Ally is so important,” believes Kump. “Anyone can play a role in that process too. As much as anything, donors are needed to keep the service operating. Reading the comments from students who have been helped by Learning Ally makes it so rewarding.”
Do you ever wonder how the textbooks make it into EasyBooks? How does THIS:
In the past, only staff, and maybe a very few scattered volunteers, set up books for production. In late 2017, however, Learning Ally created a Pre-Production Community also known as Team TOCTool. Currently, eight dedicated volunteers work on setting up books, using the TOCTool program to transform the information from pdfs into .html files for EasyBooks. TOCToolers serve the community in a very special way, making the recording process easier for the other volunteers, and lightening the load for staff members, who still set up books as well, but now have some relief so they can focus on other tasks.
The requirements of this job are an eye (and love) for detail, some computer ability, regular time to devote to the task, patience, and a PC (sorry, no Macs right now--but we’re working on a new version of the program for the future). Going through the pdf page by page, the TOCTooler types in every heading and its placement within the book, creating files along the way. One TOCTooler says, “It’s a great way to get to know the books very intimately, and to see ahead of time which books I might like to read or QC.”
Caren Snook is one of our most prolific TOCToolers, working steadily to provide the other volunteers with books to work on. Caren first joined the Learning Ally Athens (Georgia) Studio in 1973 and has put in well over 5,000 hours (not including undocumented hours from the “old days”). Over her 46 years with Learning Ally, Caren has served as a TOCTooler, Reader, Checker, bookmarker, local Board President, events tabler--she’s seen it all! Caren says about TOCTool, “The logic is appealing and the attention to detail that is required fits my personality...I really enjoy reading, but my house does not include a good space for that.” TOCTooling fits her schedule, and the house doesn’t have to be quiet for her to do it.
A former teacher, Caren’s love of Learning Ally led her recently to audit classes at the University of Georgia, classes required for the Graduate Certificate in Dyslexia. While attending these classes, Caren had the opportunity to learn more about the needs of our learners, and that knowledge has made her even more focused on excellence in her volunteer work, saying, “...it is incumbent on every volunteer to do his/her best every time...take time to find out the correct pronunciation...to reread the conventions...Recognize that everyone makes occasional errors, and learn from yours...If you aren’t feeling well, give yourself a break and take a day off. Our students are depending on you!”
As a team in the last calendar year, the group set up over 200 books for the Textbook Community! Other current members of TeamTOCTool are:
Jaqui Bradley, a former cloistered Franciscan nun and ongoing kitten rescue volunteer who started at the Upland (California) Studio in 2007 and also currently serves as a volunteer mentor in the VHOC.
Jaci Collins, who joined the Austin (Texas) Studio in 1998 and continues to read and QC as well.
Elizabeth DeLaney Hoffman, who joined the Athens Studio in 2015 and also serves as a Volunteer Coordinator.
Pat Lim, a freelance technical writer in the bio-pharmaceutical field who joined the Menlo Park (California) Studio in 2011.
Jim Siewert, a retired Honeywell engineer who started volunteering at the Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) Studio in 2004 and whose primary TOCTool focus is books for the Math Community.
Susan Wilson, a former corporate lawyer and current law school instructor who joined the Athens Studio in 2016; Susan not only works on TOCTool but is also helping Audrey Santos pilot a program for volunteers to create project sites (no photo available).
Beira Winter, who first joined the Hollywood (California) Studio in 2000, and besides all of her work for Learning Ally, also helped with her community’s float for this year’s Rose Bowl Parade.
Think you have what it takes to become a TOCTooler? Team TOCTool is open to any interested volunteer with the desire to try the task. For more information, contact Stacie Court sCourt@LearningAlly.org, or mention joining us in your STAFF Hangout. We’d love to have you on Team TOCTool!
Raise your hand if you remember Weekly Readers, those wonderful little newspapers we used to get years (and years!) ago in Social Studies class. I don’t know about you, but I absolutely loved them: the content was varied and interesting, presented in language I understood, with plenty of illustrations to pique my interest.
But...what if you can’t read print material? What if your first language is Spanish? Or what if you’re attending a magnet school for Spanish, with all materials in that language? What then?
da-da-da DAH! It’s David Alper to the rescue! David has been reading Spanish language materials for Learning Ally for nearly eleven years, first with the Athens (Georgia) Studio, and now with the Foreign Language Community. Over the past year, David read 192 (!) of these gems, all in Spanish, spending hours and hours (over 200!) making sure every detail was executed perfectly.
The Weekly Readers, along with many other projects Learning Ally records, are part of our contract with the Texas Education Agency (TEA), which supervises primary and secondary public education in the State of Texas. According to Ed Bray, National Director of Government Relations and State Initiatives for Learning Ally, volunteers (maybe you?) who work on these projects “help us provide a comprehensive collection of Texas-adopted educational materials, including these Weekly Readers. The collection ensures students can access this broad set of curriculum materials.”
David, who has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology, works long hours each week, traveling across three counties to serve as a School Psychologist for multiple schools. He first heard of Learning Ally through an ad in a local paper. He found that he really enjoyed combining reading aloud with helping others improve their reading comprehension and reach their educational and life goals. Volunteering with Learning Ally gives David a great deal of satisfaction, and being able to use his Spanish skills to help others, either through reading or quality control work, gives him a sense of purpose--and, he says, helps him maintain and even improve his Spanish through consistent practice--a great bonus!
David’s message to other volunteers: Work on what gives you pleasure and is a priority in the studio. Be positive and show appreciation toward your fellow volunteers. Attend live and online volunteer events as you’re able, and participate in the Hangout chats. Spread the word far and wide about Learning Ally!
Imagine having something you have created seen by millions of people around the world. That’s what happened for me on January 1, 2019 during the annual Tournament of Roses Parade. Here’s the story.
While the large, elaborate floats are commercially built, there are 6 smaller floats that are “self-built.” That means that all aspects of the float are handled by volunteers. I have friends who are volunteers with the Burbank Tournament of Roses Association. Each year they design, create, build and decorate the Rose Parade float that represents the City of Burbank.
Much as I would love to be part of that, I am a complete disaster when it comes to glue or paint. Not to mention the more skilled tasks like welding, sculpting, animating, and well, you get the idea. But last year, there was something I could do that none of the regular volunteers could do. I can spin fiber into string.
If you saw the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day, you may remember the Burbank float presented cartoon animals who brought their instruments together to jam. It was an eclectic collection with a saxophone playing pig, a bass drum playing skunk, a huge bear with a concertina, and an alligator playing a washboard.
Then there was also a hound dog playing a banjo. A wolf playing a fiddle and a HUGE white rabbit playing a string bass. That’s where my contribution came in. One of my friends who works on the float knew about my spinning, and asked me if I could spin strings from raw cotton for those instruments.
Spinning is easy, but cotton is hard, because the fibers are short and they tend to ball up instead of lying flat. But with patience, I came to a compromise with the cotton and was able to produce custom strings for each instrument. The fiddle strings were thin, the banjo strings were more funky, and the string bass had thick strings. The bass strings took the most time because I had to spin 4 threads then ply them together.
Spinning was something I learned when I was working in a living history center in Maryland. We used antique wheels to demonstrate making wool yarn, therefore, I never learned to use modern tools. That was unfortunate for the float because the rabbit was supposed to be covered completely in cotton “fur.” I had to help the decorators find a woman with the machine that could produce batts (flat plates) of cotton. She prepared over 4 pounds of cotton batts needed to completely cover the 6 foot tall rabbit.
No, I didn’t go to the parade, I watched it on TV. But after the parade, all the floats are parked together to allow people to see them up close. I had seen the pieces while they were being built and decorated, but seeing the completed float with my strings on the instruments was breathtaking. Building a float takes thousands of hours by many talented people. Being a very small part of something as big and amazing as a rose parade float is a memory I will treasure.
From Staff: Beira has been a volunteer since 2006 and has managed to rack up almost 1700 hours of time as a listener for Instructional Text and the Literature team.