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


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.


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).


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. 


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! 


Always Be Ready for Anything

Always be Ready for Anything

Steve (left) and Myra (Right) pose in front of a canal in Amsterdam.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.

 

A trio of photos from Amsterdam: A canal, lots of parked bicycles and a row of buildings.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?  

 

Myra Parker


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 Spotlight - Bernard Strauss TV Interview

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!


A Message to Tristan

 

Computer screen shot of Michael Burgess with a big smile on his face.  Thumbnail photos on right are of Terrie Noland, Tristan and Mrs. York, Alexis, and Dave--all smiling!



 

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.



 

Swing book cover: stylized image African American young man walking with backpack, book, and baseball bat, surrounded by music symbols and musical instruments traditionally used in jazz.


 

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyNGpEPeY0E&feature=youtu.be

 

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!






 

Colorful graphic of celebratory confetti and streamers rising up from festive party hat-like cones


 

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.


Volunteer Spotlight: J.B. Kump Loves Travel!

 

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.”


Team TOCTool, At Your Service!

 

Do you ever wonder how the textbooks make it into EasyBooks?  How does THIS:

 

Page from Spanish-language social studies book: ¿Qué es una comunidad?

 

 

 

become THIS?

 

EasyBooks screen, showing headings from previous Spanish book image



 

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.”  

 

Volunteer Caren Snook smiles as she takes a break from setting up the language arts book (computer screen with book and TOCTool images in background)

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.


TOCTooler Jaci Collins smiling at the camera, wearing a boatneck white blouse, drop earrings, and a large pendant

Jaci Collins, who joined the Austin (Texas) Studio in 1998 and continues to read and QC as well.


TOCTooler Elizabeth DeLaney Hoffman, smiling at the camera.  She has short white hair, dark-framed glasses, and a thick necklace of varying shades of green that match her green top.

Elizabeth DeLaney Hoffman, who joined the Athens Studio in 2015 and also serves as a Volunteer Coordinator.


TOCTooler Pat Lim.  Street scene, before crossing street: arms spread, sunglasses on, smiling as she points to an exceptionally large ice cream shop sign across the street

Pat Lim, a freelance technical writer in the bio-pharmaceutical field who joined the Menlo Park (California) Studio in 2011.

 

TOCtooler Jim Siewert, outside in front of a large bush, wearing a dark green cap with a Green Bay logo

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).

TOCTooler Beira Winter standing smiling in front of the Rose Bowl Parade float she helped with this year.  The float features a funky-looking house with crooked shutters, and a large cat in front playing the fiddle

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!