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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.
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!
David Frens has decided to retire after being an active Narrator with Learning Ally for 13 years and logging in over 5,000 hours. In that time, he helped create science textbooks that are helping students with learning differences access grade-level content for school.
In 2007, he began volunteering in the Phoenix Studio and when it closed, he transitioned into volunteering remotely with the Athens Studio where our team had the opportunity to work with him. Christine Hoffman remembers assigning projects and proofing his work. David was one of our earliest remote volunteers, more or less beta testing what would become the Virtual Studio. David always understood the importance of putting our mission first while adapting to a new way of volunteering. Then, when we transitioned completely to virtual in 2017, he joined the Virtual Studio.
He was a prolific Narrator, moving through dense science textbooks, covering medicine, nursing and other science texts, in short amounts of time. David was a neurologist in his early life and he willingly shared his knowledge through narration. His tenacity and knowledge allowed us to close large projects quickly and move those recordings into the audiobook library. His reading interests ranged from biology, chemistry, philosophy, humanities, and religion/theology.
Besides reading for us, David reads fiction and nonfiction for Sun Sounds of Arizona, a radio reading service for visually impaired people.
David has a total of 5,872 volunteer hours and over 1,173 visits to our Virtual Studio (and Phoenix Studio). He stopped reading in June 2020, and finally, he reached out to us in the Summer. Retiring was not an easy thing for him to do, as he is an active retiree, but he let us know he has been finding new ways to volunteer in his community, so there are some lucky organizations benefiting from his generosity and knowledge!
We cannot thank David enough! He has been a star volunteer. His generosity has had a profound and lasting impact on our students. His willingness to share both his time and talent says a lot about him. David’s willingness to give selflessly to help others will never be forgotten here at Learning Ally. Thank you, David!
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.
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.
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:
Redhead by the Side of the Road
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.
Bellevue, Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital
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.
Walk the Wire
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.
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!
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 Woman of Troublesome Creek
Kim Michele Richardson
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.
If It Bleeds
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.
The Library Book
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).
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.
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.
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
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!