The Volunteer Nation is a community of over 1,000 individuals across the world who graciously support Learning Ally’s mission. Volunteers share their talents to create human-read audiobooks and provide support in roles that help us reach the 30 million students who struggle to read. Join the Volunteer Nation in smashing the literacy divide and bring equitable education for all.
Connect with the Community!
Interested in sharing your volunteer story or writing a blog post for us? We welcome your ideas!
Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you've been visiting the volunteer portal, and I'm sure we all do, all the time, you may have seen a change to the Support page! We continue to grow and improve our volunteer support and that means centralizing information and streamlining the process of finding answers and contacting staff for help. To do that, we've implemented a new Knowledge Base and support chat feature for our volunteers.
A Knowledge Base is a collection of articles that can help you with the issues you may encounter as a volunteer. The articles in our knowledge base are broken down into categories you can click on to explore, or you can use the search field at the top to find relevant articles. This knowledge base is not unlike the resources pages you'll find in the training center, the volunteer portal, and in project guides. In fact, many of these articles are taken directly from those sources.
If the Knowledge Base doesn't answer your question, there's a chat icon at lower right corner. Click to open the chat client and enter your question. Your message will be sent to Learning Ally staff and they'll join you in a chat conversation to provide assistance. We are usually available in the chat from 9am-5pm on weekdays but if your question arises outside that time (or we’re not available), please fill out the form in the chat and we’ll respond soon via email.
Since we have these new resources we'll be phasing out the vol-support email address. It currently responds by directing you to the new Knowledge Base and support site, but we will shut down that email option at some point.
We hope you find this system easier to use and please let us know if you think we’re missing any particular articles. It is a work in progress and can be easily updated.
But there's no reason to stop our volunteer appreciation and recognition efforts. Check out the recording of our volunteer appreciation event for "thank you's" from Learning Ally CEO Andrew Friedman, student users, parents and teachers. And if you watch to the end you might be able to find your name in the list of milestone achievements for the past year. Speaking of milestones, take note of the leaderboard on the Log Hours page. If you want to see your name on that list one day, then check out the examples set by other dedicated volunteers.
Our annual fundraising event is drawing to a close with the end of May, so this is your last call to get involved with the program. You'll find detailed instructions on how to get involved on the front page of the volunteer portal. Also, if your friends and family made a promise to donate to your campaign page, but haven't quite gotten around to it yet, now's the time to remind them pitch in and help you to help our students.
Kim A., Patricia R-B., Rohan S., Cristal F., Rahim S-A., Eugene K., William B-M., Stephanie S-A., Fariya F., Paula C., Ilana V., Genie H., Danitra G., Emily C., Aditi V., Caroline S., Teri M., Hugo C.,
by Jim McCullough
When I was a student in high school, I came across a recording of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” The highly dramatic reading by Basil Rathbone enthralled me. He is probably not much remembered now, but then he was the celebrated star in a series of Sherlock Holmes movies. Thus the seed was planted, or maybe that occurred when I passed a Recording for the Blind studio in my neighborhood. (Recording for the Blind was the original name of Learning Ally.) Fifty-five years later, I volunteered to become a reader. Better late than never— I love recording for Learning Ally.
I started as an apprentice in LA’s downtown studio on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, a few blocks south of the Wrigley Building. One day I listened to a flawless, sonorous reading and remarked to myself, “Gee, this guy is good.” Actually, it was a voice I had already heard often on the radio. It belonged to Barry Kaufmann, who aired a weekly program about health issues. He had graduate degrees in both communication arts and dentistry. Later we became good friends.
Another fond memory is a trip to Princeton, N.J. to help judge an essay contest sponsored by Learning Ally. The essays were written by high school seniors seeking college scholarships. One student wrote that with the help of Learning Ally, she progressed from struggling for six hours with her homework every night because of her dyslexia, to gaining college credits in Advanced Placement courses. Many inspirational stories like that convinced me, if I ever had a doubt, that Learning Ally changes lives.
After moving to a suburb south of Chicago, I worked out of a Learning Ally studio in Orland Park, Illinois. Its excellent manager, Sandy Elhenicky, once complimented me on my intonation, that is, stressing key words in passages as I read. I blush to admit it, but her casual remark boosted my self-confidence no end. I felt like Sally Fields at the Oscar ceremony, “They like me, they really like me.” Soon a number of individual-reader assignments came my way, many of them books for young adults. I especially enjoyed reading Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and The Closer by Mariano Rivera, the great relief pitcher for the New York Yankees.
Best of all, I got to record Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth. With plays the challenge is to vary your voice to differentiate a large cast of characters and then keep notes to remember whose voice you are using. Luckily, I taught Macbeth in high school for many years, and I had often played a Caedmon Label recording of the play to help it come alive for my students. I remembered certain voices like those of the three witches very well and modeled my interpretation on them. For A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the trick is to listen to any recording of Dame Judy Dench reciting iambic pentameter lines.
In 2017 the switch to recording from home was a challenge, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Instead of recording once or twice a week, I could do it more often, and when the pandemic arrived, I already had a set routine. I like to kick-start my day by arising very early and recording in the quiet hours of the morning. With something to accomplish every day, I can still feel relevant in my advanced years.
Currently I am registered in Learning Ally’s Textbook Community. The rule is to select just one chapter at a time within a project, often a large anthology. That way readers from all over the country can finish a nine-hundred-page book within a sixty-day deadline. Some of the new literature anthologies are the best I have ever seen, and they make me wish I could return to teaching. A few weeks ago, I recorded a chapter titled “Identity and Society.” Selections included George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant,” Shakespeare’s “The Seven Ages of Man,” a portion of Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” and James Joyce’s “Eveline.” Oh, what a delight that assignment was!
One tip I might offer is to employ YouTube as a resource. If I am unsure how to pronounce an author’s name, I can usually hear it done correctly in a video of the author being introduced at a lecture or performance. Also, listening to an author read her own work is helpful. Recently I recorded “Kindness,” a wonderful poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, who grew up in Jerusalem and now lives in San Antonio, Texas. You can find her on YouTube reading her poem. You can also find it at two other sites, read by Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons.
I hope to continue with Learning Ally as long as I can, as a reader or checker. My hero is Dr. Bernie Strauss, a retired professor from the University of Chicago. He recently appeared on television, still recording for Learning Ally at the age of 92!
- Jim McCullough