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.
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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.
I am Paula Restrepo, and I have been working with Virtual Volunteer Communities in the U.S. for more than 13 years. I personally have recruited more than 2,500 volunteers while simultaneously creating a unique model of virtual volunteering for nonprofit organizations.
I am originally from Colombia and have a background in Engineering and Nonprofit Management…I know that could be strange, but the combination of backgrounds and experiences have been essential in my career. This combination allows me to understand different sides of the equation and to think outside the box. I am a “people” person and I love interacting with volunteers - making sure they have a positive experience while accomplishing our important mission.
I have experience with voice recording as my husband and I host a podcast. Our weekly podcast BetterVida is oriented to the skilled Latino immigrant community in the U.S. Through this podcasting experience, I have learned so much about recording, editing and making sure our sound quality improves with every new podcast. I can relate to your challenges when recording or doing quality control of our audiobooks.
Learning Ally represents an amazing professional challenge in my career. I want to build a solid, easy to navigate virtual community. My goal is to shape a community that simply recreates what we feel when we belong to any community that interacts in person. We all know organizations are becoming “more virtual” every day and the solutions that Learning Ally currently offers to struggling learners are based on virtual technology. Our volunteers need to be prepared and equipped for this big change and, most importantly, feel comfortable working virtually.
I want you to be in constant contact with me. I want you to help me better understand your needs and challenges. We want to create processes and community structures that are dynamic and flexible and become more efficient at producing audiobooks that are engaging and useful for struggling learners. Our differentiator is the human voice! Your voices make us unique and engaging. I want to hear your voice not only in our audiobooks, but also telling me how we can do things better. Please keep an eye on things that we can improve and feel free to share your thoughts with me.
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and my direct line is 609.243.7099
I look forward to working with you all!