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Voice of Experience

Categories: Audiobook Library, Volunteerism

Wondering who belongs to the clear, steady voice behind your organic chemistry audiobook? The answer might be our Los Angeles studio’s John Hickam, who takes volunteering to the 'nth' degree. The retired science and health teacher draws on years of classroom expertise to craft Learning Ally’s accessible technical audio textbooks. John first read about Learning Ally’s need for volunteers in the Los Angeles Unified School District’s teacher’s newsletter about eight years ago. After retiring from teaching junior high school science and health for 30 years, John thought he “…knew a little about a lot of things—just enough to get me in trouble,” and ended up becoming one of the prized readers who specialize in the technical books that are sorely needed by students of all ages. Learning Ally volunteer John Hickham brings 30 years of science and health teaching skills to his role narrating audiobooks for people with reading disabilities John is a stand-out thanks to the range of the material he is able to read for Learning Ally’s members. He concentrates on subjects such as Chemistry, Anatomy, Physiology — and is presently reading Child Health Nursing by Ball, Bindler and Cowen. He admits to taking an occasional "holiday" from reading medical textbooks. “I’ve also been doing an accounting book that’s out there,” another critically needed subject area for our hungry learners. Hollywood studio production assistant Jesse Clemens says, “John is an indispensable member of our volunteer team. His encyclopedic knowledge and professionalism go a long way toward improving the quality of the work we do.”  John is a bit more modest in describing himself, however:  “It’s sort of a standing joke that I come in, get my book, go in the booth, come out four hours later and say, ‘Bye!’” Part of John's great value as a volunteer derives from his ease of reading and interpreting the figures and chemical structures in technical books. While many volunteers consider this to be the most taxing aspect of reading a textbook, John relishes the task, adding that Organic Chemistry is his favorite subject. When asked what makes a good volunteer, he replies, “Knowledge of the subject is the most important thing, and love of the subject. I’m a science teacher and I love science! And I’m sort of a perfectionist; I’ll want to get everything right.” To say that John is devoted is an understatement. He donates his time three days a week, four hours at a time, but says that volunteering is "easier than teaching. Anything is easier than teaching!” He also has a hefty commute that encompasses two busses and three metro lines, adding up to a two-hour journey each way! However, like many of Learning Ally’s volunteers, John takes it in stride and uses the time to do one of the things he loves most: “Believe it or not, I read all the way here and all the way back. I love to read.” In fact, he missed his metro stop recently while his nose was firmly lodged in a novel. Like many of his colleagues, John is always on the lookout for someone he thinks might also make a good Learning Ally volunteer. “I tell people to try it and they’ll love it, but they have to love to read in the first place. Definitely for doing technical books, it helps if you loved school, too.” If you have a special skill like John, or would just like more information, visit our website to find out how you can volunteer … and become a Learning Ally! Diane Kelber

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