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Volunteers Changing the World, One Reader at a Time

Categories: Volunteerism

Learning Ally volunteer checking book corrections in the studio From coast to coast, Learning Ally’s volunteers are making a dramatic impact on the lives of people with visual and learning disabilities. With 6,000 volunteers working in our 19 audiobook recording and production studios from the heart of Los Angeles to mid-town Manhattan, we proudly honor them by celebrating National Volunteer Week, April 15 - 21. As a national nonprofit organization, we rely on a legion of dedicated volunteers to serve our more than 300,000 members with print disabilities across the country. Sponsored by Points of Light (the largest volunteer network in the nation), National Volunteer Week was established in 1974 and has grown exponentially. This year is themed “Celebrating People in Action” while it honors the people who dedicate themselves to taking action and solving problems in their communities. Making education accessible for all individuals with learning differences is the heart of Learning Ally’s call to action. To achieve our vision, the organization has recruited volunteers with backgrounds as varied as the subject matter of the 70,000-plus audiobooks they have recorded. Our Palo Alto recording studio serves as a microcosm of the volunteer tapestry represented nationwide. After being introduced to Learning Ally by a friend, Denise Lum found immediate appeal in the organization's mission. "I came in and began reading, and enjoyed that whole process. Then I began to notice that everyone in the organization is so involved and dedicated to its mission and values. Their high level of commitment convinced me to continue coming. Denise Lum, volunteer and Board member at Learning Ally in Palo Alto, California "I've always been a very avid reader and enjoyed picking up a book, and delving into the material," she says. "And I've had a chance to listen to the stories of members receiving Learning Ally's services. Usually, stepping into a recording booth, you don't really visualize the end user. But hearing about their experiences, how Learning Ally changed their lives entirely, and the value they now have from their education - that definitely had an impact on me, and continues to drive me to come here." Denise took her volunteer work to another level by joining the Palo Alto unit's Board of Directors. "I wanted to make an extra level of commitment to an organization where everyone around me is full of motivation and passion.  It's very fulfilling to take that extra step and contribute even more in terms of making decisions that impact the members directly." Learning Ally Palo Alto studio volunteer Ann RichardsonAnn Richardson is a professional audiobook narrator and voice model, and has been volunteering in Palo Alto for around four years. Ann wanted to go back to her roots for her volunteer experience. “I believe that if you’re going to give back to the community you should give back from a talent that you’ve got,” she says. “I have had the pleasure of narrating everything from medical texts to technical descriptions of applying stage makeup to digital photography guides. And then I have my favorite, children’s literature.” Ann further explains why Learning Ally’s audiobooks are valuable for students: “Text read by a human voice is more easily understood because of the inflections, the warmth, the articulation and the emphasis that a person can bring. When I read, I’m always thinking about who’s listening to my voice. I’m trying to paint a picture for them in the clearest, most concise, articulate manner that I can.” Lisa Bell, Learning Ally volunteer in Palo Alto, California Palo Alto volunteer Lisa Bell majored in English Literature and then went to law school. Along with these qualifications, she has unique perspective as a mother of two children who have dyslexia — giving her up-close familiarity with experience from the member’s side of the book. “They are thirsty for knowledge and Learning Ally is a way that they can get it!" she says. "My older son is a really bright kid. But the physical act of reading was extremely difficult for him, and he was very anxious about it. Then we found Learning Ally, and not only did his grades really go up but his anxiety level went way down. Learning Ally is a lifeline. “Before Learning Ally, I was always struggling," Lisa recalls. " ‘How am I going to get what my son needs in his books?’ I decided to volunteer at Learning Ally because of my experience with how much it was doing for my kids and also how much I love to read, and how important it is for me to feel I am giving back. This service is so important and I feel dedicated to it, to recording these kinds of books to level the playing field for kids with learning disabilities.” Jane Seaman, Learning Ally studio volunteer in Palo Alto, CaliforniaOne of Learning Ally's most steadfast and prolific volunteers, Jane Seaman, has dedicated a remarkable 42 years of weekly visits to the recording studio to help provide textbooks for our members. “I have loved every one of those hours!” she says. Jane is moved whenever she has the opportunity to meet Learning Ally members who have used our audiobooks to access their education. “I also find that being here feeds me a great deal. And it feeds me in areas of which I may have not been well fed in the past. I recently read a book that teaches history by way of art. I felt it enlightened me tremendously and gave me further education in a subject in which I had very limited information.” Jane’s road to Learning Ally came by way of a stage play. “I had recently finished performing the role of Helen Keller’s mother in The Miracle Worker, with a number of local blind children in the cast. Shortly after that play finished I happened to read in the paper a short piece about this organization. It was the beginning of that beautiful friendship connection that has nourished me all these years and I feel has done far more for me than anything I may have done for somebody else.” While Learning Ally’s volunteers are at the center of changing people’s lives, they find their lives are immeasurably enriched as well. From Jane Seaman's point of view, “My life without reading would have a big hole in it, to say the least.” Volunteer Ann Richardson calls it “a symbiotic relationship” that provides benefits for our members — and for the volunteers' own education, enrichment and lifelong learning. Learning Ally is profoundly grateful to the myriad volunteers across the country, who dedicate their lives to fostering positive transformation in individuals who learn and read differently.     -Diane Kelber and Doug Sprei

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