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Tapping Volunteer Energy in the College Crowd

Categories: Activities, Volunteerism

A new student initiative is energizing Learning Ally’s effort to attract new volunteers and increase awareness of our services. At the forefront is Chloe Burke, a college sophomore who has dyslexia, who recently founded Project Learning Ally Gainesville at the University of Florida. Actively involved in her student community and majoring in Political Science and Portuguese with a minor in Latin American Studies, Chloe is on her way to receiving a very impressive diploma. She is proud to admit she had to work hard to get where she is now. Chloe struggled with dyslexia throughout her childhood but wasn’t diagnosed until the end of her senior year of high school. After that, she was introduced to Learning Ally, which continues to provide a welcome accommodation for her learning difference. “I really wish I had known about Learning Ally earlier,” she says, describing how tough it was going through school not knowing why reading was harder for her than for her peers. Chloe Burke at Awareness Fair

Chloe Burke promoting Learning Ally at the University of Florida

The club meets twice a month to discuss goals, make plans, and share successes. Chloe describes her role as “a collaborative effort with a bunch of other students,” but it is clear that she has taken on many leadership responsibilities herself, from organizing events and hosting a digital volunteer training session, to keeping the club connected on the “Students for Learning Ally” Facebook page. She is thinking about the big picture too, hoping to collaborate with other student groups. “Later on when other universities partner with us, it will be great to exchange ideas. Chloe affirms that new technological advances at Learning Ally, such as the iOS app, are very appealing to college students. The iOS app “definitely makes it easier when you’re already at the library,” she says, noting that some of the older assistive tech devices were heavy and their batteries short-lived. Learning Ally’s V-Text — short for Volunteer Text Editor — program is also proving to be popular with the college crowd. The Project Learning Ally Gainesville club is among the first groups to try out this new digital volunteer opportunity. V-Text volunteers type descriptions of illustrations, charts and graphs that appear in textbooks, which are subsequently recorded by human narrators, or rendered by text-to-speech readers. Without audio descriptions of visual inserts such as the graphs and diagrams that appear in math and science textbooks, for example, students may be unable to complete their work. Students, Display and Handouts picture block

Club Members at V-Text Training, Members give Learning Ally Handouts and Flyers on Campus

V-Text is an excellent new way for volunteers to get involved, especially those who don’t live near a Learning Ally studio or can’t make a regular time commitment. “You can do it from basically anywhere,” Chloe points out. “I think it’s really great for students, because our schedules can be strange and change really often.” While Chloe is working hard to establish Project Learning Ally Gainesville’s presence at the University of Florida, the club is also expanding its activities beyond the campus borders. One action on the club’s agenda is raising awareness through Learning Ally’s Ambassador Program. Chloe reports that they have already begun by sending emails to the various colleges within the university in order to reach as many students as possible. They also plan to reach out to local high schools and arrange presentations highlighting Learning Ally’s services. The motivation to start the club was fueled by a desire to help others, and Chloe really takes advocacy to heart: “Oftentimes learning differences are seen as disabilities,” she says. “Dyslexia can be an unforeseeable conflict, but people with dyslexia find their own ways to deal with their learning differences. . .We want to reach more students, because maybe they’ll ask to be tested.” She hopes that younger students will be able to avoid some of the difficulties she faced at school by being diagnosed and receiving help earlier in their academic years. – Lauren Holstein

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