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Bringing Books to Life - a Volunteer Reader's Story

Categories: Volunteerism

The following post was first published on the Student Affairs Collective. We're re-posting with the author's permission. 

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By Emily Ancinec When I moved to Athens (Georgia) I really struggled to find my footing within the community. Through volunteering I realized that I was able to connect to the community in a deeper way than I could have ever picimagined. I’ve always been a reader and after graduating graduate school, it became a major hobby of mine. So when Learning Ally was “calling all readers,” I had to help. Learning Ally is a national non-profit that makes audio books for the blind, dyslexic, and visually impaired. The organization works with educators, parents, and students to help remove barriers to learning. They create and provide resources for K-12, college, and adult learners. The set-up for the Learning Ally (Atlanta) studio is a building with 8 recording booths. Each booth is equipped with a computer, microphone, and resources like a dictionary and other small items. Outside each booth is a table with a computer that mirrors what is happening in the booth. Depending on how many people are volunteering each day and where everyone is in their progression in the organization, there may be people doing a variety of tasks and working on over 30 different books at any given time. Our location sees a lot of college textbooks and young adult fiction. I am based out of the Athens, Georgia location. I have been with the organization since May 2015. I am currently auditioning to be a reader (to prove I understand the technical requirements for recording books, the publishers create guidelines that all books must meet). In the meantime, I have directed, which has me follow along to the text while listening to a reader to look for mistakes in the recording or texts, and correcting as we go, as well as checking already recorded audio for edits and provide feedback for the reader to make the necessary changes. Little did I know that when I signed up to volunteer at Learning Ally, it would be the highlight of my week. I volunteer every Wednesday evening after work for 90 minutes. An added bonus is that after we’re done, a group of us picks a different place to have dinner each week. This multi-generational group was at first a friendly group of people welcoming me to the Wednesday evening session, but has turned into a group of friends that I cherish.

I also enjoy being able to read the books we work with. I have seen everything from a first year college science textbook to an historical fiction book by Rush Limbaugh (yup, you read that right. There’s a scene on how his time traveling Lead uses a phone in 1765. Where does his wifi come from?) and a young adult book on Genghis Khan (how do they make the life of a murderous leader into an age appropriate children’s book, you ask? Barely: even what the author chose to highlight had the reader and I dumbfounded and concerned. That man was horrible). Everyone who volunteers agrees that we have an awesome opportunity to learn something new each time we show up. That is a small benefit of being able to provide educational access. As an educator, I believe that anyone who wants to learn should be able to, and finding an organization who works to takes down those barriers is empowering to me because the more people we can engage in reading the better our society will be.

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Shortly after writing this blog, Emily received the great news that she passed her reader's audition! If you would like to volunteer with Learning Ally or provide financial support in the form of a donation, please visit our "support us" page or call us at 800.221.4792.


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