Words Alive is a non-profit organization that helps children, teens and adults discover the joy of reading and how books can add meaning to their lives. With a primary focus on San Diego County’s low-income, at-risk, and ethnically diverse populations, Words Alive currently serves more than 650 children and teens each month with its Early Literacy Intervention and Adolescent Book Group programs. We positively affect the lives of hundreds more children, youth and adults in our community with our community programs and Words Alive Westreich Scholarship. Our programs are made possible thanks to our 200-plus member volunteer force, which gives thousands of hours each year in service to our organization.
Words Alive does not teach individuals how to read. Instead, through shared reading experiences, our volunteers Words Alive does not teach individuals how to read. Instead, through shared reading experiences, our volunteers convey their passion for literature and inspire program participants to read for pleasure and become lifelong readers and learners.
Our mission is to inspire a commitment to reading and develop shared reading experiences for children, youth and adults. We accomplish this by creating and supporting:
- Targeted programs for underserved communities;
Community learning forums;
Community-wide reading projects;
Model reading programs; and
Networks for communicating about reading.
Our vision is to create a community where:
- The passion for and sharing of reading provides a common language for all people;
Individuals are widely encouraged to cherish the intrinsic value of reading;
The varying elements of the community—political, social and corporate—use literature as a springboard for communication amongst themselves and between each other;
People look to reading as a key to success in the social, educational and personal and career growth arenas; and
Existing vehicles of communication and interaction—media, internet, civic groups incorporate literature and its lessons as a matter of course.
Words Alive was established in May 1999 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization by founder Leslye Lyons, a voracious reader and professional book group facilitator. After scanning San Diego’s literacy landscape, she found that while there were numerous programs providing one-on-one literacy tutoring teaching functionally illiterate individuals how to read, there were few programs that demonstrated the enriching experience reading provides.
Lyons set about to create such a program, resulting in the development of the Words Alive Adolescent Book Group (ABG), which was based on the traditional book club model of simply reading a book and then hosting a facilitated discussion with club members. She and team of volunteers took the initial concept and tested it with another local entity serving at-risk populations. After it proved successful, Words Alive then developed curriculum and training materials and piloted the program at Lindsay Community Day School, which serves pregnant and parenting teens. Today the program continues to be administered by highly trained, skilled book group facilitators and volunteers who use books and thoughtfully planned curriculum guides to reach at-risk teens.
The Early Literacy Intervention (ELI) program concept was created after a prospective volunteer visited an ABG site in the summer of 1999 and stated that they preferred to volunteer with a program serving preschool children. In September 1999, the ELI program was introduced at its first pilot site and has since expanded to three additional sites.
Initially, the goal was to expand both programs to four sites each locally, each for two years, in order to create model programs that could be replicated and introduced in other communities around the country. In 2001, the Words Alive board of directors made the decision to continue adding ELI and ABG sites in a sustainable manner and to stay at each site indefinitely based on the positive response and community need.
In 2009, Words Alive began piloting new programs in an effort to increase its impact and provide a more supportive, integrated approach to its work. Between March and May, the Words Alive Read to Me workshops were successfully piloted at Bay Point Child Development Center. In August, Words Alive became the only Raising A Reader affiliate in San Diego County and began piloting the program as part of a partnership with the County of San Diego. In fall, Words Alive began offering its Family Storytime program at the El Cajon Branch Library.
Today, Words Alive serves more than 1,000 at-risk, underserved, low-income children, teens and adults with its innovative, integrated programming approach. Our programs complement school curricula designed for children and youth who have become disengaged from school, are not learning in traditional school programs or do not meet public school performance guidelines. Programs also support parents and caregivers in their efforts to encourage a love of reading and books in their children.
The Words Alive Early Literacy Intervention (ELI) program is a read-aloud program conducted at six at state-funded preschools and child development centers that serve pre-kindergarten-age children from mostly low-income households. In teams of two, trained volunteers read weekly at assigned sites and also conduct enrichment activities. The sessions are designed to help children develop cognitive and verbal skills, a love of reading and books and help prepare them to meet California State Kindergarten preparedness standards. By focusing on pre-kindergarten students and reinforcing pre-literacy skills, volunteers facilitate the children’s later adjustment to the kindergarten reading requirements.
The program is currently offered at Baypoint, Bayview, Colonel Salomon, Dewey, Hawthrone and Kennedy Child Development Center.
The Lending Libraries Project collects new and used books and then redistributes them in the form of customized Lending Libraries to our school partner sites and organizations in underserved communities all over San Diego County. Direct book donations are also made to groups and individuals demonstrating need. The primary goals of the program are to provide ready access to high quality literature and encourage book borrowing and ownership. Words Alive currently distributes more than 2,500 books a year with this program.
Since 1999, Words Alive has distributed over 15,000 books to community institutions and organizations that seek to establish and enhance on-site libraries for their clients. Recipients include the following community agencies:
|Al Bahr Shriners of San Diego
George Bailey Detention Center
Bay Point Elementary School
Center for Community Solutions
Community Home Neighborhood
Dewey Elementary School
Escondido Community Childhood Development Center
Friends of Downtown Senior Project
Girls Rehabilitation Facility of San Diego
GYRLS Literacy Project
Hawthorne Elementary School
|San Diego Juvenile Hall
Linda Vista Child Development Center
St. Vincent De Paul Village
The Juvenile Ranch Facility
Toussaint Academy for Arts and Sciences
Veterans Hospital of La Jolla
YMCA Armed Forces – The Wounded Warrior Project
YMCA Family Shelters
YMCA and YWCA of San Diego
The Words Alive Read to Me Workshops educate parents and caregivers of preschool age children about the importance of routinely reading aloud to their children age 0-5, how to do so effectively with developmentally appropriate materials and how to use the Words Alive Lending Library at their location (if applicable). Workshop participants receive a handbook that includes information reviewed in the workshop and a list of literacy resources in their area. Participants also create a book bin to store their books and everyone receives a new children’s book to take home and keep!
Raising A Reader is a book lending program that engages parents in a routine of daily “book cuddling” and reading aloud with their children from birth to age five. Each week, participants receive a child-sized red bag filled with developmentally and culturally appropriate books. The child’s excitement about receiving a new set of books each week helps drive the program. A DVD is included with the bag for the parents to view that explains the program and how it works. When the program ends, each child “graduates” and receives a new, blue book bag to keep and bring with them to the library. Words Alive is the only San Diego affiliate and is piloting this proven program over the upcoming year as part of a strategic partnership with the County of San Diego and its East County partners.
The Words Alive Family Storytime is currently being piloted at the El Cajon Branch Library as well as the New Children’s Museum and serves children age 0-5 (although all ages are welcome). Volunteers read a series of stories and conduct fun activities that get kids excited about reading. For every third session a child attends, they receive a book to take home and keep. All children must be accompanied by an adult or caregiver.
The Words Alive Adolescent Book Group program serves at-risk adolescents, most of whom have been referred to specialized community schools by the Juvenile Court system and have experienced extraordinary circumstances such as violence, pregnancy and homelessness. Each month between October and May, a facilitator and up to seven trained volunteers conduct facilitated book group discussions. Through reading and sharing opinions about books, book group participants enhance self-esteem and develop the ability to put their own life experience into larger context.
The Adolescent Book Group program is currently offered at Choice Summit School, Lindsay School, Monarch School, Mission School at Casa de Amparo, and North County Technology & Science Academy..
The Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program was created by Ruth Westreich, a noted San Diego philanthropist and founder of The Westreich Foundation who seeded the fund with $175,000. The program awards up to six scholarships a year to past Adolescent Book Group program participants to support them in their pursuit of higher education at the college or vocational level. Only past Adolescent Book Group program participants are eligible to apply.
Nearly 100 percent of all program participants served by Words Alive are designated as socioeconomically disadvantaged by state education reporting agencies. According to state guidelines, these are children whose parents/guardians have not received a high school diploma and/or who participate in the free or reduced-price lunch program, indicating that low-income status makes them eligible for subsidized lunch services. The population we serve is also highly diverse and reflects the diversity of San Diego County as follows:
- 43.5 % Male
- 56.5% Female
- 65% Hispanic or Latino
- 13.5% White
- 11.5% African American / Black
- 6% Asian or Pacific Islander
- 1% American Indian
- 3.5% Other
Adolescent Book Group Program Only:
- 4% of all participants pregnant
- 6% of females pregnant
- 39% of all participants parenting
- 59% of females parenting
- 27% homeless
- 10% foster children
Words Alive is funded by grants, donations, and special events, including the Annual Authors’ Luncheon. Our latest fundraising campaign is the Words Alive Legacy Circle, a recurring gift program that provides a much needed, dependable funding stream for our organization.
The Authors’ Luncheon is the Words Alive signature fundraising event and one of the largest literacy events in San Diego County, typically drawing more than 500 attendees. The event serves to connect avid readers and book groups with visiting authors and features one established and one emerging author. The authors are present throughout the event, signing books and then speaking before the assembled guests. The luncheon also features a marketplace and raffle with all proceeds benefiting Words Alive and its programs.
Words Alive is located in the Pacific Beach section of San Diego, approximately one mile from Mission Bay. Our office address is 5111 Santa Fe Drive, Suite 219.
Volunteers to assist with our programs, special projects and events are always welcome. Words Alive accepts a range of donations including cash, stocks and bonds and in-kind donations in the form of services, gently used books, office supplies and equipment. All donations are tax deductible since Words Alive is a non-profit, 501 (c)(3) organization as designated by the IRS. We will gladly issue a receipt for any donations made to our program. Please call (858) 274-9673 or e-mail us at email@example.com for a complete list of volunteer and donation opportunities.