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 that reading could be fun and enjoyable.
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 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 comprehensive integrated approach. 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 as part of a strategic partnership with the County of San Diego.
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.