Karen Archer - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month - February 2018

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Please join us in congratulating Karen Archer - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month for February 2018!

Karen is a newer member of the Words Alive volunteer team, and in her first program year with us has helped pilot our Read Aloud Afterschool Program in Oceanside! 

Karen has been a real superstar in this important expansion to Oceanside.  She has always remained positive and committed as we have found our way with a new initiative, delivering in an after-school site, and delivering a new curriculum for 4th and 5th graders.  I could not have wished for a more flexible and passionate volunteer, who clearly shares in our mission to bring a real love of reading to our young readers.

Karen is also an avid participant in the organization’s volunteer events.  She makes an effort to attend each monthly Cookies and Conversation hour, contributing to great discussion.  We are very appreciative of the huge commitment in the classroom she honors each week, and we enjoy working with Karen.  Thank, Karen!

Check out the Volunteer of the Month Interview with Karen Archer below:

Tell us a little about yourself.
I’ve been married for almost 38 years.  My husband, Bob, and I have two boys and six grandchildren.  Unfortunately, half are in Connecticut and the other half are in Italy.  We moved from Connecticut to Carlsbad in 2003. It only took one winter to fall in love with Southern California.    I retired from my Family Law Paralegal position in June of 2016.  Then waited for Bob to retire from Pfizer in April 2017. When I’m not reading to the “wigglers,” as we refer to the children in the Read Aloud Program, I read on my own, do counted cross stitch and “clean” cook.  (I stay away from any processed foods, so I make my own vegetable broth, mayo, ketchup, BBQ sauce, ice cream, etc.)  Bob is a member of the Carlsbad Senior Volunteer Police.  We started our own business, Archer Woodcraft, so on weekends we sell household items such as hardwood cutting boards, wine caddies, tissue boxes, and custom furniture at the College of the Desert Street Fair.   We are busier than ever doing all the things we love.

How did you get involved with Words Alive?
I never managed to make the time to volunteer while I was working.  One of my "after retirement" goals was to find a way to help my community by doing something I’m passionate about. I found the Words Alive posting on Volunteer Match and couldn’t wait to start.  To be able to help young children find the joys of reading is perfect.    

What is the most rewarding part of your volunteer role(s)?
I absolutely love to watch the emotions roll across these young children's faces as a story unfolds.  They can’t wait to find out what book I’m going to read.  When I begin, they sit back, relax and come along for the adventure.  

What have you been reading lately?
I recently finished reading Daughters of the Night Sky by Aimie K. Runyan and am currently reading The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.  Both are wonderful reads.

What is the Connection Between Literacy and Economic Development?

By Jennifer Van Pelt

“Literacy is not a luxury, it is a right and a responsibility. If our world is to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century we must harness the energy and creativity of all our citizens.” (Bill Clinton, 1994)

Nearly 25 years ago, the President of the United States recognized the importance of literacy and the opportunity literacy provides not only individuals, but whole communities. In 2017, according to The Nation’s Report Card, only 36% of 4th graders in the United States were at a proficient reading level or above. These children are not the start of the cycle of illiteracy, but a continuation of the environment they were brought up in that didn’t prioritize reading -- often times because their parents were illiterate. This means these children weren’t read aloud to at home, they likely didn’t have any books in their house, and homework was a lone task. Studies have shown that 1 in 7 adults in America are considered functionally illiterate, which has the potential to trickle down to our youth.

What Does Illiteracy Really Mean?

Source: Words Alive; A graphic that says: "Literacy is the foundation of community and economic development. When everyone can read, whole communities thrive."

Source: Words Alive; A graphic that says: "Literacy is the foundation of community and economic development. When everyone can read, whole communities thrive."

Being able to read is more than being able to escape into a book and be transported to a different decade or world. Illiteracy means that one can lack the skills necessary to read the dosage/warnings on medicine bottles, follow cooking instructions, properly manage finances, or apply for jobs that allow one to live above the poverty line. The cost of Illiteracy in the United States is estimated to be over 300 billion dollars, according to a report written by the World Literacy Foundation. In the same report, it is said to cost the global economy 1.2 trillion dollars.

How Do Other People’s Reading Abilities Affect the Economic Development of Your Community?

Perhaps one of the clearest ways to explain how literacy affects the economics of whole communities is illustrated by the correlation between literacy rates and prisons: 3 out of 5 inmates in United States prisons cannot read. Not only does this have an impact on the communities and families of these individuals, but taxpayers are paying for these prisons and all of the maintenance and costs they come with.

Health has also been shown to be affected by literacy rates. There have been multiple studies showing a correlation between communities with high literacy rates and lower infant mortality rates. The idea being that literate adults have increased ability and knowledge to seek out medical treatment for themselves and their families, as well as a difference in their reproductive behavior -- including increased contraceptive use. This results in more proactive visits to the doctor, generally at a lower cost, as opposed to high cost emergency visits.

For those with low literacy, it is often a struggle to obtain jobs that pay above a living wage. Furthermore, once they are in these jobs, it is difficult to be promoted or get a pay raise, vastly limiting their job mobility. This means that these employees will have more difficulties supporting their families and are more likely to depend on supplemental means of doing so such as welfare or food stamps.

According to a study conducted by Betty Hart and Todd Risley, there is a 30 million word gap between children in low-income families and children from higher income families. The report outlines their findings that an average child in a higher income family will experience nearly 45 millions words by the time they are 4 years old, compared to the 13 million words that an average child who lives in a low-income family will hear. Not only does this demonstrate the economic impact that illiteracy has on families, but also the continuous cycle of low literacy it creates.

The Connection Between Literacy and Politics

How can one be expected the equal opportunity to make a decision in upcoming elections when they aren’t provided with this information in a format that benefits them? In other words, how can you vote and advocate for yourself if you are unable to read voting information and instructions? Thirty-second commercials provide limited information, while the multitude of pamphlets and voting materials give the option to make a more educated choice. When the people of our communities are given the opportunity to obtain this info through multiple venues, they are more able to advocate for themselves and participate in causes they believe in.

When Everyone Can Read, Whole Communities Thrive

Communities built on a foundation of literacy will allow the creativity and energy of more voices to be heard and change our communities for the better through civic engagement, lessened costs (such as to our prison and healthcare systems), and a healthier society. The first step to beating illiteracy is right at your fingertips: get involved with local outreach groups, volunteer for literacy organizations (like Words Alive!),  and donate books to schools, libraries, and other organizations that need them -- because illiteracy is 100% preventable.








Stacy Magic - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month - January 2018

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Please join us in congratulating Stacy Magic - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month for January 2018!

Stacy has been part of the Words Alive family since 2011 – volunteering in multiple capacities and roles. She has represented the organization at outreach events, supported the execution of the Author’s Luncheon and Fundraiser, and worked directly with students both in the classroom as a book group facilitator and as a scholarship student mentor.

This year, Stacy helped Words Alive open a new site for Adolescent Book Group (ABG). While facing challenges and growing pains that come with something new, she not only showed up week after week but excelled as a facilitator.  Stacy has a knack for prioritizing student responses, prodding students along and encouraging engagement, which often means waiting out those tough silent moments rather than allowing the adults to take up all the space. Last semester, she even gave students the opportunity to be facilitators themselves. Relinquishing control to give students the floor leaves the session open to many uncertainties, which, as we all know, can be a bit scary! Nevertheless, Stacy gave students that chance, always encouraging them along the way, and as a result - students gained confidence and showed leadership in impressive ways.

We’re so grateful for Stacy’s long-term support of the students and the Words Alive mission. Thank you for devoting years and hundreds of hours of service to the community!

Check out the Volunteer of the Month Interview with Stacy below:

Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Stacy Magic. I’ve volunteered time since college, primarily with organizations that promote reading: The Braille Institute, Rolling Readers, READ San Diego, and Words Alive. I grew up in Los Angeles, in a home with lots of books. 

How did you get involved with Words Alive?
I heard about Words Alive while on the board of directors at San Diego Writers, Ink, an organization which provides classes in writing, author readings and signings, and other literary events. I was drawn to the mission Words Alive has created for itself, which, in my interpretation, is to share the joy and importance of reading to as many people as possible.

What is the most rewarding part of your volunteer role(s)?
The most rewarding part of volunteering at Words Alive is, in the immediate, getting to see teens get excited about a book, and, in the long term, about their future.

What have you been reading lately?
I’m listening to A Clash of Kings in the car. I have The Golem and the Jinni on my Nook. And, on my nightstand, I have Y is for Yesterday, Sue Grafton’s final A thru Z book. I’ve read A thru X and love Ms. Grafton’s character, Kinsey Millhone. That’s what I like to share: you meet the coolest people in books.


April Hayter de Lopez - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month - November 2017

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Please join us in congratulating April Hayter de Lopez - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month for November!

April started with Words Alive in 2012 as a reader in our Read Aloud Program.  She then transitioned to the Adolescent Book Group (ABG) program.  For the past three years, April has successfully volunteered in North county sites to facilitate the book group, and has led both volunteer teams and students to have an amazing experience with the program!

April is the lead volunteer at Innovations Academy of Empowerment, where the book group meets every other week. She is a positive and motivating force who keeps her volunteer team and their sessions on track.  She is always open to trying new ideas to increase student engagement.  Thanks for all you do to make our program successful!

Check out the Volunteer of the Month Interview with April below:

Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is April Hayter de Lopez. I am starting my third year at Words Alive.  I love to read and have been in a book group for many years. In fact, members of my book group are the ones who got me interested in Words Alive. I really love to be with kids, so when my own went off to college, Words Alive gave me the perfect opportunity to continue to connect with teens. I work with the elderly as a social worker, so I feel privileged to work with people on both ends of the age spectrum.

What is the most rewarding part of your volunteer role(s)?
The most rewarding part of volunteering for me is when I'm talking with a teen and feel a spark, an interest between us, as we discuss books and life. I am excited when someone who doesn't particularly like reading gets hooked into a story and wants to read ahead.  When a teen can relate to the story or to a character from their own life, it is wonderful.

What have you been reading lately?
I am currently reading An Unquiet Mind by Kay Jamison, and Feed by M T Anderson.

What Does it Mean to Volunteer at Words Alive?

The Words Alive Family

If you’ve been volunteering at Words Alive for a while, you may have heard us refer to our community of volunteers as a family, saying things like “come join our Words Alive family!” when recruiting new readers and facilitators for the classroom. This is because we’ve come to understand, through stories from volunteers and donors, that something about volunteering at Words Alive encourages this truly familial atmosphere.

Read Aloud Program volunteer Karen Malin holding a gift from the classroom she reads in: a pot that says "Ms. Karen, Thank you for helping us grow" and each flower has a picture of a student on it.

Read Aloud Program volunteer Karen Malin holding a gift from the classroom she reads in: a pot that says "Ms. Karen, Thank you for helping us grow" and each flower has a picture of a student on it.

We’ve heard stories about past Board Members and volunteer groups getting together to have lunch on a regular basis, volunteers have been moved to tears when talking about their experiences in the classroom, and, most importantly to our students, volunteers continue to come back year after year and give their time to fulfilling our mission.

We’ve heard a lot of these stories recently. Stories about why volunteers choose to spend their free time with us, about why they keep coming back week after week, about special experiences they’ve had in the classroom, and, most of all, about what it means to them to volunteer at Words Alive. We’d like to share just a few of these stories with you!

An ABG volunteer attended her initial volunteer orientation at our office earlier this year, and told us that her son had been a participant in our Adolescent Book Group at Innovations, a Momentum Learning School, the previous school year. Inspired by her son’s positive experience with our program she reached out and started volunteering with us, at the same school her son had previously attended! When we heard this, every one of our staff members was incredibly touched. It was so meaningful to hear of a student who was impacted by our work so much that it inspired a relative to join us in fulfilling our mission.

Margie Roehm, a volunteer in our Read Aloud Program, shared many stories with us when we asked her why she loved being a volunteer at Words Alive.

“I believe in bringing the words to life through visual demonstrations and examples. Putting expression in your voice as you read the story is critically important. Life is not monotone. I also believe in fun and encouraging the children’s thirst for knowledge. Reading has the ability to take you anywhere you want to go and encourages you to question as you learn. By showing the children what the words mean, it places the word in context and hopefully, will help them remember the word.

An added bonus is learning from other Words Alive readers. I have great reading partners who are very creative and fun to read with. We share ideas all the time. Reading to young children is a sheer joy! Getting them to participate and enjoy our story time together as much as I do, makes my day!”

Gerissa French, our lead volunteer at Lindsay School, shared: “It is exciting and fulfilling to volunteer with Words Alive. I am always impressed by the students' thoughtful comments and by their ability to relate their own lives to the fascinating books we read together.”

A picture of volunteers at this year's Volunteer Appreciation Event!

A picture of volunteers at this year's Volunteer Appreciation Event!

So, what does it mean to volunteer at Words Alive?

It means that you will be surrounded by people who not only want to make our community a better place, but are taking steps to actual do that - and through reading, no less! It means you will have fun, meaningful, memorable experiences with students. It means you will discover a network of fellow volunteers who will support you as you make a difference in the word. Hopefully, it means you will find a second family at Words Alive.

We couldn’t do it without our volunteers.

We also often say that our work would not be possible without our volunteers, and this is 100% true. Words Alive has a staff of nine people, working to serve over 5,000 students and families in over 140 classrooms across San Diego County. Without our 550+ volunteers, this simply would not be possible. We are proud to have the reputation we do, to be an organization known for it’s positive and fulfilling volunteer experiences. If you are currently a volunteer, thank you for your commitment to supporting our work and for being a part of our family. We really couldn’t do it without you.

If you are interested in volunteering and joining our family, visit this page!

World Kindness Day


World Kindness Day, observed every year on November 13th, is a day to highlight good deeds in the community, focusing on the positive power and the common thread of kindness that binds us. Started in 1998, World Kindness Day was introduced by the World Kindness Movement, and almost 20 years later it is celebrated around the world. The mission of the World Kindness Movement is to inspire individuals and nations to create a kinder world through establishing independent kindness programs and projects in cities, schools, and communities across the globe.

At Words Alive, our mission is to open opportunities for life success by inspiring a commitment to reading. Through our programs, we are helping students and families fall in love with reading and helping them understand the numerous benefits of literacy. One of the benefits of reading is increased empathy. In 2006, Keith Oatley, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Toronto, conducted a study that linked reading fiction to better performance on empathy and social acumen tests. He has said: "When we read about other people, we can imagine ourselves into their position and we can imagine what it's like being that person. That enables us to better understand people, better cooperate with them."

So today, on World Kindness Day, pick up a book and think about how that story makes you a kinder person or introduced kindness into the world! What does kindness mean to you?

Below, you can watch a video of Gabriella van Rij, author and Secretary General of the World Kindness Movement, read an excerpt of her book for us! Learn more about the work that Gabriella does at https://www.gabriella.global/


As we drift slowly into fall, with the Words Alive programs in full swing in over 130 classrooms across San Diego County, we begin to turn our attention to the holidays. The United States' ability to shop and spend has given significant attention to the “shopping” days immediately following Thanksgiving: Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. We would like to introduce you to one more day after the Thanksgiving holiday that helps our communities – #GivingTuesday.

Defined with social media’s ever-present hashtag, #GivingTuesday is a global giving movement that has been built by individuals, families, organizations, businesses, and communities in all 50 states and around the world. This year, #GivingTuesday falls on November 28th and harnesses the collective power of a unique blend of partners to transform how people think about, talk about, and participate in the giving season. It inspires people to take collective action to improve their communities, give back to the charities and causes they believe in, and help create a better world. #GivingTuesday demonstrates how every act of generosity counts, and that these acts mean even more when we give together.

Words Alive works together with more than 500 volunteers, donors, teachers, administrators, and families, who know what collaborating and coming together means to make reading matter for thousands of children and young people every day. It is in this spirit of collaboration that #GivingTuesday was born. #GivingTuesday is a new way of linking individuals and causes to strengthen communities.

Words Alive is close to completing its initial 1,000-day Read for Life campaign, with a little more than $100,000 left to raise, and we’d like to do that by the end of the year. This fall, we encourage our community, in the spirit of #GivingTuesday and the entire giving season, to consider joining together to make a contribution, to consider becoming a volunteer, and to consider becoming a partner with Words Alive to ensure that every child has the opportunity to live and thrive in a literacy-rich environment.

We hope you keep an eye out for the growing presence of #GivingTuesday and heed the call to action that will change the way we spend around the holidays. Let’s all take a moment to celebrate a time dedicated to giving back. 

Share your #UNselfie with us using this template. Take a selfie and tell us why you are supporting Words Alive this #GivingTuesday. Don't forget to tag @WordsAlive (Facebook) and @WordsAliveSD (Twitter, Instagram).

Max Greenhalgh - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month - October 2017

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Please join us in congratulating Max Greenhalgh – Words Alive Volunteer of the Month for October 2017!

Max joined the Words Alive office this past summer for a volunteer internship in development and communication.  On average, he worked ten hours a week, contributing to numerous projects and areas of focus. Max was instrumental in developing our summer content for social media and assisting with blog posts. His professional writing skills added a great new voice to our publications.

Max’s work ethic and commitment was evident in his very first week of interning with us. For one, Max graciously volunteered extra time to help with a huge book giveaway event we were hosting at Golden Hill K-8 School. He not only helped load and set-up hundreds of books, but on the day of the event he was a helpful and energetic presence. Max also used his journalistic sensibilities and helped write a blog post about this incredible event after the fact.

In all his work with us, Max gave 110% and worked with the utmost level of maturity and professionalism.  His writing always impressed us, as did his ability to run with new assignments.  He is a dependable and consistent volunteer, and we have been so lucky to work with him!

Now a senior at Canyon Crest Academy, he continues to contribute to his school newspaper and stay busy with classes and college preparation.  We wish him the best this year, and hope to work with him again in the future.

Check out the Volunteer of the Month Interview with Max below :

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m Max Greenhalgh, and I am a senior at Canyon Crest Academy. I am the Co-Editor-in-Chief of Pulse Magazine, the student magazine of CCA, and am the Council Chair of the Leadership Council for Teen Volunteers in Action, an organization of middle and high school boys that volunteer at numerous different philanthropies. In my spare time, I love to read, write, and play basketball with my friends. I’m currently working on the college admissions process, and I am applying as a political science major at most of the schools where I’m applying.

How did you get involved with Words Alive?

This past spring, I was looking for an interesting, meaningful way to spend some of my time in the summer. It was a great match given my interests in reading and volunteering.

What is the most rewarding part of your volunteer role(s)?

My role was mostly in the office working on promotional and social media tasks. However, helping at a book giveaway at Golden Hill School was memorable. I really enjoyed working with students and teachers at the school, and suggesting that students looking for books consider books from multiple series that I loved when I was their age. I was able to return to the school about a week later, and some of the kids recognized me and thanked me for coming out to help.

What are you reading lately?

I’ll be honest - I haven’t really had time to dive into a book of my choice recently. However, I find time to read online material and I’ve been reading articles concerning the removal of books like Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird from district reading lists across the country over the years. As someone who really enjoyed reading To Kill a Mockingbird in 8th grade, seeing it taken off reading lists is equal parts troubling and interesting to me. The book promotes diversity, open dialogue, and standing strong on principles, all of which are great messages to send young readers.


Words Alive Welcomes Erin, AmeriCorps VIP Fellow

Erin with Cape Buffalo in South Africa.

Erin with Cape Buffalo in South Africa.


Erin joined the Words Alive Family in early September through the AmeriCorps Program, and will be working us for the 2017-2018 year.  Her focus with the organization will be in volunteer infrastructure, and she will be a fixture at upcoming program and volunteer events.  So far, Erin has hit the ground running - taking on community outreach and recruitment to staff our programs and spread the word about our impact.

We hope you get to meet her soon, if you have not yet!  Now, let's hear from Erin herself!

What intrigued you about Words Alive?

After learning about the wonderful programs and overall mission of Words Alive I immediately knew this was the right place for me. I’m delighted to be working for an organization which not only promotes literacy and fosters a love of reading, but which also takes on the task of placing thousands of books into the hands of hundreds of families and children each year (I’m a firm believer that reading from a physical book is more wonderful and beneficial than any e-reader). I’m amazed to think of the impact Words Alive has on the community through the simple yet powerful act of reading and I am honored to be part of it.

What are you most excited about in your new position?

There are so many things that excite me about working with the Words Alive team! First and foremost, I’m thrilled to work with people who are passionate about bringing the benefits of reading into our community through such amazing programs. I look forward to helping Christina recruit and train more volunteers and I am eager to get into the classrooms to see our incredible volunteers in action. I’m also excited to learn more about non-profit structure and behind-the-scenes operations.

What is your relationship with literacy?

As a child I always had my nose in a book, most often historical fiction or books about the natural world (my degree is in Wildlife Conservation Biology).  My adult nose tends to be in fewer books but I still love reading and cherish its ability to easily transport one to new places and times. In the last several years I’ve waded through mostly college textbooks but with my recent graduation I hope to return to one of my favored pastime; leisure reading historical novels.

What are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading Pirates of Barbary by Adrian Tinniswood. It’s about the many adventures of the pirates who sailed the high seas of the Mediterranean during the 17th century. 


Erin feeding Eastern Grey Kangaroos in Tasmania.

Erin feeding Eastern Grey Kangaroos in Tasmania.


Currently, there are no employment opportunities at Words Alive, but we are ALWAYS recruiting for wonderful volunteers to work in the classrooms with our students and families. Check out how to get involved as a Words Alive volunteer!

Kitty McGee - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month - September 2017

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Please join us in congratulating Kitty McGee – Words Alive Volunteer of the Month for September 2017!

Kitty joined the Words Alive Event Committee this past spring, and jumped right in as a new member, contributing her graphic design skill set.  She has a wealth of corporate design experience which she generously applied to the creation of our wonderful Author’s Luncheon and Fundraiser event material as well as general Words Alive outreach collateral. We offered a new feature at the event this year – the Words Alive Passport – which Kitty designed as well.  The passport was a huge success and encouraged guests to visit each table to learn about the work of the organization.  Kitty has also been a great new source of special event expertise, and helped with soliciting silent auction items for the event.

Kitty has been an integral part of this committee and organization, providing fresh ideas and perspective.  She volunteered to support at the event as well.  We are so grateful for her volunteer service and her part in our successful event!  Thank you, Kitty!

Check out the Volunteer of the Month Interview with Kitty below:

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a freelance graphic designer, with a specialty in editorial and corporate print design. I am the former art director of several magazines, including American Airlines American Way, America West Magazine, TWA’s Ambassador magazine, Arizona Trend, and Texas Homes. I received my degree in journalism from Northern Arizona University, and am currently a licensed private pilot and a member of BIA Toastmasters.

Though currently attempting to retire, I still have a few clients/friends who keep me busy. I am now available to pursue some pro bono work when not traveling, riding a boogie board, or paddling a kayak.

How did you get involved with Words Alive?

I first heard of Words Alive through one of my book clubs, and then followed through with Andrea MacDonald, who happens to be the daughter-in-law of my neighbor. (It takes a village……!)

What is the most rewarding part of your volunteer role(s)?

The most rewarding part of this particular volunteer role is the ability to bring a level of professional design to a group that wouldn’t normally have access to it due to economics. And then to delight those clients is priceless!

What are you reading lately?

What’s on my nightstand?  Well, Salman Rushdie of course!  Along with The Soul of an Octopus (Sy Montgomery, found at the Atlanta Aquarium), and The Little French Bistro (Nina George, from a Warwick’s event).