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

April Hayter de Lopez - ABG.jpg

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

Max Greenhalgh.jpg

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).

Katherine Finley - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month - August 2017

Katherine Finley, second from left, pictured with Words Alive staff at the 2017 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Awards Ceremony.

Katherine Finley, second from left, pictured with Words Alive staff at the 2017 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Awards Ceremony.

Please join us in congratulating Katherine Finley Words Alive Volunteer of the Month for August 2017!

Katherine Finley came to Words Alive in the summer of 2014 – an avid reader and lover of books, looking for a fun way to spend her summer and get some experience. Since then, we have had the sincere pleasure of working with Katherine as an intern each summer!  She devotes countless hours in between school months to work on a variety of things for our programs and operations.

Teen Services programs are set up for a strong start thanks to Katherine’s dedication this summer. From invitations to decorations, she was instrumental in the planning of the award ceremony to honor and celebrate our Words Alive Westreich Scholarship recipients. She also compiled resources and back-to-school gifts for the students. For the Adolescent Book Group, she has served on the curriculum committee, working on our project to expand curriculum guides for volunteer facilitators.

Throughout the school year, Katherine has also coordinated and worked at numerous outreach events – always staying engaged with our mission and community.  Katherine even built a relationship with the La Jolla Farmer’s Market and positioned Words Alive at the market front, offering reading material to families and information about our programs to interested patrons.

Starting in September, Katherine heads up north to attend Stanford University for her freshman year of college. We are excited to follow her growth and the wonderful things she will take on in this next chapter.

We thank you, Katherine, for your commitment to the community and the generosity you've shown over the past few years.  Words Alive has been lucky to work with you, and we wish you the best at Stanford!

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

Tell us a little about the yourself.

Although my favorite activity is curling up with a book, my cat, and cup of hot chocolate, I have always enjoyed being part of sports teams and have played on my school’s field hockey team for the past three years. I also love to travel and I’m always planning my next adventure.

How did you get involved with Words Alive?  

I’ve always been an avid reader and when I was a freshman, I was lucky to discover Words Alive. I instantly fell in love with their multi-pronged approach to tackling literacy by reaching students of all ages and backgrounds.

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

It is extremely gratifying knowing that I’m working with a cause that helps others discover and foster a love of reading. The impact Words Alive has is especially visible when seeing the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Award Ceremony and hearing the heartfelt stories of students improving their literacy skills and their futures

What are you reading lately?  

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

Words Alive and Readers in the Heights

One of the volunteers in the Readers in the Heights program sits with students as they discuss the reading.

One of the volunteers in the Readers in the Heights program sits with students as they discuss the reading.

This summer Words Alive partnered with United Way and the City Heights Partnership for Children to train 30 new volunteers and interns in our Read Aloud Program delivery. The program, Readers in the Heights, ran over four weeks at four different locations in City Heights, reaching approximately 400 children from Kindergarten through Grade 3.

Over two different training sessions, Fran O’Callaghan, Words Alive Read Aloud Program Manager, worked with the 30 new volunteers made up of a large cohort of young people from City Heights. Many shared that they had negative experiences with reading when they were younger and were eager to do their best to make reading a positive experience for the children in the summer program. Some of the volunteers also have children of their own and were excited to bring what they learned home to make reading a fun experience for the entire family.

During the training volunteers created questions to develop emergent literacy skills, developed ideas to bring books to life, learned new techniques in modelling curiosity and wonder, and understood the importance of utilizing group engagement strategies to ensure every child could participate in the read aloud. The training enabled volunteers to delve deeper into the books and to see the array of learning opportunities that could be explored over the course of a 90-minute session.

The Bear & the Piano by David Litchfield, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown, and The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins, were just a handful of the award-winning books Words Alive selected to share with children taking part in the program this summer.

At Words Alive, we continuously work to make reading matter for our students and families. We also know that learning shouldn’t stop over the summer, and that reading programs are essential in preventing the summer slide. As such, we were proud to collaborate with United Way and the City Heights Partnership for Children on the Readers in the Heights program, and, most of all, we are excited for the 400 children whose summer was enriched through reading.

Join Us in Recognizing the 2017-2018 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Recipients

Image: Seven of the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Students sit in a row displaying their awards at last year's Scholarship Ceremony. 

Image: Seven of the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Students sit in a row displaying their awards at last year's Scholarship Ceremony. 

While Ulises Izúcar slept at various homeless shelters across the city, college classes weren’t the dreams dancing around in his head. In fact, Ulises wasn’t sure he’d even graduate from high school. Knowing that the two most important people in his life, his mother and older sister, had both dropped out of school, Ulises said he didn’t think his life could be much different. 

“It’s exponentially easier to conform to the standard set by those before you,” he wrote in his scholarship application.

Determined to write a different ending to his story, not only will Ulises start college at Point Loma Nazarene University this fall — he’ll do so armed with scholarship awards he earned by going above and beyond.

One of those awards is the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship (WAWS). San Diego philanthropist Ruth Westreich created the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program in 2007, with the first scholarships awarded the following year. The program awards scholarships to Words Alive Adolescent Book Group (ABG) program participants to support them in their pursuit of higher education at the college or vocational level.

Unlike other scholarship programs, which typically fund only tuition, books and educational supplies, each WAWS recipient is eligible to receive funds to cover the cost of rent, food, childcare, clothing, travel and other living expenses. Additionally, the program matches each recipient with a mentor, who meets with their student throughout the school year, providing guidance, direction, and often times, a “shoulder” to lean on.

Words Alive is proud to announce that we have awarded $36,000 in scholarships for the 2017-18 academic year. Each of the 13 WAWS recipients will receive a scholarship award ranging from $500 to $5,000. Three WAWS scholars will receive an additional $2,000 scholarship from our Julia & Zoey Shenkman Scholarship Fund.

The 2017-2018 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program recipients are: Zaphire Alonso-Duarte (San Diego City College), Destiny Frost (California State University - Bakersfield), Dezarae Frost (San Jose State), Rose Gonzalez (San Diego State University), Diana Gonzalez-Soto (San Diego City College), Felicia Hurtado (San Diego City College), Ulises Izúcar (Point Loma Nazarene University), Zaira Martinez (San Diego City College), Venecia Montes (UC Davis), Alicia Osuna Garcia (San Diego City College), Daimeon Rodriguez (San Diego City College), Itzel Vega (San Diego City College) and Domminiece Willis (Southwestern College).

Like Ulises, each of these students have overcome tremendous adversity to make it where they are today. Some of those challenges include: homelessness, familial drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy and juvenile delinquency.

Please join us on Monday, August 21st, 2017 from 5:30-7 p.m. for our WAWS Award Ceremony, where we will recognize these 13 remarkable students. The WAWS Award Ceremony will be held in the Shiley Special Event Suite at the San Diego Central Library, 330 Park Boulevard. Photographers welcome. Please RSVP here