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

 

Words Alive Author Roulette Authors Announced!

At Words Alive's 14th annual Author's Luncheon on Friday, September 15th, there will be a Author Roulette for the second year running. Those who donate may spin the wheel for the chance to win an author's visit to your book club to answer questions and talk books. Here are the authors that you might just get to invite to your book club:

Neal Griffin is the author of LA Times Bestseller Benefit of the Doubt, which takes an in-depth and challenging look at the issue of police brutality through the lens of fictional characters. His most recent book, A Voice From the Field, follows Detective Tia Suarez as she attempts to bring down a white supremacist human trafficking ring. Griffin uses his 25 years of experience in law enforcement to bring another level of authenticity to his writing. Griffin's website: http://nealgriffin.com

Elizabeth Cobbs is an acclaimed author and historian who has written seven books in her career. Her most recent book, The Hamilton Affair, tells the true story of Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler and has been named the "Hamilton novel that immediately leaps to the top of the list" by author Joseph J. Ellis. Her first movie, American Umpire, takes a critical look at the role the United States plays in global geopolitics as a sort of 'world police.' Cobbs' website: http://elizabethcobbs.com

Ethan Howard is the author of the Opportvnvs Adest series, a science fiction epic based on the Book of Revelations and challenging what we as humans have been taught. He has also written Tales of the Unexpected, a collection of 14 thrilling tales of mystery and thrill. Along with his writing, he is the director of a non-profit transitional housing program for young adults. Howard on Goodreads: http://bit.ly/2tS6gxz

Kathy Aarons is the author of the Chocolate Covered Mystery series, which involves the owners of a chocolate-themed bookstore employing their amateur sleuthing skills to solve crimes. Its current entries are Death is Like a Box of Chocolates, Truffled to Death, and Behind Chocolate Bars. Aarons serves as the President of the Playwrights Project board and volunteers for the CCA Writers Conference. Aarons' website: http://kathyaarons.com

Marivi Soliven is the veteran author of 17 books. Her most recent work. The Mango Bride, tells the story of two women immigrating into the United States, and how their very different lives inevitably intertwine, changing the women forever. The book won the Grand Prize at the 2011 Carlos Palanca Awards for Literature, widely seen as the Pulitzer Prize equivalent of the Philippines. Soliven has also taught creative writing at the University of the Philippines and the University of California at San Diego. Soliven's website: http://marivisoliven.com

Eric Peterson's debut novel, Life as a Sandwich, was a finalist in the San Diego Book Awards. His most recent book, The Dining Car, won the 2017 Benjamin Franklin Gold Award for Popular Fiction and the 2017 San Diego Book Award for Best Published Contemporary Fiction. The story follows a former college football star's transformation as he works as the bartender for a popular writer and social commentator on the man's private train car. Peterson on Goodreads: http://bit.ly/2vbkYUi

Mike Sager is a writer of ten books and an award-winning reporter. He has served as a staff writer on the Washington Post, a contributing editor to the Rolling Stone, and a writer at large for Esquire. Currently, he is the editor and publisher of The Sager Group LLC. In November, The Sager Group will be publishing The Stories We Tell, a compilation of some of the best work from some of the best women in journalism over the years. Sager's website: mikesager.com

Judy Stanigar is a practicing psychotherapist, and she uses her experience in the field to accurately portray the mental processes of characters to create a world that seems truly alive. This is evident in her debut novel, A Quartet in Love, in which the emotions in a college town of the 1970s are stirring and brought to life by humor and sensitivity. Stanigar holds an active private practice along with her writing, and has in the past worked with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Stanigar on Goodreads: http://bit.ly/2vc9rUR

When Joy Stocke and Angie Brenner met, they discovered their mutual loves for history, literature, and local culinary tradition. The two new friends soon set out together on a ten year cultural journey in Turkey, which greatly impacted the way they live and eat now. Together, they published Tree of Life: Turkish Home Cooking For the American Table, a cookbook with over 100 recipes inspired by the authors' travels and experiences on their Turkish adventure. The book has a 4.75 star rating on Goodreads and a 5 star rating on Amazon. You can find them both at Wild River Review: https://www.wildriverreview.com/

The Authors Roulette won't be the only attraction at the Author's Luncheon. To find out more and purchase your ticket, click the button below:

Kay Gurtin - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month - July 2017

Please join us in congratulating Kay Gurtin – Words Alive Volunteer of the Month for July 2017!

Kay Gurtin is a Words Alive pioneer and veteran volunteer.  She has been with our flagship program, the Adolescent Book Group, since 2005 and has served on the board of directors since 2011.

Going above and beyond, Kay has extended successful programming at her ABG site, where she and her fellow volunteers are leading book discussions throughout the summer months. She also recently facilitated a resume building workshop for students in our other Teen Services program, the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship. Kay and her colleague from Gurtin Municipal Bond Management led an engaging career-readiness session, arming the scholarship students with expert advice as they start to enter the workforce.

On the board, Kay has provided guidance on executive programming decisions, the annual Author’s Luncheon and Fundraiser and marketing efforts.  Kay has been an important part of supporting the Words Alive Author's Luncheon and Fundraiser as our presenting sponsor. She has also taken the time to help secure silent auction items that allow us to raise even more money in support of our programs.

We thank you, Kay, for your commitment to the community and the generosity with which you serve.  Words Alive is lucky to have your leadership!

Check out the Volunteer of the Month interview with Kay below:

Tell us a little about yourself. (Brief introduction)

I have been an active Words Alive volunteer on the ABG front for the last 12 years.  My first volunteer stint was with Lindsay Summit and their amazing teacher, Dawn. I looked forward to my monthly sessions as I loved being with the students, but even more so, loved learning from their perspectives each month. I then segued to the Choice school with 20-year veteran teacher and rock-star, Ben White. As the site-manager at Choice for 6+ years, we had one of the most loyal and consistent volunteer teams in the organization – a lasting bond between students and words alive stalwarts. With Choice closing, I followed Ben White to YDC school, which is a probationary school in Mira Mesa. The learning never stops and it is a challenging experience each month – the students keep us on our toes!  I have also been an active member on the Words Alive Board for the last six years and a mentor to the ABG program. My day job is Head of Recruitment at Gurtin Municipal Bond Management – a proud supporter of literacy and Words Alive.

What are you reading lately?

Just finished Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. It simultaneously tracks two half sisters' lives from Ghana to America over three centuries. Beautifully written and a compelling read. I saw the author speak recently and it sealed my already favorable review of the novel. She shared that books were like unconditional love and “free” at her local library as a child, and influenced her life and career. Plus, I am re–reading The Freedom Writers Diary for my July facilitation at YDC. It has motivated me to re-read the novels the students read and were inspired by in the book – Zlata’s and Anne Frank’s Diary. Fascinating that they can relate the war on drugs and gangs on our streets to the survival of teens in the Holocaust and Bosnia, but most importantly, like the Words Alive mission, the book conveys the success of engagement and making a student feel worthy and acknowledged through reading is the tried and true ticket to success.

Words Alive Gives Thousands of Books to Students at Golden Hill

On Wednesday, June 28th, Words Alive hosted an incredible book giveaway at Golden Hill School. This event was made possible by our partnership with the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA), who chose Words Alive as the recipient of this year’s annual Accio Books campaign, a massive, international book drive and literacy advocacy campaign. Since 2009, members of the HPA have collected and donated over 315,000 books to communities in need and recipient sites have ranged all over the world, from New York to the Netherlands to Uganda!

The students at Golden Hill made a sign for the giveaway event. It says "Golden Hill K-8 School Loves to Read!"

The students at Golden Hill made a sign for the giveaway event. It says "Golden Hill K-8 School Loves to Read!"

Each student attending the giveaway (called the Apparating Library, in reference to the transportation spell in the Harry Potter series) received at least ten free books. There was a wide range of books available, from picture books like Clifford Goes to Hollywood to sprawling epics such as the full Inkspell series. Students came to the giveaway class by class and picked books from the thousands available.

While it was a hot day, the students were happy to step into the heat to scratch their reading itch. Even after the school day ended, many students came directly from their classrooms to the giveaway site when the bell rang, preferring to continue hunting for books rather than heading immediately home. Many students also stopped by the Apparating Library before or after their school day with parents and siblings. In these cases, the entire family was able to pick out new books and expand on their collective home library!

Students, parents, teachers, and volunteers all on the hunt for reading material.

Students, parents, teachers, and volunteers all on the hunt for reading material.

Words Alive received about 7,000 books from the Accio Books campaign, and in total HPA members donated 44,438 books to schools, libraries, and community centers worldwide. Thanks to the generous donations of HPA chapters across the country, as well as the donations of many individual HPA members, not only was this event made possible in the first place but it went above and beyond everyone’s expectations.

Words Alive works with low-income, underserved communities across San Diego county. Many studies have shown that access to books is essential to helping children be successful in school and become life-long readers. However, studies have also shown that in middle-income neighborhoods there are approximately 13 age-appropriate books per child, while in low-income neighborhoods that ratio drops dramatically to one book for every 300 children. This event helped to directly combat the lack of book ownership in low-income communities in San Diego by allowing every student at Golden Hill School to go home with a whopping ten new books each.

Golden Hill is a K-8 Dual Language Immersion school, and is therefore focused on bilingual learning. The school's overall mission, according to their website, is to "create a learning environment where teachers, parents, students and the community collaborate to develop children who are healthy, caring, responsible, lifelong learners and productive members of society." While Golden Hill School is certainly doing a lot of work to achieve this noble mission, the school cannot actively work towards this goals for a few months every year during summer break.

One of the book giveaway’s major purposes was to fight the summer slide, or the gradual falling off of cognitive abilities and literacy of American students during summer break. On average, students lose about a month of the knowledge gleaned from the previous school year over the summer, and it can take two months for these students to catch back up once school starts again in the fall. Roughly two months of reading skills are lost over the summer break, a steeper decline than in any other main school subject. Furthermore, low-income students feel the effects of the summer slide more than middle-income students, partially due to the issues with book ownership that were mentioned earlier. After all, it’s difficult to practice your reading skills if you don’t have access to books at home.

All of these reasons are exactly why we were so excited to host this event. Everyone involved, from HPA staff and chapter members, to Golden Hill and Words Alive staff and volunteers, understood the importance of this event and could see the potential impact. With all of the students taking home so many books to read during the summer, that they were able to choose themselves, we are confident the students of Golden Hill will not see the average two month of reading skills lost this summer. They are also better poised now to start or continue building their home libraries and to becoming life-long readers and learners.

In an email to Words Alive after the event, Maritza Tristan, a Resource Teacher at Golden Hill, stated that the giveaway "was one of the best days at school for our students and community." She further explained that "students, parents and teachers can’t stop talking about" the event, describing it as a "wonderful experience."

This is certainly not a day that anyone involved, most of all the children receiving books, is likely to forget for a long time.

If you'd like to know more about Golden Hill or the Harry Potter Alliance, click the buttons below:

 

HPA

Chuck Jones Center for Creativity - Words Alive Volunteer Team of the Month - June 2017

Please join us in congratulating the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity Words Alive Volunteer Team of the Month for June 2017!

Each spring, Words Alive teams up with a local art leader to provide professional training and arts insight to students in the Adolescent Book Group. This year’s Arts Component theme was “presence” and allowed students to explore how they see themselves in the world through reading and discussing books, writing reflection letters and, finally, creating films. The Chuck Jones Center for Creativity worked with us to teach the students about stop motion animation, develop their skills and create a finished product for the final showcase at the Chuck Jones Gallery downtown!

Check Out the Volunteer of the Month Interview with The Chuck Jones Center for creativity:

1. Tell us a little about the Center for Creativity.

The Chuck Jones Center for Creativity is a 501(c)3 public charity based in Orange County, Calif. Chuck Jones was the creative genius who gave life to Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote and Bugs Bunny along with over 300 animated films. The Center, which he founded in 1999, is a gymnasium for the brain that fosters creative thinking – the thinking behind problem solving and innovation – by inspiring people to exercise their unique creative genius through creativity exercises. Creativity is like a muscle in your brain that needs exercise to get and stay healthy. The stronger that muscle is, the better it works in engaging tasks and solving problems. Our distinctive goal is not to teach the mechanics of art, but to teach creative thinking applicable to all aspects of life for people from early childhood to their golden years.  We build important skills for school age children, support healthy cognitive abilities for seniors, increase work performance in organizations who see the value of pumping up creativity in their ranks and enhance function for children on the autism spectrum.

2. What was the best part of working with our students?

Our creativity is essential to problem solving and very much a part of our presence. Art is a visual language. Our programs are designed to engage students to explore new techniques that can enhance their ability to visually articulate their ideas and personal expressions.  The best part about "Training the Trainers" was the open-minded collaboration between two passionate organizations working toward greater well-being for all youth. Literacy and art are a perfect fit.

Works created by students were thought out, compelling and deeply moving. There was a clear sense of greater understanding to their own presence. While it is the process that matters most, it is when we get lost in that process when we produce at our best.

We are so pleased that many students were able to visit the gallery. Seeing their own work displayed in an iconic gallery offers countless rewards.

3. What are you and your team reading lately?

Robert- “Caravaggio, a Life” by Helen Langdon

Denise- "Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear" by Elizabeth Gilbert

Naylene- "Hellboy" by Agatha Christie

Craig- “Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious” by Gerd Gigerenzer

Purchase the anthology and watch the completed stop-motion animation films here!

 

Words Alive, Warwick's, and USD are teaming up to bring Sherman Alexie to San Diego

On Friday, July 14th, the University of San Diego's Shiley Theatre will be hosting a book discussion and signing with Sherman Alexie, author of National Book Award winning The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Alexie's new memoir, You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, comes from a place of tragedy, as this work was developed as a sort of coping mechanism for Alexie when his mother passed away at age 78. Alexie's trademark lack of fear of revealing harsh truths about the world and his fiery temperament are certainly present in this work. You Don't Have to Say You Love Me is a collection of 78 poems, 78 essays, and numerous personal photographs concerning the complicated, challenging, yet fulfilling relationship between he and his mother.

Prominent critics such as Slate's Laura Miller and Kirkus Reviews heaped heavy praise upon the work, and called its author proficient in "scouring honesty" and in a "conversational, breezy" style that combine to make an intensely likeable author and interesting read.

Sherman Alexie, posing for Chase Jarvis of the Grove Atlantic

Sherman Alexie, posing for Chase Jarvis of the Grove Atlantic

Alexie's accomplishments as an author are numerous. In 1993, he received the PEN/Hemmingway Award for his short story collection The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, and in 1999 he was named one of The New Yorker's 20 Writers for the 21st Century. He also received an American Library Association Odyssey Award for "best audiobook for children or young adults", as he read aloud his The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Words Alive will have a general information table at the event. Please invite friends to hear a great author and learn more about Words Alive. We will be sharing information about how guests can get more involved.

In order to enter the book signing line, you must have purchased a copy of You Don't Have to Say You Love Me from Warwick's. Seating will be first come first serve, with the doors to check in opening at 6:15 PM. For more event details and to purchase tickets click the button below.

Words Alive Celebrates the Graduation of Westreich Scholarship Students

“Words Alive has demonstrated that there are people who care for others without expecting something in return. They have been so loving to me, and my experience at UCSC wouldn't have been the same without them.” 

– Brittany Jackson, Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Student

From left to right: Words Alive Operations Directior Chrissy Green Califf, Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Student Brittany Jackson, and Words Alive Volunteer Mentor Sarah Archibald. Chrissy and Sarah made the journey up to UC Santa Cruz for Brittany's graduation! 

From left to right: Words Alive Operations Directior Chrissy Green Califf, Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Student Brittany Jackson, and Words Alive Volunteer Mentor Sarah Archibald. Chrissy and Sarah made the journey up to UC Santa Cruz for Brittany's graduation! 

The Words Alive Teen Services Program attempts to engage students from Momentum Learning (formerly Juvenile Court and Community Schools) in literacy, reading and education in a variety of ways: through a monthly book club, writing and career readiness workshops and a scholarship program.

In 2007, San Diego philanthropist Ruth Westreich created the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program, with the first scholarships awarded the following year. The program awards scholarships to Words Alive Adolescent Book Group 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 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. Student and mentor meet regularly throughout the school year, and the mentors provide guidance, direction, and often, a shoulder to lean on.

Ten years later, the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program is going stronger than ever.  In the past month, we have seen two of our scholarship students, Cathy Campos and Brittany Jackson, graduate with bachelor’s degrees. Words Alive met both Cathy and Brittany in our Adolescent Book Group at Monarch , a school that educates homeless youth in San Diego.

Cathy Campos has been a Words Alive Scholarship recipient for four years, graduated from San Diego State University last month and benefited from the mentorship of Susannah Walker throughout her time with the Westreich Scholarship Program. Brittany Jackson has been a Words Alive Scholarship recipient for five years, graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz last week, and benefited from a close relationship with her mentor, Sarah Archibald.

Words Alive is thrilled to have been a part of the journey towards success for both of these wonderful students. We are so proud of Cathy and Brittany; they both embody what it means to persevere and thrive.

We interviewed Brittany Jackson to learn more about her college experience and her experience with the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program. Read on:

Name: Brittany Jackson
Age: 23
College: University of California, Santa Cruz
Area of study: Sociology with a Chemistry background
Mentor: Sarah Archibald ❤

When were you first introduced to Words Alive? How has your experience with Words Alive affected you?

I was first introduced to Sarah when she was a volunteer for Words Alive at Monarch School. After I received confirmation as a recipient of the scholarship, then Sarah was assigned to me. I am so happy she was my mentor! She is very supportive and understanding of all the obstacles I encountered while I was in school. I am so grateful for her. My experience with Words Alive has affected me by showing the support that I lacked at home, both emotional and financial. Words Alive has demonstrated that there are people who care for others without expecting something in return. They have been so loving to me, and my experience at UCSC wouldn't have been the same without them.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in earning your degree? 

The biggest challenge that I faced earning my degree was depression. There were mornings where I didn't want to wake up or [wanted to] call it quits but I kept pushing forward.

How did you overcome that challenge? 

I overcame these challenges with the support of family and friends that were very close to me, including Words Alive. I also kept saying the quote from Finding Nemo in my head, "Just keep swimming!"

What is your favorite book that you read during your college years? Why? 

My favorite book was called, "The Emotional Self" by Deborah Lupton. This book helped me understand my emotions and take better control of them, rather than [letting] my emotions have control over me. 

What are your future plans now that you have earned your college degree?

I plan to apply for my Masters in the fall to achieve my credentials to become a High School Counselor. I want to help other students understand the importance of education and everything that it has to offer (besides job security). 

What advice do you have for the next generation?

The advice that I have for the next generation is to never stop trying. If you fail a class once, twice, keep trying. If your midterm score wasn't what you expected, keep trying. Never give up! Just because you didn't pass a class or didn't excel on a test, that doesn't mean you didn't learn anything. Keep trying and figure out what to do better next time or ask for help. But the true value is not your letter grade or score but it's in your education. You may have not learned everything about the class, but you knew more than you did before you walked in there.

Students proudly tour gallery to see their finished projects alongside famous works

La Mesa students preview the Words Alive Arts Component exhibition, which featured their animated films and writing, at Chuck Jones Gallery on June 6. 

La Mesa students preview the Words Alive Arts Component exhibition, which featured their animated films and writing, at Chuck Jones Gallery on June 6. 

Angelica nearly leaped over her classmates in a rush to get up close to the exhibit at Chuck Jones Gallery last week.

“That one’s mine,” the La Mesa student beamed, pointing to her drawings on the display of characters posted to the gallery wall.

“Wait, wait, look at this one,” a classmate interrupted. “This one is mine.”

Angelica was just one of at least 40 students who had the chance to see their own characters on display alongside famous faces from the Looney Tunes series. After months of reading and discussing books, writing letters and creating animated films surrounding the theme, “presence,” the ah-ha moment finally happened as students previewed the exhibit on the morning of June 6. The public enjoyed the showcase at Chuck Jones Gallery downtown later that same evening.

califfPhoto2017-06-wachuckjones-2823.jpg

For this fourth annual Words Alive Adolescent Book Group Arts Component, students read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Crossover by Kwame Alexander and Letters to a Young Artist by Anna Deavere Smith. Through the project, Momentum Learning (Juvenile Court and Community Schools) students were able to not only create connections to the texts, but also to themselves and the world.

Words Alive writing volunteers helped the students craft reflection letters and poems that focused on how students see themselves in the world. The result was powerful.

The collection of their work, Presence: An Invitation to Be Your Creative and Authentic Self, is now available for purchase here.

Teaching artists from Chuck Jones Center for Creativity trained Words Alive volunteers who worked directly with students at seven schools to create the final installment of the project: animated films.

Say Cheese! Chuck Jones Center for Creativity and Words Alive staff and volunteers celebrate the students' work at the exhibit. 

Say Cheese! Chuck Jones Center for Creativity and Words Alive staff and volunteers celebrate the students' work at the exhibit. 

In preparation of taking photographs to create the stop-animation videos, students developed characters, scenery and storylines – a complex process many said taught them “patience” and “that everything good takes time.”

In the special collections room of the gallery, students further discussed the artistic storytelling process as they admired original drafts from Chuck Jones: sketches of Marvin the Martian and Wile E. Coyote alongside the final adaptions of the characters that appeared in the cartoon series. Even Chuck Jones had drafts, they commented, reflecting on their own process from their project. 

The time-consuming process was a special challenge for the students who have faced issues such as homelessness, exposure to drug abuse and gang violence, juvenile delinquency or teen pregnancy. The students often bounce around from one place or project to the next, rarely able to finish something.

“I felt good about myself because I've never did nothing like that before,” Noemy wrote about finishing the project. “I wasn't expecting it to come out as good as it did.”

Another wrote “I learned that I can accomplish something.”

"I didn't know the library did that."

By Dayna DeBenedet

This piece was originally posted here as part of the Harry Potter Alliance's Accio Books series, exploring issues related to literacy, education, and libraries. To find out more about Accio Books and how Words Alive is involved, visit thehpalliance.org/accio_books

“I didn’t know the library did that.”

This is a sentence I hear with surprising regularity when I talk to people about public libraries and my work as a librarian. To be fair, when I first decided to pursue a career in librarianship, I didn’t really know what librarians did day-to-day either. I was mostly interested in librarianship because I liked books and had fond memories of the library growing up — but as it turns out, I had a lot to learn about public libraries.

So what does a library do?

Well, we do most of the traditional things you’re probably thinking of — lending books and audio-visual material, delivering story hour programs, answering research questions and providing access to computers and the internet, but most libraries also offer a wide range of services tailored to meet the specific needs of their community.

Here are a few things you might not have known were happening in public libraries:

Combating food insecurity through Summer Meal programs

Libraries across the United States are offering Summer Meal programs, which provide meals to children who are eligible for free or reduced lunch during school holidays. Summer holidays can be a difficult time for many children who receive free or reduced lunch at school — working with grant programs and community partners, several libraries are now working to ensure that children have access to meals year-round.

Connecting families impacted by incarceration

Libraries are also working to help connect families who are impacted by incarceration. Libraries have offered story hour programs in detention centres, provided parenting courses for inmates, and developed digital services that allow inmates to take part in reading programs with their children through video chat.

Image of an adult holding a baby up to a TV screen. The child is interacting with their incarcerated parent through the screen and there are numerous books and toys in front of the baby. Via Brooklyn Public Library

Image of an adult holding a baby up to a TV screen. The child is interacting with their incarcerated parent through the screen and there are numerous books and toys in front of the baby. Via Brooklyn Public Library

Providing services to newcomers and refugees

Public libraries work with newcomers to provide services that range from language training to job search support in an effort to help resettlement and combat social isolation.

Helping job seekers and small businesses

Libraries provide essential job readiness programs and small business supportin many communities including access to employment databases, technology workshops, resume writing and interview workshops and support for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Connections to social service providers

Libraries are increasingly a vital connection between the public and social services. Several libraries across North America now have social service providers or social workers working within their facilities to help connect patrons with social services such as homelessness supports, housing programs, employment and training programs, and mental health services.

Creating Technology Hubs

If you haven’t visited your public library in a while, you might also be surprised to see how libraries have embraced technology. Libraries are creating Makerspaces, offering coding programs and lending technology, including internet hotspots to patrons who don’t have a connection at home.

Graphic: Because more than a quarter of U.S. households don’t have a computer with an internet connection. Via Libraries Transform

Graphic: Because more than a quarter of U.S. households don’t have a computer with an internet connection. Via Libraries Transform

Collections that go beyond books

Libraries are also lending a lot more than books — they’re lending technology, musical instruments, tools, museum and gallery passes, seeds, sports equipment (i.e.: snowshoes or a pedometer) and all sorts of other things!

Infographic of 50 unusual items/services you can check out at libraries around the world. Infographic designed by Jaclyn Rosansky & researched by Amy Shaw

Infographic of 50 unusual items/services you can check out at libraries around the world. Infographic designed by Jaclyn Rosansky & researched by Amy Shaw

Community building is at the heart of the public library. Every week I come across stories of libraries doing amazing, creative things to respond directly to the needs of their communities, and these services help build vibrant, resilient communities.

Unfortunately, for every inspiring article I read about the work being done in libraries I seem to come across another article about libraries facing budget cuts, service reductions, and funding issues.

The recent Trump Budget Proposal eliminated all funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The IMLS is the federal funding agency for all libraries in the United States and its $230 million budget provided grants to support museums and libraries. Cuts to the IMLS as well as state and local level cuts threaten the viability of libraries across the US.

American libraries are not alone in the struggle for funding — libraries in the United Kingdom have been in crisis for the past decade. It is estimated that in the past eight years more than 340 public libraries have closed across the United Kingdom, with more closures on the horizon. Last year in Canada the province of Newfoundland announced plans to close 54 public libraries. After a significant public outcry, the plan is being reevaluated, but library closures have not been ruled out. Relying on funding from so many different levels of government, federal, state/provincial, county, municipal etc. have made libraries increasingly vulnerable to funding cuts as governments at all levels are tightening their belts.

I know that as a public librarian I am a little biased, but every day I get to see how libraries and librarians work to provide service to marginalized and underserved groups, combat social isolation, connect people with resources and social services, help students and job seekers, promote health and wellness and find creative solutions to meet community needs. Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it, studies have shown that libraries have a positive impact on local economies, literacy and education, and community development.

If you love libraries, join the Accio Books campaign and advocate for public libraries. There are many simple actions you can take to support public libraries, like:

  1. Show support for your local library — get a library card!
  2. Get engaged with local politics. The majority of library funding comes from municipal and/or county funding, so your voice has the most impact at a local level.
  3. Call/Write to your state and federal representatives about the importance of library funding. Contact your representatives to help save the IMLS and preserve federal funding for libraries.
  4. Take part in a postcard sending campaign like this one. Download a postcard and send it to your representatives.
  5. Check out your national library association for ongoing updates about library advocacy and the opportunity to take part in advocacy campaigns.

Follow the HPA on social media and get involved with the Accio Books campaign. Donate books to a local library or literacy organization, or to our official partner Words Alive, and take part in our library advocacy actions.

Dayna is the Library Advocacy Researcher for the Harry Potter Alliance.

Bring a Friend - the Foundation of Growth

Words Alive Volunteers Chris Britton, Mona Moon, and Ed Hieshetter at the 2017 Volunteer Appreciation Event.

Words Alive Volunteers Chris Britton, Mona Moon, and Ed Hieshetter at the 2017 Volunteer Appreciation Event.

Since inception in 1999, Words Alive has relied on the leadership, creativity, and dedication of volunteers to deliver and grow our programming.  Our volunteer team makes us unique and effective - enabling us to reach over 5,500 students and families each month with contributed hours that more than double the impact of our staff alone. As our organization grows to meet increasing needs in the community, so does our volunteer team.  The means to that growth?  Personal invitation.

Our volunteers are some of the most capable and accomplished teachers, librarians, school administrators, lawyers, corporate professionals, and students in the community.  Their networks are also flush with talented and compassionate people, just waiting for an introduction to the right organization so that they can find a meaningful and impactful connection to giving. Tobi Johnson, President of VolunteerPro and seasoned volunteer manager, writes in her 2017 Volunteer Management Progress Report that 85% of people do not volunteer until asked.  We encourage our volunteers to ask. Volunteers are the leading champions of an organization.  They are able to talk to your mission and provide heartfelt stories of their experiences with your served populations. New supporters they bring in to your organization will be just as powerful.

Asking, or referring, friends and network contacts to volunteer within our organization has proven to be the most effective means of volunteer growth for Words Alive. Last year we piloted a volunteer recruitment campaign that incentivized referrals to our program, highlighting the power of personal invitation. We successfully onboarded over 20 referred volunteers within three short months, and referrals continue to come in.  In totality, our team of over 550 volunteers has a sourcing rate of 52% by referral.

We have just kicked off the second year of the "Bring a Friend" referral-based recruitment campaign.  The campaign runs May through September, and incentivizes volunteer referrals and awareness around the power of personal invitation to stimulate the growth we need to staff our upcoming fall semester with qualified and dedicated volunteers. Any Words Alive volunteer who brings a friend to a session, to an event, or to an orientation is entered into a drawing to receive a prize at the culmination of the campaign.  All volunteers will receive thanks and recognition for participating. 

With just a little over a month left in the school year, now is the time to bring your friends along to your own session or to one of their interest!  Contact Christina Meeker, Volunteer Program Manager, to set up a visit!  We also have new volunteer orientations scheduled monthly which provide an overview of the organization and the ways one can get involved.

Join the campaign now through September, and bring your friend to meet our organization!