"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!

Literacy Starts at Home, and so does Fighting Inequality

By Porshéa Patterson

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

Literacy is important not only because it allows you to read books for pleasure; it is also essential for navigating day-to-day life. For those of us who had access to quality literacy education from a young age, it can be easy to forgot how often we utilize literacy skills for activities other than book-reading. For those who struggle with literacy, it is impossible to forget. Reading is necessary when navigating street signs, applying for jobs, understanding medical instructions, voting, and much, much more. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, not everyone has equal access to the quality literacy education that is needed to thrive.

“Literacy is the foundation of community and economic development. When everyone can read, whole communities thrive.” Via Words Alive

“Literacy is the foundation of community and economic development. When everyone can read, whole communities thrive.” Via Words Alive

Numerous studies have shown that low-income families own disproportionately fewer books than their middle and upper-class peers. According to U.S. Census data[1], Black and Latinx families are more likely to make less than the median household income. In addition, families of lower income typically have less ability to take time off from work. This time is invaluable to families with young children for whom the crux of their learning stems from their home environments. With this dynamic in consideration, much attention needs to be paid to children from low-income backgrounds and their access to literary resources.

Differences in leisure time and parental education seem to be the largest factors in the literacy rates of low and middle income children. Higher levels of parent education are associated with greater parent interest in reading, greater child interest in reading, and greater parent-child reading interactions[2]. A study from 1997[3] found that 90% of middle-income parents reported daily book-reading activity, compared to 52% of low-income parents. Middle income families were also found to visit the library more frequently than lower-income families; library use is a strong predictor of motivation to read.

Number of books in the home and frequency of library visitation are not the only differences related to household income and literacy skills. Another 1997 study[4] showed that middle-income parents encourage reading as a source of entertainment more than low-income parents who are more likely to approach literacy as a skill to be cultivated. The same study[4] theorized that middle-income children’s earlier access to more books in their home leads them to relate to books as entertainment more than low-income children who tend to have less books in their households. However, children coming from low-income households are able to overcome these disadvantages when they engage in reading and writing play at home[5]. Children who engaged in this play performed on equal level to their higher income peers in recognizing and naming letters, handling books, and writing.

Shared parent-child reading time offsets much of the adversity faced by children of low-income households. When parents read with their children, they show that they value reading and that reading is a pleasurable activity. Oftentimes, the interest children show in reading is not a natural extension of play, but rather is introduced by the parent and adopted by the child because of the joy they derive from sharing a book with a parent[6].

Children who show high interest in reading are more likely to look at books at least 2 or 3 times a week, use the library, and be read to daily. Children growing up in a literacy-rich environment, where a positive value is ascribed to literacy, will develop a positive attitude towards reading. These factors lead to a good reading ability[7]. Without parental support, books are only partially accessible to young children who are not yet conventional readers. Parents who themselves do not enjoy reading may be unable to support their children’s interest in reading, and parents with a low level of literacy are unable to make a book comprehensible to an emergent reader[8]. When adult figures, like teachers and parents, actively voice encouragement and support for children’s reading efforts, children are inspired to read more[9].

Studies show that the earlier literacy activities are incorporated into a child’s play the better. Children who are interested in reading as preschoolers are more academically successful in the intermediate years and beyond.

One variable that numerous studies on early childhood literacy agree on is that access to books is the most important facet in building lifelong readers. For children from low-income households, this can be an issue. This year’s Accio Books recipient site, Words Alive, addresses this issue with their book-giving program, and with the support of Accio Books, even more families can be reached. Of greater importance is Words Alive’s effort to address the issue of low readership in low-income communities, by doing more than just giving books to families in need. Words Alive also offers parental workshops to help families engage children in more frequent reading behaviors.

Four in 10 American children live in low-income families. In their homes, schools and communities, books and educational resources are scarce. They start school behind their more affluent peers and often never catch up. Via National Center for Children in Poverty

Four in 10 American children live in low-income families. In their homes, schools and communities, books and educational resources are scarce. They start school behind their more affluent peers and often never catch up. Via National Center for Children in Poverty

The Words Alive Family Literacy Program is a seven-week, 90 minute workshop that provides 10.5 hours of parent education on early literacy development for preschool age children. Each workshop includes information sessions, skill building exercises for parents, group story time, and guided activities for parents and children. These workshops are held in two different sessions, typically February — March and April — May, at elementary schools and child development centers that typically serve low-income, multi-ethnic communities in San Diego. This year, approximately 300 families across San Diego County will graduate from the Family Literacy Program!

In previous years, families enrolled in the program took home 1,043 new books and clocked more than 1,175 hours of shared reading time. Program participants reported having a routine for sharing books with their children 85% more post-program than they had before they enrolled in the program[10]. These statistics show that the program is making an impact on key areas for literacy development.

This program also improves the dichotomy between low and middle-income children’s reading exposure. Families reported a 28% growth in children seeing adults reading and writing at home, a 31% growth in visiting the library with their children, and a 23% growth in the number of books in the home post-program participation. The program also helped families make great strides in helping children read books independently, 31% of families reported growth in this area; spent more time engaged in shared reading with their children 28% more than before; spent at least 29% more time reading words that appear in the community (on signs, etc); worked on creative activities like singing, dancing, drawing, and storytelling 32% more; found their children asking questions about stories 26% more; and answered questions about stories 31% more[11].

Tre (single father of three, Army veteran, community college student) with his child at a Family Literacy Program graduation in 2016. His daughter is holding a piece of paper that says “Super Reader Award.” Tre had perfect attendance during the Family Literacy Program and said: “I have learned so many different ways to get involved with my kid’s life through reading. This experience has changed my life and my kids enjoy reading with me so much.”

Tre (single father of three, Army veteran, community college student) with his child at a Family Literacy Program graduation in 2016. His daughter is holding a piece of paper that says “Super Reader Award.” Tre had perfect attendance during the Family Literacy Program and said: “I have learned so many different ways to get involved with my kid’s life through reading. This experience has changed my life and my kids enjoy reading with me so much.”

Parents also shared their thoughts about their growth as a parent-child reading unit, saying things like, “We now make sure to read every night!” and “Reading has become a daily routine. Before we would sit down and watch TV,” after completing the program. They also mentioned the change they saw in their children’s reading habits based on parental influence, “My participation has increased her confidence, when she sees me interacting she wants to as well.[12]” The Words Alive Family Literacy program also helps parents understand the importance of reading to their children at an early age, as one parent testifies, “Before I did not read to any of my children. When I began to attend the program, I began to realize how important it is for the children. Reading is an important part because it taught my child to be more curious and ask more questions when we read.” Some families were so impacted by the program that it changed the way that they approached books overall. “I started a little library (designated in a special drawer) with the books that we got from this program,” “We bought books instead of toys at the store!” and “Reading is not about reading the entire book and has a better quality to it [after participating in the program][13].”

While the work completed by Words Alive is very inspiring, not every community falls under the purview of a Family Literacy Program. One sustainable idea that you may consider would be starting a community library in your neighborhood (see the Little Free Library) or checking out the Dolly Parton literacy program for children from birth to age 5 that serves families in the USA, UK, CA, and AU and sharing this information with families in need.

A great aspect of both Words Alive and the Harry Potter Alliance is that they work hard to make sure that the literature given to these communities is representative of the backgrounds and experiences of the children served. So if you plan to donate books, you should consider doing this as well. Finally, consider donating (money or books) to the Harry Potter Alliance’s Accio Books campaign. Your contributions will help Words Alive and communities around the world get more books and other literacy boosting resources to those who need them most.

If you would like to support Words Alive and learn more about the Family Literacy Program, please visit this page!

[1] U.S. Census Data https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2015/demo/p60-252.pdf

[2] Bracken, S. S., & Fischel, J. E. (2008). Family reading behavior and early literacy skills in preschool children from low-income backgrounds. Early Education and Development, 19(1), 45–67.

[3] Baker, L., Scher, D., & Mackler, K. (1997). Home and family influences on motivations for reading. Educational psychologist, 32(2), 69–82.

[4] Baker, Scher, & Mackler, (1997).

[5] Baker, Scher, & Mackler, (1997).

[6] Baker, Scher, & Mackler, (1997).

[7] Swalander, L., & Taube, K. (2007). Influences of family based prerequisites, reading attitude, and self-regulation on reading ability. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 32, 206–230.

[8] Bus, A. G., Van Ijzendoorn, M. H., & Pellegrini, A. D. (1995). Joint book reading makes for success in learning to read: A meta-analysis on intergenerational transmission of literacy. Review of educational research, 65(1), 1–21.

[9] Schunk, D. H., & Zimmerman, B. J. (2007). Influencing children’s self-efficacy and self-regulation of reading and writing through modeling. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 23(1), 7–25.

[10] Words Alive, 2016

[11] Words Alive, 2016

[12] Words Alive, 2016

[13] Words Alive, 2016

Porshéa Patterson is a Ravenclaw who can’t get enough out of reading, fandoms, intersectional feminism, and research — it’s also her day job. She is the Racial Justice Campaigns Researcher for the HPA; follow her @Porshea_obvi on Twitter.

Ed Hieshetter - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month - May 2017

Please join us in congratulating Ed Hieshetter Words Alive Volunteer of the Month for May 2017!

Ed Hieshetter is a founding member of our volunteer team at the East Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility.  He has been with our volunteer family about a year a half, and most of that time has been spent building a consistent and meaningful program with detained students at East Mesa through our Adolescent Book Group program.

Ed has led book discussions, writing workshops and career readiness programming, proving that he is a flexible and valuable facilitator. Not only is he dedicated to serving students in the classroom, but Ed goes above and beyond to improve the program behind the scenes. Ed is always thinking of ways to improve and build our program and often lends his support in this vein. He has also been involved in tailoring book selections and curriculum to fit East Mesa’s unique needs.

Thanks for all you do, Ed! The ABG at East Mesa surely wouldn’t be the same without you.

 

Check Out the Volunteer of the Month Interview with Ed Below!

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a retired investment advisor/financial planner and spent my entire adult life (56 years) in a solo private practice in that profession.  My credo from age 12 to today has been we all have a moral responsibility to give back to the community through volunteer work assisting those in need within our communities. If we ALL served just 2 hours a month in volunteer service within our communities we could solve many of our society’s problems. I have four sons, two granddaughters and seven great grandchildren! In addition, I have taken under my wing several other young adults as a grandfather figure by offering moral, emotional, and financial support for their educations and their overall lives in general. For the past five plus years I have also served (and continue to serve as a volunteer) on the board of directors of the Charter School McGill School for Success.  We serve an under-served section of our community. Lastly, for years I have been a public speaker representing many causes and organizations, been interviewed several times on television, had speaking (and non-speaking) parts in a few commercials, had 15 to 20 letters to the editor published in the LA Times.

How long have you been volunteering for Words Alive? And, how did you first get involved?

I have been involved in the Words Alive program now approaching two years. During that entire time, I have been involved in a pilot program serving the young men incarcerated in the East Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility. In our entire society, I believe they are at greatest risk of falling deeper into the criminal justice system thus passing into a lifetime within the adult criminal justice system. My goal is to turn their lives around by letting them know that there are some folks out here in society that sincerely care about what happens to them. 

I came to Words Alive via my friend and fellow board member, Charlene Sapien, who has been involved with the Words Alive program for many years. Though I can read (and do) to the students at McGill School for Success any time I want, I wanted a bigger challenge. She suggested I look into the Words Alive program. And indeed, here I am (along with my fellow teammates Chris and Sam) working with 15 young men all of whom are very important to me.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your current volunteer role, and your work with the organization?

There was a time in my life as a teenager that I came close to being in a juvenile detention center myself. In my students, I see a younger me. These young men need someone to believe in them and when they realize I really do care about what happens to them, they develop a different attitude towards me, towards themselves, and to the community at large. If I only reach one of them it’s worth the effort. And that's my payoff. In class, you can see at times when the light comes on within them and magic happens! You know you've reached them and it shows! As I've said to some of my Words Alive colleagues, I come out of many sessions a foot taller than when I walked into the session!

And, by the way, what are you reading lately?

Lately, mainly the books assigned by Words Alive for my "students".  But, I belong to many organizations and receive their publications in addition to the LA Times, the Readers Digest and other publications. My own preference is reading nonfiction as I tend to read for knowledge (and entertainment) and can tell a good book when I'm still reading it at 2:00 AM; even though tired I can't stop reading it!

My last comment is all of us need to be recruiters for Words Alive. Enlist others in sharing the joy and pleasure of serving the community by promoting a lifelong love of reading.

 – Ed Hieshetter

 

Where the Only Question You Have to Answer is "What Can I Help You Find?"

By Cristina Kinsella

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

In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, when Draco Malfoy lashes out at everyone’s favorite social justice witch, Hermione Granger, calling her a “filthy mud-blood,” Ron Weasley jumps in to defend his friend and winds up vomiting slugs for his efforts. “Pure-blood” Ron recognizes something “pure-blood” Draco misses: Muggle-born wizards and witches are essential to the success and survival of the Wizarding World, and treating them as unwelcome encroachers has no place in a civilized society. Without Muggle-borns and “half-bloods” like Hermione and Harry, the Magical world would have died out eons ago.

Image from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in which Ron Weasley is confronting Draco Malfoy for calling Hermione Granger a “ filthy mudblood.”

Image from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in which Ron Weasley is confronting Draco Malfoy for calling Hermione Granger a “ filthy mudblood.”

Our Muggle world currently finds itself in a similar situation. Political climates all around the globe label newcomers as job stealers, leeches to the economy, terrorists, and “illegal.” Anyone not “pure-blood” in the country they live in may face discrimination and hate for simply residing in a new place.

Image: No Human Being is Illegal followed by three faces and a quote from Eli Wiesel: “Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?”

Image: No Human Being is Illegal followed by three faces and a quote from Eli Wiesel: “Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?”

But standing up for what’s right, even when it isn’t easy, isn’t the only thing Harry, Ron, and Hermione taught us. There’s safety and power in knowledge, and the best source of that power is at the library.

Libraries are the ultimate sanctuary spaces; they are free to all people, all the time. Librarians don’t want to know what your immigration status is, or what country you were born in. They want to know what you’re looking for, what you need, and how they can help you find it.

In the United States, the Institute of Museum and Library Services reports that more than 55% of immigrants use their public library once a week. For immigrants and refugees, libraries are a gateway into their new community. They offer essential services like language classes, resume workshops, and legal resources. But it’s not these services alone that make the library a welcoming space for immigrants.

Libraries are an essential link to the community. Not only are there books on the shelves, but there are flyers about community events, information about classes, access to the Internet, and the opportunity to obtain information at your fingertips. For many newcomers, story time in the children’s section gives their children the opportunity to learn and interact with others and feel part of their community.

Image of a sign at the Hennepin County Library that says "All are welcome here." Via School Library Journal

Image of a sign at the Hennepin County Library that says "All are welcome here." Via School Library Journal

In the wake of several executive orders signed by the new U.S. president that targeted immigrants and refugees, libraries around the United States retaliated with four simple words: All Are Welcome Here. At a time when all immigrants and refugees, no matter their country of origin or documentation status, are worried about their security, libraries open their doors and tell everyone in their community that “you’re safe here.”

Many U.S. libraries located in Sanctuary Cities are standing by their local officials and, in the face of losing funding from the federal government, declaring themselves a place of sanctuary. Not just sanctuary from the hate and discrimination of an administration bound to cast them out, but a sanctuary of knowledge and information.

Nelson Mandela once said, “education is the greatest engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor...that a child of farm workers can become president of a great nation.” Libraries are the greatest source of information and education in the community. They are an equalizer of access, available to anyone who walks through the doors. They make knowledge accessible, fight prejudice through information, and promote the values of a fair and just society.

Graphic that says "Libraries are for everyone" with images of three different people. Via Hafuboti

Graphic that says "Libraries are for everyone" with images of three different people. Via Hafuboti

I also want to mention that in my own community, I am a “pure-blood.” I have the great fortune of being born in the country I call home, and I understand that I walk with a privilege my immigrant neighbors do not have. But like Ron, I know that the newcomers to my homeland are vital to my community. They make us stronger, they make us smarter, and they make our food taste better. And “they” are “us.” They are part of our communities, and they belong here. And I’ll happily spend a day vomiting up slugs in defense of anyone who wants to call my home their home.

I’m so proud to stand with an organization that fights for social justice using the love of books and fandom. And through the annual Accio Books campaign, the Harry Potter Alliance ensures that communities around the world have access to books and libraries.  

We don’t immediately think of libraries or librarians as a source of resistance or social change. But they are; they always have been, by quietly and patiently providing information to the masses.

If you need proof, just look to everyone’s favorite Muggle-born warrior-witch Hermione. She knows that books and cleverness, combined with the love of our friends, can save us all. And when you’re in doubt, go to the library.

Cristina is a volunteer researcher with the HPA, focusing on issues of immigration and migration. She is also a very proud Hufflepuff. In her Muggle life, she enjoys spending time with her cat, Neville, and pursuing her passion as an amateur legal superhero.

Thomas Jefferson Didn't Say That & Why It Matters

By Christine Richardson

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

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines a library as “a building or room containing collections of books, periodicals, and sometimes films and recorded music for use or borrowing by the public or the members of an institution.” But to many of us, libraries are so much more!

Image of a child reading under a tree with the words “Read for Life”. Via Words Alive

Image of a child reading under a tree with the words “Read for Life”. Via Words Alive

Libraries are places for exploration! They are where we encounter new ideas, find new authors, and discover new worlds. How many times have you read a book that expanded your worldview? How many times has a book you read had a huge impact on your feelings of self-worth, your career, or even your life? The Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) owes its existence to a book series, and has done so many wonderful things in the world under the name of the series’ famous character. One of the wonderful things the HPA does each year is a campaign called Accio Books. Accio Books is an HPA sponsored international book drive that to date has collected over 315,000 books, which have all been donated to communities in need around the globe. This year’s recipient is Words Alive, a literacy nonprofit in San Diego, CA. Words Alive was founded in 1999 and now serves more than 5,500 students and families each month through numerous reading programs. The idea behind Words Alive is that reading, and lifelong learning, is fundamental to being a productive member of your community.

Speaking of which, have a think about this familiar quote: “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” This quote is often attributed to Thomas Jefferson. However, there is no evidence he ever said it. Why is this important? The meaning of the quote is very powerful and is said to nicely summarize Jefferson’s views on education. But, he never actually said it. We know this because of historical records kept by libraries and archives. They provide us not only with a future to explore, but also a past to discover.

This story shows us how easily quotes or ideas can make it into popular culture even when their sources are misattributed. Thankfully, libraries (and the access to information contained within them) are here to help us fact-check and discover the truth. We need an educated public, and part of that means publicly accessible information. That is how we will gain knowledge. Libraries provide us with information that helps us become knowledgeable citizens.

“Fake News” spelled out in Scrabble Tiles. Image via the American Library Association

“Fake News” spelled out in Scrabble Tiles. Image via the American Library Association

We are living in a time when access to the truth is being put to the test. Right now, we are deeply in need of libraries and the access to information they provide. Libraries enable us to become the educated citizens our democracies need to survive and, hopefully, to thrive. Without libraries providing a historical record, we would not have the tools necessary to know, for instance, that a quote attributed to a famous founding father of the United States was actually misattributed. It also allows us to fact check our elected officials to know whether they are telling us the truth, stretching the truth, or flat out lying to us.

This week, as part of National Library Legislative Day, thousands of librarians and wizard activists stood up for libraries by advocating to Congress for full funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (the source of nearly all federal funding for libraries) and full support for net neutrality. Their activism in D.C. and across the country was amazing — and it’s not over yet. Help libraries keep helping us: call Congress today and tell them about the importance and magic of libraries.

Because fake news can have real-world consequences. Image via ilovelibraries.org

Because fake news can have real-world consequences. Image via ilovelibraries.org

At the end of Accio Books, the recipient site for the campaign (in this case, Words Alive) hosts an event called the Apparating Library where the books received throughout the campaign are distributed back out into the community and given to the kids, youth, and families who most need them. This library is well-named as it has appeared (or, apparated) to numerous places around the world since the start of Accio Books in 2009. Communities in Rwanda, New York City, Michigan, Missouri, the Netherlands, Uganda, and now California have benefited from the increased access to knowledge that this Apparating Library brings. Please join me in advocating for well-informed communities by supporting your local libraries, the Apparating Library, and thousands of young readers around the world through Accio Books!

Christine Richardson is a librarian by day and nerdfighter always. She volunteers with the HPA and Uplift.

Words Alive Appreciates Our Volunteers

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In long-standing tradition, Words Alive celebrates and honors the power and leadership behind our mission – our volunteers.  Each year, our ability to serve the San Diego Community grows with increasing support from willing and devoted community members who step up to give their time and talent to work in our programs, develop curriculum, provide oversight and leadership, and engage with our students and families. 

April is National Volunteer Appreciation Month, a month we look forward to as it’s full of recognition, sharing stories, connecting with our volunteers, and our annual Volunteer Appreciation Event.  This year’s event was held last week on April 27th at the San Diego Central Library, our beautiful host venue and partner in literacy.  The event was attended by 70 of our volunteers – some as new as a few weeks and some as veteran as eight years’ service.  All came together to learn about the achievements of the volunteer program and of this year’s award winners, those who received honorable mention. 

In the past year, for our purposes a year is April 2016-April 2017, our volunteer core grew to over 550 dedicated people. This team of people collectively gave 14,220 hours of time to serve the community through our organization -  most importantly, enabling 5,725 students and families to benefit from our supplemental language arts programming.  Though our work and reach is impressive, it’s the way this work is done that is most inspiring.

Volunteers join our team from all career paths and backgrounds, some having taught for 40 years and others having never worked with children a day in their life.  They find common ground in our mission, in the beautiful relationships build with students and with each other, and in the reward of seeing progress and realizing a tangible way to contribute to the systemic issue of illiteracy.   

Throughout the month of April, and specifically during the National Volunteer Appreciation Week, we highlighted specific volunteer contributions and achievements.  At the annual event, we recognized ten volunteers for above and beyond service and advocacy.  Read more about these amazing community leaders on our Facebook page, and view the award winners pictured below. 

Thank you again to our strong and spirited volunteer team for carrying our organization forward and providing such meaningful education and inspiration to our students and families this year and every year!

Donor Spotlight: Amazon Books

Words Alive celebrated World Book Day on April 23rd at the Amazon Books store at UTC. In addition to a generous customer book drive, Amazon Books donated 100 brand-new books to Words Alive directly off of the store shelves before opening on April 23rd. The book store staff helped select books that they thought our students would love as part of the Words Alive Read Aloud Program curriculum and customers donated an additional 193 books that will be used as part of our annual book giveaway to grow the home libraries in the communities we serve. 

In addition to supporting the direct service work Words Alive does in the classrooms, these books are used in a variety of ways to support literacy development in San Diego. After picking up books from Words Alive, Amanda a THP+ Case Manager from New Alternatives, Inc. shared, "I wanted to say thank you again for your generous book donation. Our participants are former foster youth, many of whom never owned a book. This will be a great community library for them to take a book, share a book, enjoy the stories, and pen pal with other youth. Many of our youth use public transportation so they will definitely be getting lost in a novel soon. Thanks for so many classic novels like To Kill A Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, and many more. I look forward to our collaboration."

If you are interested in donating books to Words Alive, we accept book donations year round! You can donate through our Amazon wish list or drop off gently used books at our office.

Stories, Stress, & Schools: Why Summoning Books Can Help Students' Mental Health

By Anna Lyczmanenko

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

Today’s students have a lot to deal with, both in the classroom and out. Social anxiety, depression, abuse, bullying, eating disorders, and pressure to perform are issues that many young people, from elementary school through college, face every day. When things come to a head and students find themselves in crisis, many may feel that they do not have someone to confide in or don’t know who to turn to for help. This scenario is shockingly common: according to the Department of Health and Human Services, most children with a mental illness do not receive the treatment they need.

Tackling the issue of student mental health has proven to be a difficult task, even in states with funds and programs dedicated to helping children and young adults with mental health concerns. Fortunately, there are efforts to widen the conversation about mental illness and remove the stigma. As a result, discussions around youth mental health have started to enter the mainstream. This growing conversation is occurring on television, in state and national legislatures, but also at a level closer to home for kids – at school.

Young people spend a great deal of time at school, which means that schools have an opportunity to be a great resource for young people dealing with mental illness. The desire to help students has generated movements amongst teachers, school staff members, and students themselves to create programs, petitions, and resources around mental health. Many HPA chapters have been active in creating these campaigns: whether raising money for direct service organizations, hosting “de-stress” events on college campuses, or speaking out about their own experiences, wizard activists around the world are working with their schools to remove the stigma around mental illness and seeking help. This work could not be more vital. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five teens between the ages of 13 to 18 is at risk of a severe mental disorder.

At the elementary level, states and teachers have gotten together to mitigate mental health issues for students as they develop. In Minnesota, students can receive mental health treatment in school, removing the barriers like transportation, insurance coverage, and lengthy wait times for appointments. As a result, more students are receiving the help they need and seeing jumps in their attendance and academic performance. Other states, like California and Washington, are also looking at what schools can do to help - and that’s where wizard activists come in.

It’s no secret that reading can improve your mental health by increasing empathy, reducing stress, and even improving sleep. By making sure that young people around the world have access to books, Accio Books helps provide a vital mental health resource. Books can be powerful therapy on their own, and even more helpful when they explicitly tackle mental health and mental illness. This year for Accio Books, we have partnered with Words Alive, which means that wizard activists will help 5,000 young people and their families have access to the power of story.

Through Accio Books, wizard activists are also helping to support some of their community’s mental health first responders: librarians. Because children and teens are unlikely to be receiving the treatment they need, it’s vital that youth-serving agencies like libraries have training to recognize and support young people living with mental illness. Library staff often provide more than book recommendations, serving as a resource for everything from finding substance abuse support programs to navigating the health system. Assuring that libraries have the funding they need to keep their doors open and their staff well-trained is essential. That’s why wizard activists contacted Congress 868 times last year to support funding libraries, and that’s why we’ll do it again on May 1st and 2nd for National Library Legislative Day.

Through Accio Books, teachers, afterschool providers, library staff, students and other wizard activists are working together to increase young people’s access to books - which means we’re providing more resources for young people in need of the therapeutic benefits of reading great stories. This work, along with awareness-raising, outreach, and collaboration of services is essential to helping and empowering students living with mental illness. So be sure to visit our Accio Books headquarters to donate books, take action for libraries, become a Prefect, or even donate to support the campaign. You never know whose life your favorite stories will change.

Anna Lyczmanenko is a part Hufflepuff/part Gryffindor with a love of peanut butter, and talking about healthcare. She is the Mental Health Campaigns Researcher for the Harry Potter Alliance.

Welcome to Words Alive, Jessica Fryman!

We are excited to announce our newest team member, Jessica Fryman. Jessica joins the Words Alive family as our new Teen Services Program Manager!

As our new Teen Services Program Manager, Jessica will provide direction and leadership for the Adolescent Book Group and the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program. Previously, Jessica was a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer where she trained teachers and developed literacy, leadership, and college readiness programming for youth in the West African country of The Gambia. She also previously taught English as a Second Language in Santiago, Chile. Always passionate about people’s stories, Jessica started her career in the newsroom and earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism at the University of Nevada.

Now, let's hear from Jessica herself!

What intrigued you about Words Alive?

I was intrigued at how connected Words Alive is to the San Diego community and the way in which everyone from local authors and partnering organizations, donors and board members, staff and volunteers, teachers, families and, of course, students are all committed to collaborating in order to make these programs successful. I find it very powerful that so many people, from such diverse experiences and backgrounds, can all come together to get behind one mission. And I think it is especially compelling for that mission to be using the power of reading to help others help themselves.

What are you most excited about in your new position?

Let’s see … how do I begin to even answer this question succinctly? For starters, I’m excited to be part of a team who introduces students to books that have the potential to not only challenge their way of thinking, but to also help them identify a sense of self as they move into adulthood. I also am looking forward to working with such experienced volunteers who offer so much to the ABG and WAWS programs. I’m eager to learn from them and move forward together as we take these programs to the next level!

What is your relationship with literacy?

Cliché as it may be: Everyone has a story. And for me, literacy has always been about just that – getting to know people and their stories. I loved reading from an early age and I can remember secretly staying up far past my bedtime as a little girl, so I could devour the latest Dear America novel, a series in historical fiction (which, along with memoirs, is still one of my favorite genres today). I eventually transitioned from reading stories to writing them, and earned a bachelor’s in Journalism from the University of Nevada. After some time in the newsroom, I decided to get out there and see the world. I wanted to get my hands dirty and be part of the action, to craft my own personal story instead of always just observing the lives of others, which can be the nature of being a reporter. While abroad, I started working in education and programming where I met a myriad of incredible teachers and students who inspired me to keep giving back, which brings me here! No matter where I’ve gone or what I’ve done, it seems that my love for the written word always finds me in one way or another.

What are you currently reading?

Gather Together in My Name by Maya Angelou

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We are so excited to have Jessica on our team! To learn more about our Teen Services Program, click here!

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!