Change the Story of Your Life: Vichittra Chaleune

This post is part of our series in celebration of Words Alive’s 20th anniversary and our new brand promise: Change the Story of Your Life. Whether you are a donor, volunteer, participant, or all the above, Words Alive has a meaningful impact on your life story. Follow this link to get involved in the next 20 years of Words Alive.

An image of Vichittra faciliting suring a Family Literacy Program session. She is wearing a dinosaur costume and holding up a book.

An image of Vichittra faciliting suring a Family Literacy Program session. She is wearing a dinosaur costume and holding up a book.

How has Words Alive changed the story of your life?

Words Alive changed the story of my life at a young age. When I was in 1st grade I had a volunteer reader in my class and she helped me find the joy in reading. I was not confident in my reading skills and did not think I would ever like reading but my reader made stories so fun and engaging. As an adult, I now consider myself a reader and enjoy reading during my free time!

When did you first get involved with Words Alive? Why have you continued to support Words Alive?

 I’ve been at Words Alive for about 4 years now. I started off as a part-time Associate Program Manager where I assisted with the Read Aloud and Family Literacy Programs. During this time I was also a reader in a 2nd grade class at Golden Hill K-8. It was so much fun and just amazing to see our impact in the classroom first-hand. The experience was different from being in the office and hoping that what we do makes a difference. To be able to witness the impact we were having first-hand was such a joy. A few impactful experiences:

  • I read a story titled Rapunzel by Rachel Isadora and a little boy said, “That Rapunzel looks like my mom! She has long dreadlocks like my mom and I have dreadlocks too!” It was a wonderful feeling to see him so excited to read a book because he could connect with it in such a personal way.

  • I remember reading a story by an author named Brian and a little boy said his name is Brian so he said to the group, “I wrote this book!” We all kept the conversation going by asking Brian questions as if he were the author and we all had great fun with he story. It was a great way to get all the students engaged in the book in a different way and they were all so excited to discuss the story.

  • We read a story titled, Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? And one little girl said, “That’s what I want to be when I grow up. I don’t care what people say I’ll still follow my dreams!”

It’s stories like these that encourage me to continue my work at Words Alive. Sometimes it’s hard to see past the nitty gritty of the work we do day in and day out but it’s reassuring and inspiring to know that we provide quality programs that will impact our next generation of readers and learners.

How are you currently involved with Words Alive?

I’m currently responsible for developing, implementing and coordinating the Words Alive Read Aloud Program!

What is your favorite Words Alive moment?

One of my favorite moments is when I was working with parents as a FLP facilitator and one mama said her son always wants to sing the parts of the book song and will always ask to read at home as a result of our program. She said before our program he never wanted to read and would get easily distracted but now he loves books and will hug the book after they read together just like we do during the FLP reading sessions.

What are you currently reading? 

We’re currently in high gear prepping for the next school year so I’m reading new curriculum books for the 4th grade reading list: The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann. It’s The Hunger Games meets Harry Potter meets The Giver!

WAWS Spotlight: Domminiece Willis

An image of Domminiece Willis standing at the 2018 WAWS Award Ceremony.

An image of Domminiece Willis standing at the 2018 WAWS Award Ceremony.

“Words Alive is a home away from home to me. My experience with Words Alive has affected me in so many positive ways. I have transitioned more gracefully into adulthood and have found myself stepping more outside my comfort zone and experiences new things.”

The Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program awards scholarships to participants in the Words Alive Adolescent Book Group 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.

Let’s hear more from Antonise!

Name: Domminiece Willis

Age: 27

College: San Diego State University

Degree (with area of study): Child Development

High School: Monarch School

Mentor: Karen Ladner

How did you first get involved with Words Alive?

I first got involved with Words Alive through the book club when I was going to Monarch school back when it was at the Little Italy campus.

How has your experience with Words Alive affected you?

Words Alive became more than just a scholarship to me. It became therapy, a resource center, a study hall, an adventure, a place where I know that everyone has my best interest at heart and will go above and beyond to make sure my every need was met. Words Alive is a home away from home to me. My experience with Words Alive has affected me in so many positive ways. I have transitioned more gracefully into adulthood and have found myself stepping more outside my comfort zone and experiences new things.

What have you accomplished this year that you are most proud of?

I would have to say that this year I am most proud of finishing up the Spring Semester at State with A’s and B’s. It was difficult, but I told myself that I did not want anything lower than a B and I made it happen. Shooting for all A’s in the Fall!

Tell us about your favorite college memory.

My favorite college memory I would have to say was my orientation day at SDSU. I remember sitting in the Child and Family Development section and just thinking “Wow, I really did it. I’m here”.

What are you currently reading?

Girls Like Me - by Lola Stvil.



Why Did We Expand to Serve Early Readers?

An image of five of our Read Aloud participants excitedly holding up their new books!

An image of five of our Read Aloud participants excitedly holding up their new books!

As Words Alive is celebrating its 20th year of serving San Diego, we’re taking a look back to reflect on how we’ve grown as an organization and adapted to the needs of our community.

Words Alive was founded in 1999 by Leslye Lyons on the belief that if you value reading and understand its fundamental connection to all aspects of your life, then you will be better equipped to thrive as a lifelong learner and productive member of your community! Words Alive started out first and foremost by working with teens. Leslye and a team of volunteers had the idea to create a book club program for teenagers who were facing extraordinary circumstances such as homelessness, teen parenting, and impact by the justice system. This idea would eventually become our Adolescent Book Group (ABG), which still runs today.

Eventually, Words Alive moved to work with Pre K - 3rd graders by developing an integrated read-aloud program for preschoolers! Why did we decide to expand our programming to include early readers? Amanda Bonds, Program Director, explains:

“Taking a cue from the educators among the early members of our Board of Directors, we recognized that expanding our programs to serve Preschool through 3rd grade was an important way to support young minds during a critical window of reading development. After all, we wouldn’t need to close a gap in reading engagement and achievement, if we did our part to help ensure that one never opened.”

It is important for young children to be exposed to reading and to experience being read aloud to. According to the Child’s Bureau, “Reading to young children is proven to improve and help along the process of cognitive development… Reading daily to young children, starting in infancy, can help with language acquisition and literacy skills. This is because reading to your children in the earliest months stimulates the part of the brain that allows them to understand the meaning of language and helps build key language, literacy and social skills.”

Here at Words Alive, our Read Aloud program has trained volunteers to read aloud each week to thousands of children from underserved communities at early childhood education and Title 1 - eligible elementary school sites across San Diego!

Sources:

https://www.all4kids.org/2017/03/03/importance-reading-children/



WAWS Spotlight: Antonise Stewart

An image of Antonise Stewart standing at the podium at the 2018 WAWS Award Ceremony.

An image of Antonise Stewart standing at the podium at the 2018 WAWS Award Ceremony.

“My name is Antonise Stewart, I'm 22 years old and my dream is to be a veterinarian.”

The Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program awards scholarships to participants in the Words Alive Adolescent Book Group 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.

Let’s hear more from Antonise!

Name: Antonise Stewart

Age: 22

College: San Diego City College

Degree (with area of study): Biology

High School: Portland High School

Mentor: Brittany Jackson

How did you first get involved with Words Alive?

I first got involved with Words Alive when I first heard about it from my sister, who is an alumna from Words Alive.

How has your experience with Words Alive affected you?

So far it's a little overwhelming because it's my first time being involved and I'm still learning about Words Alive.

What have you accomplished this year that you are most proud of?

What I accomplished this year that I'm most proud of is finally deciding my major of being a veterinarian.

Tell us about your favorite college memory.

My favorite college memory was from my Biology class, when we went to the zoo as part of the class we had a self-guided scavenger hunt.

What are you currently reading?

What I'm reading right now is a book called The Slave Community about how the slaves lived and interacted in slavery.

Spotlight on Sue Britt: The Artist Behind "The Radius of All of Us"

An image of Sue Britt smiling into the camera.

An image of Sue Britt smiling into the camera.

At Words Alive, we strive to inspire young people to read by showing them how words on a page can relate to their own lives and even transform into something new. Once a year, we welcome our Adolescent Book Group (ABG) students to participate in our Art & Lit Exhibit, a program-wide project that enhances the reading experience and encourages them to think critically about themes in the book and their own environment.

This year’s project, called "The Radius of All of Us," is a response to The Radius of Us by Marie Marquardt. This unique exhibition is designed by community artist Sue Britt, facilitated by Words Alive, and created by students attending alternative schools from North County to the border!

Sue Britt is a San Diego paper artist who has developed a technique she calls Paper Tapestry. Her highly textured work is a result of layering, carving, and weaving substraights wrapped in paper to create highly textured landscapes. Her landscapes are full of motion, which is inspired by hiking and influenced by reading and thinking about change in the landscape over seasons, years, or millennia. She works and shows her art in Studio 34A in the Spanish Village Art Center, and in festivals throughout California.

Sue is delighted to take part in the Words Alive Art & Lit Exhibit, tying together her loves of reading and creating. A project like this allows her to step outside her usual medium and approach the project with the experience of the students in mind, giving them a way to express themselves both individually and as part of a group. Art, both in book and visual forms, can be a powerful way to examine a life, an experience, and an idea, and give the public a window into those conversations.

Sue heard about Words Alive through friends who sit on the board and by attending the Author’s Luncheon & Fundraiser for multiple years. She fell in love with our mission and truly believes that reading opens doors for people. She was excited to work with Words Alive because she knew that art would be a new way for these students to think about what they were reading. “Visual art allows for the same finding of meaning as words do in a book.”

An image of Sue Britt talking with students from Lindsay Community School as they work on their art.

An image of Sue Britt talking with students from Lindsay Community School as they work on their art.

“The Radius of All of Us” is about perception. The characters in The Radius of Us perceive and are perceived in ways that evolve as their stories and personalities are better known to others. Perceptions and the words we use to describe other people and ourselves create the radius of each of us, which each word forming a boundary of limitations.

Sue said that her own perceptions were challenged in an interaction with one particular student at the Monarch School. With this one particular student, Sue went over to her and poured the “proper” amount of alcohol ink on her piece, intending to help her complete the art correctly. The student perceived this act as her vision being interrupted. She told Sue, “Now this art is yours.”

For Sue, this was a moment of learning that really stood out to her throughout this process. She realized that although she had a vision for this piece and was thinking about it as a process for the students to follow and execute, for the students this was all about personal expression. They aren’t often allowed to express themselves through art, and this was a real chance for them to pour themselves onto the page. Sue apologized to the student and got her a new piece of paper to start over with.

We were so thankful to work with Sue on this art project and to see her vision come to life through the creativity of our students. To see the final pieces of artwork in person, join us from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, June 5th, at the San Diego Art Institute, 1439 El Prado in San Diego. RSVP for the event here. Learn more about Sue Britt here.


In conjunction with this project, and in partnership with Jewish Family Service, we are collecting donations of new socks and underwear for Jewish Family Service’s new shelter for asylum seekers. Please donate new socks and underwear for children in all sizes and for adults in size small. Bring items to the Words Alive office through June 5 or to the exhibition at San Diego Art Institute.




WAWS Spotlight: Daimeon Rodriguez

An image of Daimeon Rodriguez with his award at the 2018 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Ceremony.

An image of Daimeon Rodriguez with his award at the 2018 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Ceremony.

Daimeon is a third time WAWS recipient currently studying Computer Engineering at San Diego City College with hopes of working at Google. Daimeon works with Phi Theta Kappa.

The Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program awards scholarships to participants in the Words Alive Adolescent Book Group 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.

Let’s hear more from Daimeon!

Name: Daimeon Rodriguez

Age: 20

College: San Diego City College

Degree (with area of study): Computer Engineering

High School: La Mesa Summit

Mentor: David Gimbel

How did you first get involved with Words Alive?

Through La Mesa blended as a participant in the Adolescent Book Group.

How has your experience with Words Alive affected you?

It has affected me by allowing more opportunities for me to take; allowing more achievements.

What have you accomplished this year that you are most proud of?

I'm most proud of my recent semester of getting an overall GPA of 3.66, also getting scholarships from Words Alive and the Mahatma Gandhi scholarship.

Tell us about your favorite college memory.

My favorite college memory was when I received my first GPA above a 2.5, now it's a 3.66.

What are you currently reading?

The Clouds of Glory.

Change the Story of Your Life: Bijan Nowroozian

This post is part of our series in celebration of Words Alive’s 20th anniversary and our new brand promise: Change the Story of Your Life. Whether you are a donor, volunteer, participant, or all the above, Words Alive has a meaningful impact on your life story. Follow this link to get involved in the next 20 years of Words Alive.

An image of Bijan teaching fellow volunteers about a strategy he uses in ABG sessions.

An image of Bijan teaching fellow volunteers about a strategy he uses in ABG sessions.

After graduating from college with a Bachelors in English Education, I pursued my education in Graduate School while working for the public library. As time went by, I felt that all of the skills I learned were waning. Furthermore, I had always wanted to work with children who came from tough backgrounds, as a way to give back to those who helped me throughout my childhood.

You see, a major reason I have earned 3 college degrees, have a 4.0 GPA in graduate school, and plan to earn a PhD afterwards, is due to all the teachers and volunteers at my school who never let me think less of what I can achieve. I grew up in one of the lowest income and highest gang-ridden neighborhoods of East County San Diego. Throughout my youth, I was beaten up for "talking too smart," robbed of the little lunch money I had, witnessed friends be shot/killed, and had guns put to my head more times than helmets were. No matter what my situation was, it was the teachers, school volunteers, and librarians around me that instilled a belief that where I came from would never define who I was as a person.

This belief holds steadfast in everything I do as an adult today. Every time I have the honor of entering a classroom full of amazing and brilliant children who are eager to learn, it fills me with so much joy. Through Words Alive, I've been able to use a variety of amazing literary works to guide the next generation in literary, social, and personal development. Furthermore, I've been able to learn more about myself and my own passion for helping others. If I can make any impact on these children's lives, however small, everything will have been worth it. 

Words Alive in many ways has given me a new voice to connect with children who may have shared similarly hard upbringings as my own. And with Words Alive, I'll be able to show these children that they have their own voice, and the world is eager to hear it.

Art & Lit Project: Blackout Poetry

By Liz Delaney, Social Media Intern

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At Words Alive, we strive to inspire young people to read by showing them how words on a page can relate to their own lives and even transform into something new. Once a year, we welcome our Adolescent Book Group (ABG) students to participate in our Art & Lit Project, a program-wide project that enhances the reading experience and encourages them to think critically about themes in the book and their own environment.

This year’s project, called "The Radius of All of Us" is a response to The Radius of Us by Marie Marquardt. This unique exhibition is designed by community artist Sue Britt, facilitated by Words Alive, and created by students attending alternative schools from North County to the border!

Alongside the art project, ABG students made new meaning from the book’s pages by creating blackout poems. In The Radius of Us, we learn that art is a powerful tool for expression from one character who refuses to speak after his traumatic journey to the U.S.; and the poetry here is designed in black and white to honor the illustration style he used to tell his story.

Blackout poetry is a transformative creative writing process. John DePasquale from Scholastic states, “the words for blackout poems are already written on the page, but it’s up to the blackout poet to bring new meaning and life to these words... Using the pages of an existing text, blackout poets isolate then piece together single words or short phrases from these texts to create lyrical masterpieces.”

In this collection, you’ll find an array of poems written from the words of the same story – a reflection of the way in which we all perceive the world around us differently. A few of their poems can be seen above and some of our favorites read:

“I felt alone through the dark/heaviness pressed down on me/I wanted rest./I left/I am free”

“I’m struggling/my heart is racing/my eyes are blurring/I feel the/p/a/i/n”

“beautiful/love/my heart/is insane”

Join us from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 5th at the San Diego Art Institute, 1439 El Prado in San Diego to see these poem and the student’s art work in person! RSVP for the event here.


In conjunction with this project, and in partnership with Jewish Family Service, we are collecting donations of new socks and underwear for Jewish Family Service’s new shelter for asylum seekers. Please donate new socks and underwear for children in all sizes and for adults in size small. Bring items to the Words Alive office through June 5 or to the exhibition at San Diego Art Institute.





A Children's Day Partnership!

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Since 1991 Paradise Galleries has been a leader in bringing the magic of award winning dolls to collectors around the world. They are passionate about creating dolls that stir your spirit, warm your heart, and nurture your soul.

We are so honored that Paradise Galleries chose Words Alive to partner with for International Children’s Day! International Children's Day, a recognized United Nations holiday, is celebrated annually on June 9th. It is a day to recognize and celebrate all children. 

Meredith, a team member at Paradise Galleries, interned for Words Alive while in college in San Diego. She witnessed first-hand the impact of Words Alive on the lives of many children and thought we were a perfect fit for this partnership!

Paradise Galleries, in honor of International Children’s Day and their belief in the work we’re doing here at Words Alive, will donate $10 of each sale of their special Children’s Day doll to Words Alive!

Purchase here: https://www.paradisegalleries.com/products/realistic-toddler-filipino-doll-childrens-day

Art & Lit Project: Doing Our Small Part to Help Asylum Seekers

By Tait Longhi, Blog Intern & Sara Mortensen, Communications Manager

Image of a student holding up the welcome cards she wrote to asylum seekers.

Image of a student holding up the welcome cards she wrote to asylum seekers.

Every year, Words Alive facilitates an art project with our teen students. “The Radius of All of Us” is a unique exhibition inspired by Marie Marquardt’s The Radius of Us, designed by community artist Sue Britt, facilitated by Words Alive, and created by students attending alternative schools from North County to the border. Through creative writing and art, students connect the novel to the world as they explore themes of perception and transformation and grapple with the complex issues of trauma and immigration.

In The Radius of Us, Phoenix, one of the main protagonists, is an asylum seeker from El Salvador. He fled his home country due to gang violence and is looking for a new start for himself and his younger brother. As we connect Phoenix’s immigration experience in The Radius of Us to what’s happening in our world, we are doing our small part to help those seeking asylum in our community.

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Working alongside Jewish Family Service, we’re collecting donations of new socks and underwear — the items most requested by people crossing the border. All youth sizes and adult size small are needed. The clothing will benefit families staying at the Jewish Family Service shelter for asylum seekers. Jewish Family Service is a “client-centered, impact-driven organization working to build a stronger, healthier, more resilient San Diego “ that makes a “difference in the lives of more than 32,000 people every year”. These donations are extremely important and needed due to the fact that these people are trying to start a new life in a new country.

In addition, students at many of our classrooms are writing welcome letters to refugees and asylum seekers. In The Radius of Us, Phoenix has mixed experiences when he comes to the United States. He is welcomed into the home of Sally and Amanda while at the same time he is seen as suspicious and dangerous by other members of the community. By writing these welcome letters, students will be helping to make refugees and asylum seekers coming through the San Diego border know that there are people who are rooting for them to succeed in the United States and that there are people who are happy that they are here.

At Words Alive, we are proud of our students for taking part in this project to help others. Please donate today if you can! We are accepting sock and underwear donations at the Words Alive office until June 4th. You can also donate at our Art & Lit Exhibit, where you can see our student’s final art projects. Join us from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, June 5th at the San Diego Art Institute.