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

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!

Help Make The Library A More Inclusive Safe Space For The LGBTQ+ Community

By Jessica Rozycki

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

Source: Hafuboti

Source: Hafuboti

“I was hummed with a building excitement. I was a beast in the library. Libraries are safe but also exciting. Libraries are where nerds like me go to refuel. They are safe-havens where the polluted noise of the outside world... is shut out.”
-Juliet Takes a Breath, Gabby Rivera

I love this quote from Gabby Rivera’s novel because I think anyone who loves to read can relate to its accuracy. Personally, I have always sought out libraries for my self-care routines, as a way to settle my headspace and recharge. Securing a reliable self-care routine and finding safe spaces are two essential pieces of life’s complicated puzzle, especially for anyone who experiences feelings of otherness or exclusion. For this reason, members of the LGBTQ+ community often look to these safe spaces as a means to feel included. It is important for us to have someplace to go where we can feel comfortable to be ourselves. We need a place that allows us to be free from judgment and from feeling like an outsider. As Rivera’s quote highlights, this is why libraries can serve as such a reliable safe space.

But the need for an LGBTQ+ presence in libraries means more than just having community members in that space. The beauty of finding a safe space often includes the satisfaction of seeing oneself reflected in the space itself: in the people, the discussions, the art, and, in the case of libraries… the books!

Source: Hafuboti

Source: Hafuboti

At the HPA, we’re working on our annual Accio Books campaign to help build libraries full of incredible books that offer intersectional representations of many communities. We want everyone to be able to find a book at their favorite library and see themselves accurately represented in the story. We want to encourage everyone to share books written by and about the LGBTQ+ community, communities of color, people who are disabled or neurodivergent or undocumented. And I’ve got some great news for you — you can help make that a reality, worldwide.

During our Accio Books campaign, we encourage you to donate your favorite books to readers all over the world. We want LGBTQ+ kids in Rwanda to read books that prove they’re not alone. We want community centers everywhere from Tuscaloosa to Tokyo to be filled with books that tell the amazing stories by and about trans, nonbinary, and asexual people. The HPA can help make that happen.

We all have our “happy place.” For some it may be the beach, the museum, or Central Park. For some folks, it’s the library. It’s important for all of us — community members and allies together — to do our part in making these safe spaces as accessible as possible. Let’s remember to share stories that celebrate those who need to find themselves reflected in the shelves. Let’s be sure to recognize all intersections of the LGBTQ+ community. Let’s work to support libraries and help them be even more inclusive, comfortable, and safe for all witches, wizards, and magical folks.

Jessica’s current Muggle job is Communications & Marketing Associate at Point Foundation. Find this Hufflepuff on the internet at @jessicarozycki.

Phil Patton - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month - April 2017

Join us in congratulating Phil Patton Words Alive Volunteer of the Month for April 2017!

Phil Patton, a relatively new volunteer to the Words Alive Family, began his experience as a reader just last fall.  He started right away leading his own 90-minute small group read-aloud each week, and has been impressive in that role.  Phil has also taken the initiative to substitute for other classrooms wherever there is a need – a tremendous help to our team!

Recently, Phil has volunteered to take on three more classes at a different and far-removed site to support the program when openings became available.  He has really stepped up in an outstanding way to ensure our students receive the Read Aloud Program consistently and with meaningful delivery.

Phil has a wonderful and peaceful demeanor, and has been great to work with in every way.  We are lucky to have him lead in so many of our classrooms, and are proud to call him a volunteer of the Words Alive Family!


Check out the Volunteer of the Month Interview with Phil below!

Tell us a little about yourself, Phil!

I am a retired social worker after 31 years with San Diego Regional Center. I retired June 2016, and started with Words Alive Sept 2016. I was told about Words Alive through a friend!

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

I am an avid reader and love the enthusiasm and curiosity of the children when i read and discuss the stories with them.

Donor Spotlight: The Patricia & Christopher Weil Family Foundation

The Patricia & Christopher Weil Family Foundation (WFF) creates educational opportunities by providing resources, time and support to children and families in underserved communities. Since 2014, the WFF has supported Words Alive, specifically our Family Literacy Program.

At the beginning of the school year, Words Alive had a unique opportunity to grow our reach by collaborating with other organizations serving families with children ages 0-5. Here in San Diego, Words Alive partnered with the Neighborhood House Association (NHA) to conduct our Family Literacy program at 14 of their Headstart and Early Headstart locations.

In addition to these new endeavors, Words Alive has continued our commitment in San Diego at 11 Family Literacy Program sites including three schools in the Diamond Education Excellence Partnership (DEEP). This will be our largest reach to date for Family Literacy and this was made possible through collaboration, training, and expanding our direct service model. We would not have been able to continue serving so many families without the support of WFF.

Here in San Diego, our goal this spring is to serve 300 families with 7 weeks of programming where we aim to influence three major areas of literacy development.

Develop an enduring commitment to reading: Parents internalize the value of reading as they experience positive, shared reading interactions with their young children. Parents develop durable family reading habits.

Become life-long learners: Parents experience positive attitudinal shifts about learning and their roles as their child’s first and foremost teacher. Parents expand knowledge of children’s brain and reading development, and practices that support their young children’s learning. 

Become advocates for themselves and their future: Parents are empowered to invest in the future of their family by increasing self-confidence in their role as their child’s first and foremost teacher.

We are excited for the continued partnership with WFF. To learn more about the foundation and the work that they do click HERE.

Words Alive Partners with the Harry Potter Alliance for Accio Books!

Words Alive is excited to announce an upcoming partnership with the Harry Potter Alliance! Founded in 2005, the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) is a nonprofit organization that uses the power of story to engage millions of fans in the fight for equality, human rights, and literacy. Simply put, the HPA turns fans into heroes.

Over the past twelve years the HPA has raised enough money to send five cargo planes of life-saving supplies to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, compelled Warner Bros. to change the sourcing of their Harry Potter brand chocolate products to be 100% UTZ or Fairtrade, and have used broad cultural messaging to link The Hunger Games book series with real-life income inequality, among so much more.

In addition to these campaigns, the HPA has been deeply involved in literacy advocacy. After all, the organization is named after a popular book series! The HPA and their supporters know first-hand how important reading is to individuals and communities, and so they work hard every year to bring books to communities in need.

Since 2009, members of the HPA have donated over 315,000 books to communities in need around the world through the annual international book drive Accio Books! During this campaign, HPA supporters and chapter members host book drives in their local communities and do one of two things: 1) donate those books to libraries, schools, or organizations in need in their own communities or 2) donate their books to the HPA’s official recipient site for the year.

In addition to being a book drive, Accio Books engages supporters in literacy advocacy in several different ways. Through a partnership with the American Library Association, Accio Books spreads the power of story to legislators and decision makers around the world to advocate for the importance of libraries in our community. Last year on National Library Legislative Day, HPA members collectively took 868 actions in support of public libraries, by calling and sending emails and letters to their legislators.

In the past, recipient sites for Accio Books have included the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda; the Brightmoor Community Center in Detroit, Michigan; Operation Breakthrough in Kansas City, Missouri; and most recently the Good Shepherd School in Masaka, Uganda.

We are very proud to announce that Words Alive is the official recipient site for this year’s Accio Books campaign! The books that are sent to Words Alive throughout the campaign will help combat the lack of book ownership in the underserved communities of San Diego. Many of the children in the Words Alive programs do not have any books of their own. The donations received from Accio Books will give them an opportunity to start their personal home libraries and may be among the first books they ever possess.

Words Alive is also planning on hosting the Apparating Library (the event where the donated books will be distributed back out into the community) at a local school in early June as a way of bringing awareness to and preventing the “Summer Slide.” This is the idea that students tend to lose achievement gains that they made throughout the school year over the summer, and this trend is compounded for low-income families for reasons exactly like lack of book ownership. Studies have shown that having access to books over the summer prevents the “Summer Slide” when it comes to reading skills. With the support of the HPA and Accio Books, children in San Diego from underserved communities will be better equipped to avoid the “Summer Slide” this year.

Graphic from First Book: Kids Who Read Beat Summer Slide

Graphic from First Book: Kids Who Read Beat Summer Slide

Accio Books is an annual reminder of why reading is so important, and is a way for advocates of literacy to share their love of stories throughout their community. Whether that is done by donating books, or contacting local legislators about the importance of libraries, Accio Books inspires readers to make real change in their communities through the power of stories. We can’t wait to see all of the advocacy, positivity, and books that this partnership brings!

If you would like to learn more about Accio Books and the Harry Potter Alliance, please visit!


Liz Goldstein – Words Alive Volunteer of the Month - March 2017

Please join us in congratulating Liz Goldstein Words Alive Volunteer of the Month for March 2017!

Liz, a long-term volunteer of the organization, has been supporting the office and administration of the programs since 2011!  She comes in to the office each Monday weekly, ready to get her hands dirty working on a host of projects.  In her recent time here, Liz has helped to reorganize our book donation library with her librarian skill set.  She has helped us shelve and alphabetize thousands of books in preparation for incoming donations!  Liz has also prepared crucial material for our spring Family Literacy Program: alphabet diaries, chicken masks, animal photo cutouts.  These projects are the core of the parent-student time spent together in the workshops!

On days when we have needed a little extra, Liz has recruited her own support team of friends and family!  And, she has even taken work home to continue throughout the week in her free time.  We are so grateful for her generosity.

Liz, you are such a joy to work with – the best way to start our week in the office!  You are a wonderful communicator, have a great work ethic and sense of humor, and we just love having you here.  Thanks for your continued and reliable hard work!


Check out the Volunteer of the Month Interview with Liz below!

Tell us a little about yourself. (Brief introduction)

I'm a native Michigander, but have lived in San Diego almost twenty years now.  I started my career as a fourth-grade teacher, left to raise two children, got my master's in Library and Information Science, and finally realized my childhood dream of becoming a school librarian.  I've worked with preschool through high school aged children which has helped me very much at Words Alive.

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

I've helped in the office at Words Alive for the past six years (I'm not really sure how long I've been here).  My friends, Sharon Gruby and Marcia Fram, were already volunteering and encouraged me to come along. 

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

I love being surrounded by amazing people who do so much to encourage literacy and the love of reading for so many children.  I'm grateful for the opportunity to help provide books for children and for families.

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

Recent books I've read, and loved include Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue, Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard, Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel, and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.

AmeriCorps Members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove – Words Alive Volunteer Team of the Month - February 2017

Please join us in congratulating the AmeriCorps Members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove Words Alive Volunteer Team of the Month for February 2017!

Our AmeriCorps team members help deliver the Words Alive Family Literacy Program (FLP) to families in need in the Garden Grove community of Orange County.  Words Alive FLP expanded to serve Orange County for the 2016-2017 school year with a goal to reach 300 children 0-5 and their families.

Through We Can Read Orange County!, a grant provided by Children and Families Commission of Orange County, the Orange County United Way, and the Orange County Community Foundation, BGCGG and Words Alive are able to work together to fulfill our missions.

“The Words Alive Family Literacy Program has helped BGCGG be more intentional in the interventions that we offer our families with children ages 0-5. We have identified the most vulnerable communities in Orange County with gaps in resources resulting in low literacy levels. Now we have a curriculum that will show real gains in pre-literacy skills for our youngest Club Members. So far, our AmeriCorps Members have dedicated over 2,000 hours in service through our Readiness on the Road Program. With their service this year we will be able to reach over 300 children.”

-        Christina Sepulveda, Vice President of Programs and Services, Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove

Check out the Volunteer of the Month Interview with our team below!

What is the most rewarding part of your work at BGCGG?

The most rewarding part about my work at BGCGG is knowing that families are creating memories when attending the program. Seeing parents spend quality time with their children is what motivates me to keep doing what I am doing because I know it impacts their lives in a positive way. 

-        Yvette Fuerte, BGCGG AmeriCorps Member

The most rewarding part of working for BGCGG is giving back to the families in the community where I grew up in Garden Grove, and actually making a difference in their lives.  It's an amazing feeling.

-        Joanna Calderon, BGCGG AmeriCorps Member

The most rewarding part is being able to experience growth in the families and children. I love that we get to sing our hearts out, and are able to provide families with quality care. Every activity has a purpose and most times it's so much fun, that no one even realizes they are learning.

-        Andrea Esparza, BGCGG AmeriCorps Member

What is your favorite part of the Words Alive Family Literacy Program?

My favorite part of the Words Alive Family Literacy Program is that children and parents are learning the value of literacy and early learning through fun activities. Also, seeing the children’s love for books grow from week one through week seven. 

-        Yvette Fuerte, BGCGG AmeriCorps Member

One of my favorite parts is doing the icebreaker with the parents. There is something beautiful and extraordinary in watching a mom stick her tongue out and slither like a snake, or seeing a dad jump around as he imitates a kangaroo.

-        Andrea Esparza, BGCGG AmeriCorps Member

In week 7, when all the families get together and we are able to see the growth in all the kiddos, as well as the cohesiveness of the group. I love to see them networking at the end, and hear them tell each other what other classes might be similar to the one we offer. It's a great feeling!

-        Leslei Emard, BGCGG AmeriCorps Member

Read Aloud Program and Wells Fargo Foundation Support

Reading aloud to young children is the most important thing we can do to help them become lifelong learners and strong readers. In our Read Aloud Program, trained volunteers read aloud each week to approximately 4,300 children from low income communities at early childhood education and Title 1 - eligible elementary school sites across San Diego.

This year our Read Aloud Program continues to grow and develop in order to meet the needs of our community. This program year, our Read Aloud Program is in 110 classrooms in 29 schools throughout San Diego County.

The Wells Fargo Foundation has given Words Alive $15,000 to sustain the work that we are doing. In addition, our partners at the Caster Center continue to help us evaluate our small group model and we hope to expand this model into more classrooms. The small group model allows the students to go deeper with the books our volunteers are reading to them in the classrooms, by providing them opportunities to analyze the text and vocabulary, look for context clues, and relate the books to topics being covered in the classroom. 

We are also expanding our Read Aloud Program into Orange County through our partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Garden Grove.

We'd like to say thank you to the Wells Fargo Foundation for their support of early childhood literacy and our Read Aloud Program. We look forward to making reading matter for thousands of children this year and we could not do this without the support of our partners!

Donor Spotlight: Usborne Books

At Words Alive, the support that we receive to fulfill our mission, to open opportunities for life success by inspiring a commitment to reading, comes in so many different ways. Our work is made possible through the incredible volunteer hours gifted to us each week, grants, event participation, the Read for Life Campaign, book donations, and much more. 

For many of our Family Literacy participants, Words Alive is an introduction to the world of books for our youngest learners. Many of these children receive their first books through our program, a total of 10 new books throughout their seven weeks with us. 

Knowing this, Becky, a new Words Alive Volunteer, reached out to us to coordinate an amazing fundraiser for our Family Literacy Program. Through her connections - her friends, family, colleagues, and social media network - Becky helped us raise over $3,000, including a 50% match from Usborne to purchase 300 copies of 1001 Animals to Spot for each participant in our Family Literacy Program this year! These books will give families even more opportunity to build vocabulary in a fun and exciting way before these preschoolers start kindergarten.