Program Highlights

Join Us & Become a Champion for Reading!

By Jennifer Van Pelt

November 27th was #GivingTuesday, a day to start the holiday season by donating to nonprofits as an act of philanthropy. Gaining more support each year, there was an estimated $274 million given to nonprofits in the United States on Giving Tuesday in 2017. Words Alive is joining in the season by launching our exciting new peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, Champions for Youth.

 An image of a young child in our Read Aloud Program holding up a copy of “Are You My Mother?” and smiling at the camera. The image has text that says “Join us and become a champion for reading.”

An image of a young child in our Read Aloud Program holding up a copy of “Are You My Mother?” and smiling at the camera. The image has text that says “Join us and become a champion for reading.”

What is Peer-to-Peer Fundraising?

Peer-to-Peer fundraising is a social form of campaigning that focuses on building relationships with our supporter’s closest network -- their friends, family, or coworkers. As a non-profit, much of our time is spent writing extensive grant requests to donors and organizations. However, nothing compares to when our existing supporters reach out to their own social circle and seek connections that we would not otherwise be able to make. You are much more likely to support a cause that is important to a close family member or friend than from someone you have never met -- which is why we are so excited to get your support for our new campaign!

What is the Champions For Youth Campaign?

Champions for Youth is the key charitable initiative of the 2019 Farmers Insurance Open. Administering the program is the Century Club of San Diego, who selected 10 organizations that support youth and their families to participate. Words Alive will receive 100% of each donation with the potential to earn bonus money from the Farmers Cares Bonus Pool (which contains $260,000), based on the amount of donors and money we receive in relation to the other participating charities. For example, when 150 people donate at least $10 to our campaign, we’ll earn a bonus of at least $10,000 on top of what we’ve already raised. Incentives such as these continue throughout the campaign!

How do I Get Involved in the Campaign?

 An image of Read Aloud Program students exploring a book together with Words Alive volunteer Sharon Gruby! A $100 donation to our Champions for Youth campaign provides 75 new books for children to take home and build their libraries.

An image of Read Aloud Program students exploring a book together with Words Alive volunteer Sharon Gruby! A $100 donation to our Champions for Youth campaign provides 75 new books for children to take home and build their libraries.

There are two ways to get involved: you can donate directly on our campaign page or become a fundraiser for Words Alive. By becoming a fundraiser, you are directly participating in the peer-to-peer aspect of the campaign by helping Words Alive reach new potential supporters that we wouldn’t normally be able to reach. To help realize the impact that certain donations have, the following show how important a small or large donation can be to children in need:

$10 Helps support one child in the Read Aloud Program for a month

$25 Provides a Kindergarten Readiness Tool Kit for a child

$50 Helps send a scholarship recipient to a workshop

$100 Provides a set of 5 brand new, diverse, and relevant books for a teen

 A graphic featuring a quote from one of our Champions for Youth donors:  “I am very pleased with the work that Words Alive has championed, and I am impressed with all the young people they have been able to help. It's a great work - helping children read more can change their lives forever, and helping students get through college when they otherwise would not be able to, is an immesurable gift! Well done.” - Alesa Gibbs

A graphic featuring a quote from one of our Champions for Youth donors: “I am very pleased with the work that Words Alive has championed, and I am impressed with all the young people they have been able to help. It's a great work - helping children read more can change their lives forever, and helping students get through college when they otherwise would not be able to, is an immesurable gift! Well done.” - Alesa Gibbs

Our goal is to raise $60,000 dollars throughout the campaign, which will allow us to serve 300 students and families with high-quality programs. At Words Alive, we know that when children and their families are fully prepared to confidently approach and embrace their education, and when young adults are equipped with the knowledge and support to pursue higher education, they have the power to embody the true meaning of success. This all starts with reading and giving our communities the tools to thrive. Some of our supporters have gotten a head start on fundraising and have received the following comments from donors within their social circles:

“I am very pleased with the work that Words Alive has championed, and I am impressed with all the young people they have been able to help. It's a great work - helping children read more can change their lives forever…”

“Thank you for spending your time opening a new and, hopefully, kinder world for these kids!”

“Reading has always been important to me. I started reading very young and fell in love with the adventures in Narnia and the Shire. I hope that my small contribution can help a child build the skills they need to enjoy the beauty of literature.”

If you are interested in learning more about our participation in Champions for Youth or would like to see our training dates that support you in carrying out peer-to-peer fundraising, visit our page here.

Sources:

https://philanthropynewsdigest.org/news/2017-givingtuesday-raises-estimated-274-million-for-nonprofits

https://www.causevox.com/blog/peer-to-peer-fundraising-primer/

WAWS Evaluation Finding #3: Consistent Mentoring Inspires Consistent Students

To continually provide meaningful and evaluation-driven programming, Words Alive commenced on a seven-month Dialogues in Action (DIA) project to analyze the impact of our Words Alive Westreich Scholarship (WAWS) program using a blended qualitative and quantitative evaluation model. Through this process, we had an opportunity to view our program through the lens of the scholarship recipients, past and present, and their mentors to determine opportunities to enhance our program delivery.

Throughout this process, we identified eight findings and then brainstormed ways we could update and improve the program based on these findings. Here is the third finding!

 An image of Jessica Fryman, Teen Services Program Manager, standing with mentor-mentee pair Alison and Paulina at the 2018 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Award Ceremony.

An image of Jessica Fryman, Teen Services Program Manager, standing with mentor-mentee pair Alison and Paulina at the 2018 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Award Ceremony.

Consistent Mentoring Inspires Consistent Students

Historically, the first-year scholarship students don’t answer emails, show up late, if at all, miss important deadlines and struggle to follow up when they say they will. Few offer excuses or apologies because before they entered the program, they were not accustomed to being asked for an explanation.

Interviews with scholars, all graduates of alternative high schools, revealed that they were unprepared for what would be expected of them in college and “the real world.” But through the norms and expectations of the WAWS program, scholars start to realize what is expected of them in the program, in school, future jobs and in healthy adult relationships.

About communicating violated expectations, one mentor said:

“I tried to be direct and honest. When my [first-year mentee] stood me up once or twice, I wrote her a letter and sent it to her home, telling her my expectations and how she had let me down. I hope she has a better idea that you have to show up and that commitments mean something.”

Scholars who met with their mentor consistently, on the other hand, demonstrated how that consistency became part of how they operated. This was especially true for scholars who had multi-year experiences in the program.

One such scholar, who now works as a financial advisor and manages a small group of employees, attributed her leadership skills to her mentor’s consistency:

“[My mentor] would visit me at school. We kept in contact and would catch up often, we would go hiking or meet up to eat. She was a really good friend,” the scholar said. “[She] taught me what it meant to be consistent.” – Scholar, age 18

Another scholar went on to say: “[My mentor] keeps me on track and helps me think of how to tackle things – usually along the lines of ‘stay on top of that until it’s done’, listing actions she’s taken as a result: consistently visiting professors during office hours to ask for grade progress or get help and following up by phone if an email goes unanswered. I’m adulting way better because of these skills.” – Scholar, age 26

When consistency in relationships becomes a habit, it bleeds into other aspects of life. Our research shows scholars with consistent mentorship also study regularly, turn in assignments on time and pay their bills when they are due.

One hundred percent of the scholars surveyed said they now take advantage of academic, professional and community resources at their disposal. Again, students who met with their mentor more frequently reported better follow through and higher competencies in several skill sets as demonstrated in the graph below.

 A graph titled “Comparison of students’ self-reported growth in competencies based on frequency of mentor meetings”

A graph titled “Comparison of students’ self-reported growth in competencies based on frequency of mentor meetings”

Significance

The lives of most scholars up to the point of participating in the program have been anything but consistent. Their parents have been in and out of jail, in and out of drug rehab centers – and essentially, in and out of their lives. At times, the scholars have been unsure where they will sleep on any given night or when they will eat their next meal. Surviving one day to the next is all they know.

But when an engaged Words Alive mentor enters the picture, it gives the scholar new context for what it means to be reliable, to be professional, to be a successful adult. Like all skills – consistency is a learned behavior. Mentors who consistently interact with the scholars keep them accountable to the requirements of their schools, the scholarship program and their goals.

Learn more about the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship program here!

Annual Report: Adolescent Book Group

What happened in our Adolescent Book Group Program in the 2017-2018 school year? To start, ABG more than tripled the number of program sessions delivered within Juvenile Court and Community Schools. As students and volunteers met more frequently (bi-weekly or weekly), they not only developed a greater rapport, they dove deeper into the books. New extensive curriculum guides gave students the opportunity to explore more real-life contexts in order to connect the texts to themselves and bring books alive!

More than 80% of students:

  • agree that ABG has helped them develop a positive attitude toward books.

  • agree that ABG has helped their ability to express themselves in group discussions.

  • agree that ABG has improved their literary analysis abilities.

  • agree that ABG has improved their vocabulary.

Meet Brittany

  Brittany being interviewed by Channel 8 News reporter, Jeff Zevely, during our annual Share Your Love of Reading campaign.

Brittany being interviewed by Channel 8 News reporter, Jeff Zevely, during our annual Share Your Love of Reading campaign.

Brittany Jackson truly represents our next generation of readers and leaders. Just seven years ago, Brittany was sitting on the other side of the Adolescent Book Group (ABG) discussion circle. Her first experience with Words Alive as an ABG participant was at Monarch School for homeless youth. After graduating from high school, Brittany became a Words Alive Westreich Scholarship (WAWS) recipient and her ABG volunteer mentored her through her college years. Now, the duo is back in ABG where it all began — this time as co-facilitators. Brittany is our first Teen Services participant to become a volunteer. She is both an ABG facilitator and WAWS mentor. Talk about full circle!

“Words Alive has supported me throughout the years, and I wanted to give back to them, and those involved, to show that same support. There’s not a day that I volunteer with Words Alive where I wish I wasn’t there. I love seeing all of the different youth involved in the program and how Words Alive positively impacts each of them.” -Brittany Jackson

Art & Literacy Event

 An image of one of the communal wood sculptures designed by students during last year’s Art & Literacy Event.

An image of one of the communal wood sculptures designed by students during last year’s Art & Literacy Event.

For the fourth year in a row, we hosted an Art & Literacy project with our Adolescent Book Group students. The Love You Give Event was a response to The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas’ best-selling novel. The project creatively weaved the book’s message and themes into communal wood sculptures (pictured above) designed by local artist Isaias Crow, facilitated by Words Alive volunteers, and produced by students who attend alternative schools between North County and the border. Using the book as inspiration, students explored the duality of themes that they read about while expressing what it all meant to them and their world. San Diego Art Institute hosted a public exhibition of their work in June of 2018.

Read more about the event here!

Student Perspectives

“Whenever I read a book that really interested me, I liked how we would all have a discussion about it by sharing thoughts and opinions. I have always liked creative writing, especially when it is about a subject that has always fascinated me. The projects have helped me delve deeper into the story and learn more about the setting and the characters...Words Alive was helpful in expanding my interests in other reading genres.” —Student, Adolescent Book Group

WAWS Evaluation Finding #2: Communicated Expectations Improve Student Performance

To continually provide meaningful and evaluation-driven programming, Words Alive commenced on a seven-month Dialogues in Action (DIA) project to analyze the impact of our Words Alive Westreich Scholarship (WAWS) program using a blended qualitative and quantitative evaluation model. Through this process, we had an opportunity to view our program through the lens of the scholarship recipients, past and present, and their mentors to determine opportunities to enhance our program delivery.

Throughout this process, we identified eight findings and then brainstormed ways we could update and improve the program based on these findings. Here is the second finding!

 An image of our scholar Damieon with his mentor David at the 2018 Words Alive Westrecih Scholarship Award Ceremony.

An image of our scholar Damieon with his mentor David at the 2018 Words Alive Westrecih Scholarship Award Ceremony.

Raising the Bar: Communicated Expectations Improve Student Performance

Remaining eligible for the WAWS program requires that students regularly meet with their mentor, turn in academic progress reports, maintain a 2.0 GPA while enrolled in six or more credits and attend at least three of the professional development workshops offered throughout the program year. The program was intentionally designed with these requirements with the hope that students would develop habits of accountability and timely communication. We also hope that students will learn that they will face consequences if they do not complete program requirements in a timely manner. For example, a late fund request could result in not receiving their financial aid until the next month, or if a student does not attend the required number of workshops, they could lose eligibility for the scholarship for the next school year.

Through the interviews, we found that many students did, in fact, learn these skills. One scholar said very explicitly:

“I’ve learned to have more responsibility. There are different tasks we have to do to complete the scholarship, like submitting our grades and meeting with our mentor once a month. We have to write notes about what happened during the month. This responsibility I’ve learned also helps a lot in school and with my job.” – Scholar, age 23

Another scholar remarked:

“I’ve learned how to be on top of things, how to make deadlines and turn things in on time. It’s been good practice.” – Scholar, age 22

Yet another scholar said:

“The number one and most valuable thing I’ve learned is organization. To get the funds you’re being checked in on monthly and that forced me to change my life around and make education my number one priority.” – Scholar, age 25

 A graphic that features a quote from a scholar. The quote is overlayed on top of an image of post-it notes. The quote says the following: “I’ve learned to have more responsibility. There are different tasks we have to do to complete the scholarship, like submitting our grades and meeting with our mentor once a month. We have to write notes about what happened during the month. This responsibility I’ve learned also helps a lot in school and with my job.” – Scholar, age 23

A graphic that features a quote from a scholar. The quote is overlayed on top of an image of post-it notes. The quote says the following: “I’ve learned to have more responsibility. There are different tasks we have to do to complete the scholarship, like submitting our grades and meeting with our mentor once a month. We have to write notes about what happened during the month. This responsibility I’ve learned also helps a lot in school and with my job.” – Scholar, age 23

Clearly, the program requirements had the impact we intended. These requirements held students accountable and forced them to stay engaged with the program, and in the process, they learned responsibility, increased their communication skills and prioritized the scholarship and their education.

However, we also found that these requirements only had the impact we intended if the scholars understood and perceived them as mandatory. This past year it became clear to us that one scholar, who only met with his mentor three times, didn’t understand that attending the workshops was a mandatory requirement of the program.

In the survey, this scholar responded “moderately” to the statement: “I know what is expected of me by Words Alive and my mentor.” In this scholar’s interview, we saw a general lack of benefit from the WAWS program. When asked, “What changes are you seeing in your life as a result of the program?” he responded, “I haven’t really seen any changes in my life.” Comparing this answer with the other scholars, we see how the requirements being mandatory is absolutely essential.

Significance

It is significant that many scholars mentioned that the skills they learned because of these program requirements were then applied to other aspects of their life, such as school and work, which is imperative on their journey to adulthood.

We also found it interesting and surprising that while many scholars stated they had learned these skills (i.e. timely email communication, responsibility, organization, time management, etc.), they also often cited these same skills when asked about the recurring challenges they face. This points to the fact that these skills are a work in progress and take years to develop. The scholars’ self-awareness in their development is important because it shows they are capable of realizing where they started, what they have learned from the program and where they still have room for improvement.

Learn more about the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship program here!

WAWS Spotlight: Destiny Frost

 An image of Destiny holding up her award at the 2018 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Award Ceremony.

An image of Destiny holding up her award at the 2018 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Award Ceremony.

Destiny is a third-time Words Alive Westreich Scholarship recipient. She is currently attending California State University Bakersfield where she is studying Criminal Justice in hopes of becoming a probation officer. Destiny is self motivated, easy-going and driven. Some of her personal goals are to discover new hobbies while doing her absolute best to keep up her grades.

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 Diana!

Name: Destiny Frost

Age: 19

College: CSU Bakersfield

Area of Study: Criminal Justice

High School: Monarch School

Mentor: Chris Edwards

How did you first get involved with Words Alive?

I was first introduced to Words Alive my sophomore year at Monarch in Mrs. Becknells class.

How has your experience with Words Alive affected you?

Words Alive has affected me by introducing me to pleasure reading. Before joining Words Alive I only would read books that were assigned to me in class and now I read just for myself. It has helped me with my vocabulary and focus.

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

This year I passed all of my classes with flying colors. This is what I am most proud of because my freshmen year I did not pass all my classes. I was able to show myself that I can do anything I put my mind to.

What are you reading lately?

Some books that I have been reading are The Other Wes Moore: One name, Two Fates, and Hidden figures: The Untold True Story of Four African-American Women who Helped Launch Our Nation Into Space.

WAWS Spotlight: Diana Gonzalez-Soto

 An image of Diana holding her award at the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Ceremony.

An image of Diana holding her award at the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Ceremony.

Diana is a student at San Diego City College and has been a part of the Words Alive Westreich Sscholarship for four years. Her long-term goal is to become an English teacher to help students who have had trauma in their life by dismantling barriers to educational success. She is a mother of two children, a writer, and all-around creative person. Diana works at FamilyHealth at City College providing information to students on the mental health services available on campus.

“Diana is a hardworking woman. I am always so impressed with how graciously she juggles all her responsibilities.”

-Susan Arias, Diana’s Mentor

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.

 An image of Diana with her family at the 2018 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Award Ceremony.

An image of Diana with her family at the 2018 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Award Ceremony.

Let’s hear more from Diana!

Name: Diana Gonzalez-Soto

Age: 25

College: San Diego City College

Area of Study: English Literature

High School: Lindsay Community School

Mentor: Susan Arias

How did you first get involved with Words Alive?

I first got involved with Words Alive during my youth in Monarch and later reconnected with them again at Lindsay Community School.

How has your experience with Words Alive affected you?

Words Alive has affected my life positively. Since joining the scholarship program, I have become more self-aware of what my goals are. I’ve also learned problem solving and perseverance.

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

Becoming a DACA student, continuing another year at City College, and becoming a Price Scholarship recipient.

Tell us about your favorite college memory.

My favorite memory is when I participated in a May Day rally for worker's rights.

What are you reading lately?

The Alchemist and books by the author Bell Hooks.

November is Family Literacy Month!

By Jennifer Van Pelt

 A graphic that features a quote from one of our Family Literacy Program Participants: “ Before, my kids did not treat their books with respect. They used to flip through all the pages and mess them up but the books we get from the program are like magic. They take care of them and hug them and cuddle with them before bed. ”

A graphic that features a quote from one of our Family Literacy Program Participants: “Before, my kids did not treat their books with respect. They used to flip through all the pages and mess them up but the books we get from the program are like magic. They take care of them and hug them and cuddle with them before bed.

What is Family Literacy Month?

November is Family Literacy Month, a time to bring awareness to the importance of reading as a family. Family literacy can be more than reading together, it can also include engaging in other activities that focus on reading, writing, spelling, or storytelling. In a publication by the National Literacy Trust, they cited parental involvement as the most important determinant of language and emergent literacy. Bringing these activities into the home in a one-on-one environment can mean much higher interest  in reading as well as higher learning rates.

What Does Family Literacy Look Like?
The most important aspect is that family literacy should be a family activity. This means children should be interacting with parents, grandparents, or siblings when taking part in these activities. It’s also important to make it fun -- children don’t necessarily need to know that they’re learning while you partake in these activities! Some examples to “gamify” your day to day are:

  • Ask them to name every item around them that starts with the same first letter as their name

  • Ask them to read street signs, or infer what the signs mean from the drawings on them

  • Switch off telling stories about your days

  • Read the book version of their favorite movie

  • Take family outings to the library where reading is the main activity

Words Alive’s Family Literacy Program

Words Alive offers a Family Literacy Program for parents and preschool-aged children to attend 7 workshops together. The program includes a weekly information session for the adults, then together the children and parents partake in a group story time as well as guided activities. Our Family Literacy Program focuses on three goals:

  1. Parents develop an internal commitment to reading -- develop sustainable family reading habits

  2. Parents and children become lifelong learners -- expand knowledge of how to best develop and support their child’s development

  3. Parents become advocates for their children and their futures -- embrace role as their child’s first and foremost teacher

Working towards these goals gives parents the right tools to have deeper engagement with their children when reading together. When asking for feedback from the Family Literacy Program participants, one parent wrote:

Before, my kids did not treat their books with respect. They used to flip through all the pages and mess them up but the books we get from the program are like magic. They take care of them and hug them and cuddle with them before bed.

These positive changes and relationship to books is what Words Alive hopes to achieve. Our program has demonstrated an 87% increase in the percentage of families who look at books together at home by the end of the 7 week program. By providing this program to families, we are giving them the tools that they need to understand the power of reading and what it can mean for their lives. If you would like to learn more, you can visit our programs page here.

Sources:
https://www.gettingsmart.com/2017/11/national-family-literacy-day/



WAWS Evaluation Finding #1: Learning From and Limitations of Financial Awards

To continually provide meaningful and evaluation-driven programming, Words Alive commenced the seven-month Dialogues in Action (DIA) project to analyze the impact of our Words Alive Westreich Scholarship (WAWS) program using a blended qualitative and quantitative evaluation model. Through this process, we had an opportunity to view our program through the lens of the scholarship recipients, past and present, and their mentors to determine opportunities to enhance our program delivery.

The aim of our evaluation was to ascertain the type of impact our program has on the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship recipients. We interviewed nine scholars who received various amounts of money through their participation in the program and six mentors who worked with students locally and remotely across several program years. In addition, we designed a questionnaire and sent it to the entire WAWS population (current and previous scholars) to collect data geared toward quantitative measurements.

Throughout this process, we identified eight findings and then brainstormed on ways we could update and improve the program based on these findings. Here is the first finding!

 An image of the 2017-2018 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship students at their financial literacy workshop at Finance Park.

An image of the 2017-2018 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship students at their financial literacy workshop at Finance Park.

More Than Money: Learning from and Limitations of financial awards

One might assume that the most impactful element of a scholarship program would be the money itself. However, our research found that the money awarded through the scholarship was not enough to negate the broader constraints of scholars’ financial circumstances nor to ensure a sense of financial security. That being said, a much-welcomed finding is that, as a group, scholars are thinking about and using money differently than they did before the program.

The scholarship program has several features intended to help students develop positive financial habits and feel more financially secure. Unlike many traditional scholarship programs, students can spend their awarded funds on living expenses such as rent, food, public transportation and child care. Money is disbursed monthly into personal checking accounts for greater access to cover these kinds of off-campus expenses and is often a student’s first time establishing a relationship with a bank. Additionally, students attend a financial literacy course led by experts in the field and are encouraged to work with their mentor on budgeting practices throughout the year.

Interviews with scholars who attended the workshop and/or addressed budgeting with their mentor described a better understanding of spending behaviors and different decision making about how to use their money.

About understanding their spending behavior, scholars said:

“[The financial workshop] made me realize how much I was wasting and how much I accumulate each month by going to restaurants instead of eating at home.” – Scholar, age 22


“I've been using a template that my mentor shared with me. I ask myself, ‘Do I really need this? Do I want to waste my money on this? Have I bought the right things first?’ I'm more aware of what I buy...For example, do I want to go to Jack in the Box and feed myself for an hour or go to the grocery store and feed myself for a week.” – Scholar, age 26

 A graphic featuring the above quote over a background of a few dollars and coins spread out over a counter.

A graphic featuring the above quote over a background of a few dollars and coins spread out over a counter.

About making money decisions differently, many scholars reported saving money for the first time in their lives, while others described strategizing their spending in other ways:

“I’m spending more of my money on school supplies and using free school resources for food. I’m saving scholarships for further down the line. I’m using that money for other materials, like in 1-2 years when I know I’ll have like a $5,000 tuition. So, I’m planning for that...I’m stretching my budgets to cover everything I need. I’ll spend 3 days researching something I need to buy to find the best price. I think these changes are feeding my motivation and keeping it alive. “– Scholar, age 20


“When I first got the scholarship, I was going through a tough time. I had just been kicked out of my living situation and I was living off the scholarship money. So, I learned how to budget money for necessities like food. I had my young daughter, so I had to think about her. I didn’t really have help, so I had to figure it out on my own and I was very young. This taught me how to save money and not spend on things you don’t need. And the scholarship money was limited so I learned how to extend it out.” – Scholar, age 18

Survey responses reflected a similar sentiment, in which after participating in the program, 85% scholars reported that they often or always use budgeting skills and tools to manage their financial situation than reported doing so before participating in the program.

 A graph titled “% of scholars who reported often or always using budgeting skills and tools.” It shows that 85% use budgeting skills after participation in the program and 15% use them before the program.

A graph titled “% of scholars who reported often or always using budgeting skills and tools.” It shows that 85% use budgeting skills after participation in the program and 15% use them before the program.

It wasn’t easy though, and in their eyes, consistency and discipline with budgeting remains a challenge:

“I go on and off with the financial habits. I try to tell myself, it’s okay just keep it in your head. I have done better budgeting in the past, but then I have an emotional breakdown and that makes all the habits go away. I want to get back to it...I just need more practice with budgeting.” – Scholar, age 22


“My [money] management fluctuates. I set up a savings account at a different bank not tied to the app on my phone where I can transfer money between accounts easily, and I didn't get the card. That way I have to make a special trip to the bank to take the money out, which I know I wouldn't want to do. I'll save up a lot, like $500 until recently, but then I'll dip into it for some expense and have to build it back up. Now I have $260+ in that account and I know I have to get back on track and not touch it.” – Scholar, age 26

We believe a contributing factor to success with budding budgeting skills may be the amount of money awarded to scholars. All scholars participating in the program have been impacted by extraordinary life circumstances and the financial hardship connected to those circumstances, and there was consensus among interviewed scholars that the amount of their financial award was not significant enough to cause lasting financial change or relief in the larger context of their lives. However, seen in the chart below, students who received larger financial awards reported feeling less stressed about their financial situation, as well as sticking to their personal budget and accessing financial resources outside their scholarship more often.

 A graph titled “Student confidence as compared by size of awarded scholarship funds.” The graph compares responses to statements such as “feeling less stress about their financial situation” based on how much money they receive.

A graph titled “Student confidence as compared by size of awarded scholarship funds.” The graph compares responses to statements such as “feeling less stress about their financial situation” based on how much money they receive.

Significance

A central goal of the WAWS program is to provide funding to support a scholar’s academic trajectory. That the financial component is not restricted to certain kinds of expenses makes the scholarship both unique and a powerful tool to address the “real life” financial obstacles that keep scholars from focusing on their education. As it stands, scholarship awards are not enough to remove those obstacles completely. An intended impact for this program is that scholars work toward a level of financial sustainability by building positive financial habits. As one mentor put it, “any new financial habits are a big deal” and while not perfect in execution, new understanding and practices are in fact taking hold and endowing scholars with a new skillset for managing their challenging financial situations to leverage the resources they have.

One scholar summarized this reality beautifully:

“I have more common sense, better decision-making skills and am wiser. Financial burden takes a lot out of you, [but] I don’t feel as dragged down by it.” – Scholar, age 20

Learn more about the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship program here!

Words Alive Welcomes John, AmeriCorps VIP Fellow

 An image of John Camitan standing in front of a brick wall and smiling at the camera.

An image of John Camitan standing in front of a brick wall and smiling at the camera.

John Camitan joined the Words Alive Family in early September through the AmeriCorps Program, and will be working us for the 2018-2019 program year. His focus with the organization will be in volunteer infrastructure, and he will be a fixture at upcoming program and volunteer events. So far, John has hit the ground running and we’re so glad he’s part of our team.

We hope you get to meet him soon, if you have not yet!  Now, let's hear from John directly!

What intrigued you about Words Alive?

A big selling point was Words Alive working to inspire children to love reading and become lifelong learners. It put into perspective how much I took for granted, the number of books that I had access to as a child and how that impacted my development. It is such a noble cause and I am proud to be a part of it.

What are you most excited about in your new position?

I’m excited to work with a team that is genuine and passionate about helping members of the San Diego Community. I am eager to grow professionally with Christina’s guidance and help further develop the Words Alive volunteer program. As someone who is looking to enter the non-profit sector after completing law school, I am also excited to learn about how non-profits function and network with San Diego’s Non-Profit Community.

 What is your relationship with literacy?

I attribute a lot of where I am to literacy. The Harry Potter novels started my love of reading and sparked my curiosity for not just young adult books, but for other forms of literature. This love for literacy followed me to college where I studied Political Science, which consisted in hundreds of pages of political analysis. I don’t foresee my relationship with reading stopping anytime soon as I hope to attend law school in the future. 

What are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading IT by Stephen King. I watched the recent film adaptation and didn’t want to wait until Part 2 came out to find out what happens next.

 An image of John sitting at a table with a fellow volunteer at this year’s Author’s Luncheon & Fundraiser!

An image of John sitting at a table with a fellow volunteer at this year’s Author’s Luncheon & Fundraiser!

Currently, there are no employment opportunities at Words Alive, but we are ALWAYS recruiting wonderful volunteers to work in the classrooms with our students and families. Check out how to get involved as a Words Alive volunteer!

Annual Report: Family Literacy Program

What happened in our Family Literacy Program in the 2017-2018 school year? Well…a lot!

To start, 437 families came through the door, taking home 2,511 books and clocking 1,310 hours of shared learning time. Let’s dive in and share what else happened in the program this year!

Meet Sheena

 An image of Sheena Burks. She is standing in front of a bare wall and smiling at the camera.

An image of Sheena Burks. She is standing in front of a bare wall and smiling at the camera.

In our sixth year of the program, our expanded facilitator team included Sheena, a talented mother and preschool teacher who attended the program the past two years with her young boys. She is the first parent participant to go on to lead the program with other families. Sheena has been able to use her experience as a participant in the program to shape her leadership style. Over the past year, Sheena has inspired 72 families through the Family Literacy Program, while sharing her own stories and experiences to help strengthen their connection to reading. Through this unique perspective, Sheena has been able to see the incredible effects the program has on children and families.

“I had a parent say that they couldn’t get their son to read at all because he thought it was boring,” said Sheena. “But after the program, they’re saying that he wants to read more and more...he’s comfortable now — he’s not feeling forced to read!”

Reporting Out

 An image of Sheena facilitating a Family Literacy session. She is sitting on the floor with guardians and children while they all look at books together.

An image of Sheena facilitating a Family Literacy session. She is sitting on the floor with guardians and children while they all look at books together.

To engage returning families, Words Alive introduced new curriculum, including new book titles and supporting activities — and it was a huge hit! What’s more, parent knowledge in understanding child development, implementation of literacy-building activities at home, and book sharing behaviors continue to increase for our families during their time with us. With the increased knowledge and skills that come from our programs, parents are empowered in their role as their child’s first and most important teacher. By the program’s end:

• 68% more families reported having a routine for looking at books with their child.

• Families reported an average 38% increase in the size of their home libraries, growing on average from 11 to 16 books.

• Families that completed our program reported a 40% increase in understanding how their preschool child learns and have created a language-rich environment for them.

Moving Forward

Parents play the most critical role in developing skills and abilities within their children. Parent engagement is one of the key factors in a quality childhood program. At Words Alive, we know that our Family Literacy Program is engaging parents in a meaningful way and making an impact on the families who participate each year. We have successfully collaborated with a variety of partners like the Fullerton School District, who offered four sessions of our program in their schools after we trained their staff and provided curriculum.

“Words Alive has empowered parents to support their children acquire valuable literacy skills, engage families in discussion about meaningful literature, and connect our parents into our school community.” —Dr. Robert Pletka, Fullerton School District Superintendent

We continue to see the same results in the families through this training model and through direct services. Going forward we want to continue to diversify where we can offer our Family Literacy Program by reaching out to families through classes located within their communities.

Learn more about our Family Literacy Program here!