Program Highlights

WAWS Evaluation Finding #5: "I feel like a better person. I feel so free."

An image of our WAWS scholar Paulina (right) hugging her friend, who presented Paulina’s reward at the 2018 WAWS Award Ceremony.

An image of our WAWS scholar Paulina (right) hugging her friend, who presented Paulina’s reward at the 2018 WAWS Award Ceremony.

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 fifth finding!

“I feel like a better person. I feel so free.” 

While the intended impacts of the program included relationship-building with others, one surprising result discovered during this study was participants’ changing relationship with themselves.

Through their scholarship application essays and interviews for this study, most, if not all, of the students discussed the trauma in their lives. It’s no secret that an unstable childhood can contribute to unhealthy personal relationships in adulthood. Many of the students revealed abusive romantic partners, the inability to enforce boundaries with their family members and feelings of isolation from peers who couldn’t relate.

However, through a consistent relationship with their mentor as described in Finding #3 and the support of their WAWS cohort as described in Finding #6, students developed and employed healthy relationship skills with others. According to this study, 85% of scholars surveyed said they felt more confident in putting healthy relationship skills into action. For one scholar, healthy relationship skills meant establishing and exercising new boundaries: “I’ve learned to say no to certain people.”

This new-found confidence coupled with realizing the value of healthy relationships, networking, community engagement and mentorship led to many students and their mentors saying that the students simply found themselves much more open to communication after participating in the program.

One mentor described this growth in her mentee as: “She does a good job at assessing people and choosing to be with people who are good examples. She has become very open with me.”

Perhaps even more impactful, however, was the growth scholars recognized within themselves. Many students initially felt trapped by the labels placed on them by society: at-risk, homeless, teen parent, juvenile delinquent. Before their participation in the program, many said they never thought they could go to college. In survey responses, they described themselves as “troubled, scared, lazy, unmotivated, unprepared and unfocused” before participating in the program.

But after at least a year in the program, they became scholars – describing themselves instead with more positive terms such as “responsible, confident, passionate, ready and focused.”


In-line with these terms alluding to a new sense of agency, scholars described taking action:

“I believe that I’m smart enough to accomplish my goals. I believe I’m capable of taking actions to make changes, that I can identify those actions, and make the changes. Most importantly, I believe in myself, that I’m the only person who can do this. I’ve learned to identify what the challenges are and be specific as you can be to make that challenge a goal, to make it a positive.” – Scholar, age 25

“I take action, go out and get the things that are beneficial for me instead of waiting for them to come to me.” – Scholar, age 26

For many program participants, that shift stems from the support of their mentor and Words Alive staff. In interviews with scholars, they said that having someone cheer them on made them not want to give up, helped them realize they could rise above their circumstances and see themselves as more capable.

One scholar said:

“I’ve grown so much. I appreciate hearing the uplifting things [my mentor and Words Alive staff] say. It helps me remember my accomplishments and not just my struggles. I feel like a better person; I feel so free.” – Scholar, age 26

Another scholar shared:

“I’ve learned self-care, self-love and self-respect...with self-love, especially when you have so many obstacles, helps everything else.  Before I didn’t know any better. I’m pushing myself to ask questions and see how much I’ve accomplished. I’m reclaiming my identity as a teen mom, as undocumented. Before, I didn’t love myself, I just saw the labels society threw at me, like screw-up, outlaw, rebel and minority. I didn’t like waking up to that.” – Scholar, age 25

With a redefined, positive perspective of themselves and skills honed to address their circumstances, 100% of students surveyed said the program helped them feel at least moderately more in control of their choices.

To love oneself – to truly feel confident both in and out of one’s skin – is important if one is to break free from the trappings of harmful and limiting environments. That the program scholars develop that confidence in such dramatic ways is remarkable.

 “I’m more positive about everything and learned to appreciate myself more. I wish I had a friend like me.” – Scholar, age 26

Significance

Focused on the expectations and labels placed on them by society, students often say they never imagined they would graduate high school let alone go to college. But as students are repeatedly and genuinely told, “you can do it,” our findings indicate they begin to believe it. This confidence translates to several other attributes, such as motivation and resilience, that help drive scholars’ success.

Equally, one’s desire to cultivate new relationships, create a personal goal of helping others, and confidently navigate the world fosters new opportunities. Being able to identify and develop in these two areas and recognize their importance will provide lasting positive impact.

Annual Report: Read Aloud Program

What happened in our Read Aloud Program in the 2017-2018 school year?

After their Read Aloud session, students read their favorite books in their 2nd grade classroom.

After their Read Aloud session, students read their favorite books in their 2nd grade classroom.

Due to the two previous years’ successes implementing the Read Aloud Program in United Way City Heights Partnership for Children’s Readers in the Heights Program, we were requested this year to become their literacy experts. By training staff members and providing further resources, we created a Read Aloud Program model of delivery that could be used to serve kindergarten to 3rd grade children across seven sites. This partnership, starting in 2016 and initially reaching 40 children in the City Heights neighborhood, is helping to combat the summer slide, developing curiosity, wonder, and a love of reading for over 320 children.

Our work with BASE (Before and After School Education) in Oceanside has been an exciting new venture that has given us the opportunity to expand our program offering, creating 4th and 5th grade curriculum and furthering our impact outside of the school day. Through our partnership with BASE we served approximately 120 K–5th grade children and were able to evaluate the Read Aloud Program with children who have never experienced Words Alive before.

Meet Golden Hill

Read Aloud facilitator Sharon has been reading in Golden Hill Elementary School classrooms since 2015. Throughout her tenure, she has watched the development of many students, from kindergarten on to 2nd and 3rd grade. Students she had read to in the past are now reading books to their own classrooms, families, and to Sharon herself, which truly exemplifies the Read Aloud spirit.

“Thank you Words Alive readers! You make me feel happy and you help us understand the words in the books. You help us read hard chapter books and you teach us cause and effect. Words Alive is here to help us learn to read, and not just give us books. They give us deeper thinking and that helps us in our regular classroom.” —Read Aloud Program Participant

Building Foundational Skills

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The graph above shows that nine out of ten teachers reported that the Read Aloud Program had an impact on expanding students’ knowledge of literacy terms, vocabulary, and concepts of print. Eight out of ten teachers reported the program had an impact on improving fluency and learning phonics.

“The exposure to other adult readers of various backgrounds has been wonderful, seeing people that look like they could be from their family or community showing such a love and excitement for literacy.” —Teacher, Read Aloud Program

Looking Forward

Congressman Scott Peters reads to a K–2 classroom as part of our annual Share Your Love of Reading Campaign.

Congressman Scott Peters reads to a K–2 classroom as part of our annual Share Your Love of Reading Campaign.

While we continue to work with teachers in 103 classrooms across San Diego and Escondido School Districts, we have been excited by the impact of the Read Aloud Program outside of the school day. Summer and after-school programs have proven to be great partners in furthering opportunities for children to be exposed to an exciting world of literature, inspiring curiosity, and widening aspirations. We look forward to building on this model in 2018–19, enabling others to facilitate the Read Aloud Program and reach beyond our volunteer foundations in San Diego.

“The program is awesome! I love that you provide books for my students... many of which have none at home. They cherish the book they are given to keep to read at home. They love it!.” —Teacher, Read Aloud Program

It's National Mentoring Month!

By Jennifer Van Pelt

Our WAWS student Antonise (left) and her mentor Brittany volunteered together for the local humane society.

Our WAWS student Antonise (left) and her mentor Brittany volunteered together for the local humane society.

January is National Mentoring Month, a campaign that celebrates mentoring and the positive effect it has on young lives. The month includes a variety of celebrations including, “I am a Mentor Day”, “International Mentoring Day”, “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service”, “National Mentoring Summit Day”, and “#ThankYourMentor Day”. These celebrations are focused on reflecting on the benefits both the mentors and mentees receive in the relationship as well as to share powerful stories about volunteerism. Mentoring.org outlines the three goals of the month-long campaign:

  • Raise awareness of mentoring in its various forms.

  • Recruit individuals to mentor, especially in programs that have waiting lists of young people.

  • Promote the rapid growth of mentoring by recruiting organizations to engage their constituents in mentoring.

Celebrating its 17th year, the campaign has gained support from Barack Obama, Maya Angelou, Harvard, and the NBA, among others.

Benefits of Mentorship

A mentor is more than a support system or a professional counterpart. According to mentorship.com, the following are a few benefits of students having a mentor:

  • Young adults who face an opportunity gap but have a mentor are 55% more likely to be enrolled in college than those who did not have a mentor.

  • In addition to better school attendance and a better chance of going on to higher education, mentored youth maintain better attitudes toward school.

  • Students who meet regularly with their mentors are less likely than their peers to skip school.

  • Young adults who face an opportunity gap but have a mentor are: 81% more likely to participate regularly in sports or extracurricular activities than those who do not.

Words Alive Mentorship

Words Alive analyzed results from the mentorships in our Westreich Scholarship program and found that there was a large benefit when mentors and mentees met consistently. Many mentors mentioned that in the beginning of the program they would be stood up on multiple occasions or meetings would be cancelled without explanation. It was up to these mentors set and communicate expectations. For many of our scholars, consistency was not prioritized in their previous relationships, and their Words Alive mentors helped them see the value and importance of honoring their commitments.

We have many more success stories from the WAWS program that we are proud to share. At a recent meetup, our WAWS mentors talked about the successes they’ve had with their scholars. Successes included “Scholar is forming a study group”, “Scholar’s professor praised him on his critical thinking skills” and “developed a budget”. Successes like these show the amount of trust and support that the mentor relationship requires. Another success story involves Antonise Stewart, a veterinary student, who met with her mentor to donate their time towards creating kitten toys and scratching posts for the local humane society. By volunteering together, they are bonding over a shared passion and activity that makes both feel good about how they spent their time.

If you would like to learn more about the WAWS program, click here.

Sources:

http://www.mentoring.org/why-mentoring/mentoring-impact/


WAWS Evaluation Finding #4: Facetime with Mentors Means Stronger Rapport, Greater Success

An image of scholar Alicia with her mentor, Keri. They are sitting in front of a wall full of posit-it notes.

An image of scholar Alicia with her mentor, Keri. They are sitting in front of a wall full of posit-it notes.

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 fourth finding!

Face-to-Face: Facetime with mentors means stronger rapport, greater success

Through interviews with both students and mentors, we found that mentorship was key to success for the scholars in the program. Scholars who reported a close bond with their mentor, established through frequent meetings, not only were more likely to follow through on their mentor’s advice but also felt like they weren’t “alone.”

Conversely, students with long-distance mentors struggled to form an attachment to them. Scholars and mentors alike reported awkward Skype interactions and missed phone calls. Simply put: Without having to look someone in the eye, it’s easier to flake. These factors made it difficult to build rapport, resulting in relationships that hinged solely on obligation.

“I think it would definitely be easier if it was a closer distance. We’re mostly limited to phone calls,” one mentor said. “When she is in town, it’s often pretty brief but I think our interactions go better in person.”

One pair built a strong rapport despite the distance. The difference? They were able to meet in-person when possible:

“[My mentor] would go above and beyond to meet me where I was at. If we were meeting, she would come to me a lot of times. She would take trips to San Francisco to visit her niece and then stop by and see me. Having her support made the biggest difference. My parents couldn’t come visit me, but she did – and it was such a comfort.” – Scholar, age 24

Significance

Trust is the fundamental building block of all successful relationships – and the mentor/mentee relationship is no different. But trust is built over time and difficult to establish in a phone call. Without that element of trust and essentially, rapport, mentees have difficulty opening up, asking for help or placing value on the resources offered. On the flip side, mentors feel like they are prying or stepping out of bounds when trying to follow up or hold their mentee accountable.

This finding indicated that impactful mentorships underwent a period of relationship-building first – and that happens best face-to-face.

Annual Report: Words Alive Westreich Scholarship

What happened in our Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Program in the 2017-2018 school year? This year, we welcomed 13 students into the program, nine of whom attended community colleges and four attended 4-year universities. We also embarked 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.

Celebrating Our Graduating Scholars

An image of our three graduating scholars: Zaphire, Lexi, and Domminiece holding up awards.

An image of our three graduating scholars: Zaphire, Lexi, and Domminiece holding up awards.

Three of our scholars graduated from community college last year and transferred to San Diego State University starting in the fall of 2018. Learn more about them!

Zaphire Alonso Duarte

  • College: Graduated from San Diego City College, transferring to San Diego State University in Fall 2018

  • Area of Study: Social Work

  • WAWS Recipient: 5 Years

  • “Words Alive has helped me more than just financially. The Words Alive program has been my support system both personally and academically. I am extremely thankful for all the people who are part of the staff; they are the best at always being on top of our schoolwork and lives.”

Zaira “Lexi” Martinez

  • College: Graduated from San Diego City College, transferring to San Diego State University in Fall 2018

  • Area of Study: Clinical Social Work

  • WAWS Recipient: 2 Years

  • “My experience with Words Alive has always been extremely positive. My love for reading has been restored since I have been involved with them and I’ve always found a valuable support system within the organization.”

Domminiece Willis

  • College: Graduated from Southwestern College, transferring to San Diego State University in Fall 2018

  • Area of Study: Child Development

  • WAWS Recipient: 5 Years

  • “Since becoming a WAWS scholar, I have focused more on celebrating my achievements, big or small. I understand that my educational journey is not like everyone else’s and that I will move at my own pace and in my own way, but I will make it to the finish line.”

Reporting Out

The Words Alive Westreich Scholarship (WAWS) program supports scholars’ whole-person development by providing 1:1 mentor support and personal and professional development workshops. Take a look at the impact!

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Moving Forward

We’ll be enhancing the mentorship program by providing scholars and mentors better tools for building their relationship and tracking their progress. Through a deep evaluation process of the WAWS program with Dialogues in Action, we discovered that a high level of consistent mentor engagement is the key to success for our students!

Teen Author Talk with Mark Oshiro!

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Mark Oshiro stands onstage at the Neil Morgan Auditorium at the San Diego Central Library. There’s a drop down screen that projects a presentation introducing him to students in the Words Alive Adolescent Book Group program. “I am a queer, Latinx author (of Mexican, Guatemalan, and Salvadoreño descent) and I write books for kids!” As Mark continues to talk to our students about what he was like as a teenager, his career path, and life as an author, he exudes enthusiasm, passion, and sincerity. Although this is undoubtedly a special opportunity for our students, it seems at the same time this is just as special for Mark.

Words Alive's Adolescent Book Group brings books alive for teenagers facing extraordinary circumstances such as homelessness, violence, teen pregnancy and impact by the justice system. Through engaging projects, writing workshops and discussion sessions, Adolescent Book Group participants enhance their critical thinking skills, self-esteem and ability to express themselves. Words Alive's commitment to reading diverse and relevant texts provides an avenue for program participants to connect books to themselves and the world while changing the story of their own lives.

This semester, two of our classrooms, one at Monarch School and one Lindsay Community School, read Mark Oshiro's debut novel, Anger is a Gift. This story follows Moss Jeffries, a sophomore in high school, as he and his classmates find themselves increasingly treated like criminals by their school administration. What this means for them is strict policies and procedures (such as installing metal detectors and random locker searches) and harsh punishment (including intimidation and force from the local police department). As readers, we follow as Moss and his classmates organize and push back against the administration. (Source)

Currently, the Adolescent Book Group solely serves Juvenile Court and Community Schools from the border to North County and this year one of the themes the district wanted to focus on was youth activism. Anger is a Gift perfectly tackles themes such as identifying the change you want in your community, organizing, intersectionality, non-violent demonstration, and power structures.

As students started reading the novel in class and discussing the book with Words Alive volunteers, it was obvious how relevant the story and these themes were to the students. A select few students at Lindsay Community School started reading the novel first and soon it was the talk of the school and the rest of the class shortly joined in. At one point in the novel, the students stage a walkout and our students at Monarch School had a rare opportunity to have an honest discussion with their principal about what he would do if they walked out.

Both of these examples serve to demonstrate the magic that happens when students can both relate to a book and experience an enthusiasm for reading. This is what we mean when we say Words Alive brings books alive for our students.

On occasion, we can take this a step further. Students were able to hear first-hand and in-person from one of the authors of a book they read when we hosted a Teen Author Talk at the San Diego Central Library with Mark Oshiro. In the Adolescent Book Group, discussion often turns to the author’s intent (Why did they say this? What did they mean by this? What do you think their personal experience is?) and it was a special experience for our students to hear directly from the source.

Mark Oshiro and students lean over a copy of his book as he signs the book and answers questions.

Mark Oshiro and students lean over a copy of his book as he signs the book and answers questions.

Mark started off the event by giving a presentation catered for school visits. It quickly became clear that Mark’s journey is similar to that of many of our students, as he talked about his own experiences with homelessness, police brutality, and “feeling like a statistic.” He was open and honest when saying that spite is often what motivated him. He wanted to prove to various adults in his life that he could become successful, despite their lack of belief in him.

Then, Mark sat down for a moderated conversation with our Office & Communication Coordinator, Sara Mortensen. In this conversation we learned that Mark’s real life experiences with police brutality inspired the story that became Anger is a Gift. When asked what other emotions besides anger he felt were important in activist movements, Mark took a moment to think and finally decided on: patience. In a surprise turn at the end of the moderated conversation, Mark talked about how a particular episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer greatly impacted him and parts of the story that became Anger is a Gift.

In the Q&A portion, students asked questions such as: Do you think this book could have a sequel? Which character do you relate to the most? What would you be doing if you weren’t writing books? After the event, students continued to ask questions as they got their books signed. Words Alive students entered the event excited to meet the author of a book they loved, and left feeling inspired and empowered.

At Words Alive, our mission is to open opportunities for life success by inspiring a commitment to reading. At this Teen Author Talk with Mark Oshiro, students were able to see an example of how reading can change the story of someone’s life. Mark’s journey was not necessarily conventional. He left home at 16, still graduated with a 4.4 GPA and went to college but never received his degree. And yet, through it all he was an avid reader and writer and has found immense success and accomplishment through those passions. Words Alive was proud to provide this experience to our students and we hope to put on more special events like this one in the future.

You can support our efforts to provide more opportunities like this for our students by donating to our Champions for Youth campaign!



What Words Alive Accomplished in 2018!

By Jennifer Van Pelt

In 2018, Words Alive accomplished many goals and held several events that are cause for celebration! With the help of our 261 active volunteers and 39 collaborative partners, we ultimately donated 14,642 books and served 3,725 students and parents in 2018! Join us in taking a look at 2018 in review...

Image of several people toasting with glasses of Boochcraft kombucha. Source:  Boochcraft

Image of several people toasting with glasses of Boochcraft kombucha. Source: Boochcraft

In April 2018, Words Alive partnered up with Boochcraft to celebrate their new special release flavor. As a San Diego based kombucha brewery, they give back to their community by facilitating projects that support education, food, and energy. All of the gross proceeds from the event were donated to Words Alive, resulting in our ability to serve over 75 families in our Family Literacy Program! Partnerships such as this one have allowed us to reach more families and make a bigger impact than either organization could have done individually.

A picture from 2017’s Share Your Love of Reading campaign! The VIP reader had students get up and dance!

A picture from 2017’s Share Your Love of Reading campaign! The VIP reader had students get up and dance!

Our Share Your Love of Reading Campaign was celebrated once again this May and was our most successful yet! We were able to distribute another 2,778 books to our Read Aloud Program participants due to the success of the campaign. Words Alive partnered up with local news stations, council members, and sports team representatives to make appearances in classrooms to read to elementary school students to help encourage their love for reading.

Image of a person with their back turned towards the camera. They are standing in front of one of the sculptures our students made for this year’s Art & Literacy Project.

Image of a person with their back turned towards the camera. They are standing in front of one of the sculptures our students made for this year’s Art & Literacy Project.

In June 2018, our Adolescent Book Group students participated in an exhibition at the San Diego Art Institute titled The Love You Give. Students created pieces of art and poetry focusing on the theme of “duality” and the novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Local artist Isaias Crow then combined these works of art into communal sculptures. With nearly 100 visitors coming to the exhibition, students were able to showcase their work to their closest friends and family. Students felt proud of themselves for learning and expressing themselves.

We had three Words Alive Westreich Scholarship (WAWS) recipients graduate this year! Zaphire Alonso Duarte, Zaira “Lexi” Martinez, and Domminiece Willis are proud graduates of San Diego City College and Southwestern College who are all continuing their studies at SDSU. When speaking about the program and scholarship, Lexi Martinez said, “My love for reading has been restored since I have been involved with them and I’ve always found a valuable support system within the organization.” We look forward to seeing where their degrees take them and helping more WAWS scholars in the future!

A group picture of The Butterfly Project presenters with Stephen Keiley's 8th grade class at Monarch School and Words Alive ABG volunteers.

A group picture of The Butterfly Project presenters with Stephen Keiley's 8th grade class at Monarch School and Words Alive ABG volunteers.

Words Alive provided the literacy piece of the Holocaust unit for Monarch School’s 8th graders. The students read three books: Night by Elie Wiesel, Maus by Art Spiegelman, and American Ace by Marilyn Nelson — then discussed the books and wrote about the themes with their volunteer team in bi-weekly sessions. As a culminating project, Words Alive partnered with The Butterfly Project, a local Holocaust education initiative. Children of Holocaust survivors led an engaging presentation and invited the Monarch students to each paint a butterfly to represent a child who died in the Holocaust as part of a larger global awareness campaign.

An image of the 2018-2019 Words Alive Westreich Scholars!

An image of the 2018-2019 Words Alive Westreich Scholars!

In August, we recognized our 2018-19 WAWS scholarship recipients. Words Alive awarded $37,500 in scholarships for the upcoming academic year. Nine of the scholars are returning to the program after participating in at least one other year and are receiving a $3,500 scholarship, while three first-time scholars are receiving a $2,000 scholarship from the organization’s Julia & Zoey Shenkman Award. Additionally, each scholarship recipient is matched with a mentor. The mentors meet with their student throughout the school year to help provide guidance and, often times, a shoulder to lean on.

An image of our audience at the 15th Annual Author’s Luncheon & Fundraiser watching Brittany Jackson, former ABG and WAWS participant, give her speech.

An image of our audience at the 15th Annual Author’s Luncheon & Fundraiser watching Brittany Jackson, former ABG and WAWS participant, give her speech.

Our largest event of the year was the 15th Annual Author’s Luncheon & Fundraiser. The marketplace, silent auction, and raffle gave patrons the opportunity to win spectacular prizes while also directly benefiting the three primary programs of Words Alive: Read Aloud Program, Teen Services Program, and our Family Literacy Program. The funds generated at the Author’s Luncheon & Fundraiser make up a considerable portion of what Words Alive needs to continue serving thousands of children and families each year.

Author Mark Oshiro poses with one of our classes from Monarch School after giving a talk about his book, Anger is a Gift.

Author Mark Oshiro poses with one of our classes from Monarch School after giving a talk about his book, Anger is a Gift.

Most recently, we had author Mark Oshiro speak with students from Monarch School and Lindsay Community School. He focused on his life and his book, Anger is a Gift, which tells the story of resilience and loss. The students in attendance read the book over the past semester and were able to discuss the book and the themes surrounding it. Our programs focus on new, diverse, and relevant texts such as this one so that students can see themselves and their experiences represented.

2018 has been one of our best years yet and we are excited to continue inspiring a commitment to reading with the help of you, our community supporters. If you would like to get more information on upcoming events and programs, visit our page here. If you would like to donate or become a fundraiser to help us continue providing these programs, check out our Champions for Youth campaign that is running through January 27, 2019!

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