Community Leadership

Remembering Carol Goodman

Words Alive is deeply saddened by the passing of one of our founding volunteers and donors, Carol Goodman.

Carol was a board member for Words Alive from 2001-2009. She was instrumental in expanding our Adolescent Book Group into new classrooms, specifically Choice School which at the time was located in City Heights. We continue to serve students in Juvenile Court and Community classrooms today. Carol was a member of the Words Alive Legacy Circle and over the past 20 years, has continued to support Words Alive by celebrating each year with us at the Author’s Luncheon & Fundraiser.

“Carol was a source of endless support to those around her and we all benefited from her energy and glow.”

- Leslye Lyons, Words Alive Founder

 If you would like to read more about the legacy that Carol left, please click HERE


Meet Our New Executive Director: Rachael Orose!

We are so excited to announce that Rachael Orose is joining the Words Alive team as our new Executive Director!

An image of Rachael looking at the camera and smiling while she holds a stack of books!

An image of Rachael looking at the camera and smiling while she holds a stack of books!

Rachael Orose is an entrepreneurial social sector leader passionate about creating engaged and life-long learners.  She has spent more than 20 years in the nonprofit sector working with national, regional, and local organizations committed to providing resources and opportunities for children and families in low-income communities.

Rachael will join Words Alive in September 2019 from The Molina Foundation, based in Orange County, where as Vice President she focused on operations, community partnerships, and fundraising. Rachael, who has spent the bulk of her life working in the nonprofit sector, was previously the Manager of Corporate Strategy for the American Red Cross (Washington D.C.), and the Senior Director for First Book (Washington D.C.). She has also held numerous positions for a variety of community-based organizations in both New York and Michigan.

Originally from Michigan, Rachael holds a graduate degree in public and nonprofit administration from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University and an undergraduate degree in the same field from Grand Valley State University.

“I’m excited to lead an outstanding team of dedicated volunteers and professionals who are invested in helping children and families make connections between books, themselves, and the world around them,” said Rachael. “Words Alive is making reading matter – truly matter – for young people and families in every community in San Diego, and beyond. I look forward to growing our distinguished, and proven, model that is inspiring future generations of lifelong learners.”

Now, let’s hear more from Rachael!

What intrigued you about Words Alive?

Have you ever seen the “aha!” moment on the face of a child?  That moment when a child – my daughter – connects a story we read with her life, her family, and her environment, her eyes just light up and the world seemingly comes into focus. Now, imagine a toddler or a teenager who has never, ever had an “aha!” moment like that, who has never experienced the delight that comes from getting lost in a book while the world spins around them.  I have found a community – the Words Alive community – who believes, as I do, that it is our moral obligation to ensure that all children are excited about reading and that we do everything we can to empower them with the “aha!” moments that we have found and love. 

What are you most excited about in your new position?

Introducing and welcoming new friends, supporters, donors, and volunteers to the Words Alive community. The more people who learn about Words Alive and are willing to invest their time and resources into our work, the more we’ll be able to help children and teens change the stories of their lives.

What is your relationship with reading and learning?

Growing up my family lived with my grandfather.  At least once a day, he would say to my brother and I, “If you can read, you can…” and end the sentence with something seemingly magical: cook, garden, fix a bicycle, drive, vote. So, we would read on his lap – often the same story over and over –  because we knew that being able to read would unlock the wonders of the ‘grown up’ world. As I grew up, I saw that my childhood reality was foreign to so many children who had no books at home, no laps in which to read, and knew nothing about the magic beyond the letters on a page. This inequity has fueled my career ensuring that no one lives in a world trapped behind the bars of illiteracy.  

What are you currently reading?

On my second day of working at Words Alive I’m going to have the honor of meeting Emma Donoghue at our Author’s Luncheon and Fundraiser. I just checked out her novel Frog Music from the library!  

We are so excited to have Rachael on our team! To learn more about our volunteer opportunites, click here!

Welcome to Words Alive, Robyn!

We are so excited to announce our newest team member, Robyn Grand! Robyn is joining the Words Alive family as our new Volunteer Coordinator!

An image of Robyn standing in front of a large body of water.

An image of Robyn standing in front of a large body of water.

Robyn Grand joins the Words Alive family after three years of working for AVID Center. Prior to his time at AVID Center, he attended the University of California San Diego where he earned Bachelor of Arts degrees in Sociology and Political Science. Robyn considers himself a life-long learner with a passion for reading and is excited to serve as the Volunteer Coordinator for the Words Alive family. In his free time, Robyn enjoys running, yoga, and video games.

Now, let’s hear more from Robyn!

What intrigued you about Words Alive?

I am a very passionate reader and my father would brag that I am a third-generation book collector. I grew up surrounded by books and fell in love with the stories and knowledge they held at a very young age. I’m excited to join Words Alive so that I can share that love and joy with students across San Diego.

What are you most excited about in your new position?

I’m excited to work with and support the volunteers who make such vital contributions to the work we do here at Words Alive. I can’t wait for opportunities to meet our amazing volunteers!

What is your relationship with reading and learning?

My relationship with reading and learning is never ending. I’m always looking for a new book to read or podcast to listen to. I enjoy hearing different perspectives on topics I am unfamiliar with because there is always so much more to learn about the world and the issues people face.

What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States by Samantha Allen and Vanish by Tess Gerritsen.

We are so excited to have Robyn on our team! To learn more about our volunteer opportunites, click here!

Change the Story of Your Life: Bijan Nowroozian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Children's Day Partnership!

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

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

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

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

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

Independent Bookstore Day!

By Tait Longhi, Blog Intern

An image of books laying on a table.

An image of books laying on a table.

April 27th is National Independent Bookstore Day! We at Words Alive are celebrating the importance of supporting local businesses, particularly independently owned bookstores. How have independent and local bookstores been important in your life?

Supporting locally owned independent businesses not only helps your community, but allows us to go back to and enjoy the simple pleasure of perusing the aisles of a bookstore, searching for that one special book you’ll take home. I’m sure each of us has an abundance of fond memories at a bookstore, stretching from our childhood to present day. Many independent bookstores are also used bookstores, or have a used books section, which is so helpful to people wanting to build their home libraries. We’ve seen how important owning books is as one develops their identity as a reader, and when used books are available for only a few dollars, the idea of a home library becomes much more accessible.

Words Alive understands that supporting local bookstores is important to maintain a thriving community for all of those who wish to have a safe space to explore and read peacefully. Since we are based in the San Diego area, here is a list of just a few of our favorite independent bookstores:

Let us know in the comments the name of your favorite independent bookstore! Happy reading!


Words Alive's 10th Annual Volunteer Appreciation Event!

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

An image of our Volunteer Appreciation Event. Volunteer Program Manager, Christina Meeker, stands at the podium in front of a screen that says “Volunteer Appreciation Event." Volunteers mingling over lunch also appear in the image.

An image of our Volunteer Appreciation Event. Volunteer Program Manager, Christina Meeker, stands at the podium in front of a screen that says “Volunteer Appreciation Event." Volunteers mingling over lunch also appear in the image.

On Friday April 5th, the community of Words Alive staff, volunteers, donors and supports joined together at the San Diego Public Library to celebrate the many special volunteers that help our organization run so smoothly. As we often say at Words Alive, the volunteers are the lifeblood of our organization.

An image of two of our incredible volunteers, Karen Mailn & Margie Roehm laughing at the camera.

An image of two of our incredible volunteers, Karen Mailn & Margie Roehm laughing at the camera.

At noon, everyone filed into the event space, where there were smiles and excitement all around. In an effort to connect volunteers with one another, everyone received a “signature card” at check-in with different prompts listed such as, “dislikes chocolate” or “has attended a Words Alive Cookies & Conversation event.” Depending on how many signatures one was able to collect, the more raffle tickets you earned! This signature card was a great way to start conversation with the many volunteers and board members present, and to get to know one another.

Once everyone settled into their seats at around 12:40, the award ceremony honoring our volunteers began. We awarded volunteers in 13 different categories, including: Rookie of the Year, Youth Volunteer of the Year, Leadership Volunteer of the Year, and of course, Volunteer of the Year. Each volunteer who was awarded gave a small but memorable speech all with a common theme, the true reward for them was giving back.

Our Volunteers of the Year were Kim & Doug Harrison. In September, Kim Harrison and her husband, brand specialist Doug Harrison, volunteered to lead the organization in identifying how best to convey its brand – in the simplest terms: what do we do, how do we do it, and what does that look like in the community.

This exercise has resulted in not only a refreshed logo which highlights the action and activity that our engaging programs ignite in students and their families, but language that better describes who we are and what it means for all of us to be touched by Words Alive.

This process has permeated all aspects of the organization – from examinations of our programs, to how we market those programs, how we celebrate and leverage the community partners, to how we look to the future – spreading this impact to every corner of our community and beyond.

An image of Volunteers of the Year, Kim & Doug Harrison, with Leadership Volunteer of the Year, Jeffrey Goldman!

An image of Volunteers of the Year, Kim & Doug Harrison, with Leadership Volunteer of the Year, Jeffrey Goldman!

In her speech, Kim said the following:

“For me it’s really about connection, because I think that’s why we’re here, to connect with each other. It’s so incredibly rewarding and every week when I leave it fills my heart because I get the opportunity to connect with these kids and to see their joy. At the end of the day it’s about a feeling the kids have for you, not what you taught them. So if I can connect reading and language and literature with feelings of joy and awe and curiosity, then I feel like there’s nothing better.”

After leaving the event, these feelings of appreciation and joy for the work we all do together lasted. Words Alive is very lucky to have each of its volunteers, and in turn the volunteers feel very lucky to have found Words Alive. As we gear up to enter our 20th year, we look to the impact Words Alive has had since being founded. Over the past 11 years, we have impacted 21,031 students and 1,546 families. We have given away 154,155 books and we have worked with over 1,255 volunteers. It is clear the mark we’ve all made is substantial. So, to anyone who has donated, volunteered or worked with us to better the communities by changing lives through reading and relationships, we thank you. Here’s to many more years to come with all of you by our side!  

How Reading Inspires Communities

By Tait Longhi, Blog Intern

An image of a group of students in our Read Aloud Program excitedly holding up their books.

An image of a group of students in our Read Aloud Program excitedly holding up their books.

There are countless reasons why two strangers may connect, but one common reason that has connected all ages is the commonality of stories. As a child, when you discover that your classmate loves the same book series as you, an immediate conversation ensues. Being able to talk about characters, what they think will happen next and why they love the book as much as you do creates a bond.

This doesn’t go away with childhood, if anything it intensifies. Reading doesn’t only builds friendships, but entire communities. Words Alive, organizations like the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA), GoodReads or just a classic book club are just a few examples of how the power of reading can bring people together. It may be the fact that every person reading the pages will take a different lesson or viewpoint than the next, and we as humans desire to know and understand one another through these insights.

Books also teach us life lessons that inspire us to do something good for our community. Organizations like the Harry Potter Alliance were founded out of a love for the Harry Potter series and have created a whole community of activists who are using popular stories to change the world. John and Hank Green are brothers (and both authors) who have fostered an online community called Nerdfighteria, a community that celebrates many things but chief among them is a love for books and learning. With the internet, it’s easier than ever to find and form communities around a love of books.

According to the journal, “Using Parent Book Clubs to Build a School-Wide Reading Community”, a high school class partook in reading aloud throughout the year. This allowed students to “engage in meaningful relationships and social interactions tied to reading, and these connections mattered to them. Students took these connections seriously, and they authentically acted in ways to contribute positively to the reading community.” Here, we can see what one could call book club within the classroom.

The importance in these communities may seem obvious, but there is more than just reading aloud and discussing books. Organizations like Words Alive understand that communities that value reading help build thriving and intellectual individuals and relationships among one another.  

Reading, literacy and all it brings is a powerful thing, which is why we at Words Alive are here. Through the passion of reading we have come together to show the importance and positive impact it can make on others. While reading is often done in solidarity, it has the unique ability to bring a huge group together, to understand and bond with one another.  





Board Spotlight: Jeffrey Goldman

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Meet Jeffrey!

Jeffrey Goldman has been a part of the Words Alive family since 2014 and most recently completed his tenure as Board Chair on the Words Alive Board of Directors. Over the past five years, Jeffrey has been a constant source of leadership and inspiration through his commitment to Words Alive and bettering the futures of students in our programs. Jeffrey not only serves on the board, but also volunteers with our Adolescent Book Group as a writing facilitator at the Monarch School.

Jeffrey is the publisher at Santa Monica Press, an independent book publishing company, since he founded the press twenty-five years ago. Santa Monica Press publishes an eclectic list of critically acclaimed and award-winning non-fiction books. Prior to Santa Monica Press, Jeffrey spent a decade as an arts and entertainment journalist and editor, working for a variety of newspapers and magazines both nationally and internationally.

In addition to serving on the Words Alive Board of Directors, Jeffrey is also a member of the Board of Trustees at the La Jolla Playhouse, where he serves on the Executive Committee and is the chair of the Education and Outreach Committee.

I wanted to make an impact on the lives of children and believe that encouraging strong reading and writing skills is the simplest and most effective way to change the story of a child’s life.
— Jeffrey Goldman

Now, let’s hear more directly from Jeffrey!

How has Words Alive changed the story of your life?

Words Alive has changed the story of my life by making me aware of not only the extraordinary need in the community for advocates of reading and writing, but also of the number of incredibly talented children — brilliant writers — whose talent often slips under the radar of their parents and family members. The joy and fulfillment I receive from helping to spread the love of reading and writing to children, and further encouraging those children who already show a tremendous aptitude in these areas, has brought me endless pleasure and has truly changed the story of my life.

When was the first moment you fell in love with reading?

I remember reading a book (whose title I’ve long since forgotten) with my teacher and fellow classmates in kindergarten or first grade. It was a mystery of some sort, and before we turned the page to find out the surprise ending, the teacher asked us if anyone could guess what was going to happen. I guessed correctly, and the shock, surprise, and wonderment on her face gave me so much happiness and confidence that I couldn’t wait to read the next book she assigned! My love of reading (and writing) kicked into high gear from that point on!

How do you use literacy in your day-to-day life?

As a book publisher, writer, and editor, I not only use literacy in my day-to-day life, it has been my profession and my passion for 40 years.

Jeffrey working with an Adolescent Book Group student at Monarch School.

Jeffrey working with an Adolescent Book Group student at Monarch School.

What is your favorite book and why?

This is a nearly impossible question to answer because there are so many. Certainly Shakespeare and William Faulkner top the list of my favorite authors, and King Lear and As I Lay Dying are my two favorite works by these amazing writers. If forced to choose, I guess I’d go with King Lear. Why? Because it’s such a powerful, tragic story that encapsulates so much of the human condition.

What made you join the Words Alive board?

I wanted to make an impact on the lives of children and believe that encouraging strong reading and writing skills is the simplest and most effective way to change the story of a child’s life.

What has been your favorite aspect of being a Words Alive board member?

Working with the kids in the classroom; working with and becoming friends with the incredible Words Alive staff, volunteers, and my fellow board members; and being a champion of Words Alive out in the community.


Thank you, Jeffrey, for all you’ve done for Words Alive! Learn more about our Board of Directors here!

How the PGA Tour Supports More Than 3,000 Nonprofit Organizations

An image of three attendees of the Women’s Day Event stuffing Kindergarten Readiness Backpacks.

An image of three attendees of the Women’s Day Event stuffing Kindergarten Readiness Backpacks.

This past January marked the 52nd year that the Farmers Insurance Open was played at the Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego, California. This annual golf tournament brings in some of the largest golf names and attracts over 100,000 spectators. The PGA tour, its players, and the tournaments support more than 3,000 nonprofit organizations in numerous areas of their communities including youth, military, health, environment, education, and disaster relief. The PGA tour is a unique sporting event in the way that it runs similar to a nonprofit: it relies on volunteer support to run most aspects of the event and it is designed to donate 100% of the proceeds. Up through 2018, the PGA tour has generated $2.65 billion for charity, with that number steadily climbing.

Champions for Youth is the primary charitable program of the Century Club of San Diego, which is the administrative organization behind the Farmers Insurance Open. This year, Words Alive was one of the 10 chosen organizations in San Diego to participate in the Champions for Youth program. This means that not only did we embark on our most successful peer-to-peer fundraising campaign to date (our Board, staff, and volunteers collectively raised over $20,000!), we also had the opportunity to earn bonus funds from a pool of $260,000. In addition, we were able to participate in the Women’s Day Event, Community Day, and we hosted a special Read Aloud session with students from the Doris Miller Elementary School. Participating in these events allowed us to reach out to and interact with members of the community that we haven’t previously been able to.

An image of one of our Read Aloud students from Doris Day Elementary holding up a piece of paper that says “love.”

An image of one of our Read Aloud students from Doris Day Elementary holding up a piece of paper that says “love.”

For the Women’s Day Event, Farmers Insurance employees assisted us in putting together 1,000 Kindergarten Readiness backpacks for the children in our Family Literacy Program. These backpacks included the necessary school supplies for our littlest learners as they enter kindergarten, as well as a brand new book to start building the children’s home library. The event also brought together women in leadership positions across different sectors to discuss the importance of mentorship and their success.

Thanks to our community of supporters and the staff and volunteers who helped us fundraise, Words Alive was able to exceed our goal of raising $60,000. These generous donations will allow us to serve more than 300 students and families this year. Your belief and dedication to building communities who value reading is what enables us to continue giving back to the children and families of San Diego.

If you would like to learn more about Words Alive or keep your eye out for any other upcoming fundraisers, click here.