Volunteer Appreciation

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!  

Carolina Enriquez - Volunteer of the Month - December 2018

 
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Carolina is an aspiring editor who joined our Words Alive Family as an intern in the summer of 2018. Her writing skills, experience working and communicating in an office, and familiarity with social media marketing made her a perfect candidate for our social media internship. Throughout her internship, Carolina helped create content and measure our visibility on all platforms. She volunteered outside of her role to support our events as well! Carolina volunteered at the VIP Reception for the 2018 Author’s Luncheon and Fundraiser. There she met and interacted with Words Alive supporters, helped with setup and organization, and saw the finished product of her marketing efforts over the summer.

Carolina is a devoted and caring individual who fit in perfectly with our team! We have been so fortunate to have her positive attitude and skilled support over the past six months. Thank you, Carolina!

Learn more about Carolina from the interview below!

1. Tell us a little about yourself.

I grew up in San Diego all my life. Since I was very young I grew up loving books. Right now I’m a senior at San Diego State University, studying English and Publishing! I enjoy discovering new books and poems to read. Aside from that, I enjoy walking my dogs, hiking, and drinking lots of coffee! I aspire to be a creative editor for a publishing company one day!

2. How did you get involved with Words Alive?

During the summer of 2018, I didn’t take any classes and was just working at my job as a receptionist. I wanted to do something meaningful and related to my future field. Luckily I found an ad for Words Alive online and I promptly applied. What first got me interested was Words Alive’s mission to advocate for children’s literacy education. As a lover of books, I can’t imagine my life without reading. I think what they are doing is incredible!

3. What is the most rewarding part of your volunteer role(s)?

As a social media intern, I worked on creating content for various platforms. I absolutely loved my volunteer position and I learned a lot throughout my internship. The most rewarding part is probably knowing that the posts reached people and motivated them to volunteer! I also enjoyed writing the posts and seeing the impact Words Alive has in our community through the blog posts and even events like the Annual Author’s Luncheon and Fundraiser.

4. What are you reading lately?

I love a variety of genres in books. From fiction, nonfiction, YA, and classic literature. Right now I am reading “Becoming” by Michelle Obama.

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!

Board Spotlight: Kristina Houck!

An image of Kristina Houck standing in front of bookshelves and holding up a copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein.

An image of Kristina Houck standing in front of bookshelves and holding up a copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein.

Kristina Houck came to Words Alive when we folded Rolling Readers into our portfolio of programs in 2014. She is an award-winning journalist and currently works as an editor for Patch, covering San Diego and Marin counties. She previously served as a staff reporter for U-T Community Press, a group of community newspapers in San Diego's North County. 

With a background in journalism and public relations, Kristina sits on Words Alive’s Board, serves as Board Secretary, and chairs the Communication & Marketing committee. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science with minors in English and religious studies from San Diego State University. 

Kristina lives in the San Diego area with her husband, Jason, and son, Harrison.

Let’s hear more from Kristina herself!

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

I developed a love of reading at an early age. From Dr. Seuss books as a young child, to "The Baby-Sitters Club" series as a preteen, I constantly had a book in my hand. 

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

As a writer and editor, literacy is crucial to my everyday success. I read and write for work. I also read and write for pleasure. Most importantly, I read to my 19-month-old son, Harrison. It has been an absolute joy watching him discover books and already develop a love of reading. Some of his favorite books include "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," "Where Is Baby's Belly Button?" and "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom," which was one of my favorites as a child. 

What inspired you to join the Words Alive board?

I joined Words Alive by way of Rolling Readers, where I served as a board member and chaired the marketing committee. When Words Alive folded Rolling Readers into their programs in 2014, it was a natural fit for me to join the team. I whole-heartedly believe in the mission of the organization and have seen the impact of the Read Aloud, Adolescent Book Group, Family Literacy and Westreich Scholarship programs on the community. 

In addition to sitting on the board, I serve as Board Secretary and chair the Marketing & Communication Committee, which strives to share the amazing work we do with the greater public. As Marketing & Communication chair, I also spearhead our annual Share Your Love of Reading campaign, which invites San Diego's most prominent politicians, media personalities and other local celebrities to act as honorary readers in Words Alive classrooms. Students receive free books during the month-long campaign, which aims to raise awareness about the importance of literacy and reading aloud.

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

From working on the Share Your Love of Reading campaign, to visiting Words Alive classrooms and attending events, I've made so many memories and worked with amazing people while serving as a board member. It’s been truly rewarding to be a small part of an organization that has made such a big impact on the lives of children, teens and families in San Diego County. 

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

Jennifer Van Pelt - Volunteer of the Month - July 2018

 
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Please join us in congratulating Jennifer Van Pelt - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month for July 2018!

Jennifer has been a lead writer for the Words Alive Blog since February. Her ability to research and create content around relevant topics is a tremendous asset to our communication team and our organization. Her efforts continue to boost our blog views and highlight Words Alive as a leader in transforming lives through literacy.

We are so appreciative of the nearly 100 hours she has given in writing time so far!  And, we are thankful she shares her talent with our organization.

Thank you, Jennifer!

 

Check out the Volunteer of the Month Interview with Jennifer below:

Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a San Diego Native and attended SDSU for a Business Management Degree, emphasis in Human Resources. I enjoy talking to and helping people and also volunteer to teach English Second Language -- nothing is more rewarding to me than seeing others succeed. 

When and how did you first get involved with Words alive?
My passion for helping people is what attracted me to Words Alive. I love that we give our participants the tools to achieve their goals and inspire those around them to do the same.

What is the most rewarding part of your volunteer role(s)?
The most rewarding part of volunteering with Words Alive is being able to witness all of the good that Words Alive does -- our success stories, photos, and events speak volumes for the organization and the impact we have on others. I am excited to see how Words Alive grows!

What have you been reading lately?
I have been reading the Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, inspired by my recent trip to Greece!

What Does it Mean to Volunteer at Words Alive? (Part 2)

By Jennifer Van Pelt

This article is part of a series in which we highlight and celebrate stories from our volunteers, and explore what it means to volunteer at Words Alive. Read Part 1 here.

Our volunteers and donors at Words Alive enable us to serve over 5,000 students and families every year, and we would truly be unable to work towards our goal of inspiring a commitment to reading throughout San Diego County without all of their support. These volunteers are not only able to connect with students and exceed expectations when teaching in the classroom, but they are also passionate about the difference they make in student’s lives! They eagerly come back week after week because they enjoy working with children and they are able to see the inspiration they incite and change they make in the future of the children and their families. Read below for some first hand stories as to why our volunteers love being a part of our Words Alive family!

An image of Katherine Finley, Office and Teen Services Intern, with Jessica Fryman, Teen Services Program Manager, at the 2017 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Ceremony.

An image of Katherine Finley, Office and Teen Services Intern, with Jessica Fryman, Teen Services Program Manager, at the 2017 Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Ceremony.

Katherine Finley, Office and Teen Services Support Intern, said: “It is extremely gratifying knowing that I’m working with a cause that helps others discover and foster a love of reading. The impact Words Alive has is especially visible when attending the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship Ceremony and hearing the heartfelt stories of students improving their literacy skills and their futures.”

Many of our volunteers get involved with Words Alive as a way to continue their love for teaching or get involved in a career they perhaps weren’t able to pursue previously. Karen Malin, a Read Aloud Program and Event Committee Volunteer, said: “My volunteer work with Words Alive gives me the opportunity to tap into my varied experience acquired from 40 years in education. Whether writing curriculum, working with preschool parents, sharing the message of the importance of early literacy or reading with first graders (my favorite!) I am excited to be making a difference in the lives of children and families. Volunteering with Words Alive is energizing, fulfilling and a lot of fun!”

An image of Karen Malin, Read Aloud Program and Event Committee Volunteer, accepting an award at Councilmember Lorie Zapf's Volunteer Appreciation Day.

An image of Karen Malin, Read Aloud Program and Event Committee Volunteer, accepting an award at Councilmember Lorie Zapf's Volunteer Appreciation Day.

Julie Adams, a Words Alive Read Aloud Program volunteer is a retired speech/language pathologist. Part of her work included the encouragement of reading and discussing books as a family so vocabulary, language comprehension, and oral communication could improve. In retirement, she still strongly supports this development of pre-literacy and literacy skills by volunteering with Words Alive. She said, “I like to think that sharing a love of books with young children (and their teachers and parents) will be a kind of contagious act, infecting the receptive eyes, ears and minds of the listeners with a bug to read another good book...It’s exciting to see delight in the reaction of kids who suddenly figure out the meaning of an author’s “play with words”, or are able to point to and count words in a title, or notice an illustrator’s clue about what’s coming next, or share an emotion of a book character they like. Though it doesn’t happen with every book, it’s definitely reinforcing to me as a reader when kids spontaneously clap as the book ends and there is a clamor from the children to “read it again.” Why do I continue to volunteer with Words Alive? I hope I’m helping kids develop some of the very basic early literacy skills that will give them succeed as they move to formal reading instruction in school, and just as importantly, helping them develop a life-long love of books and reading.”

Petra Bauer-Ryan, an Adolescent Book Group Volunteer, has said, “I could not think of a more worthy cause. Sharing my passion for books and love for reading with these young minds and seeing them challenging themselves and growing is more rewarding and inspiring than I could put into words.”

These are just a few stories about the rewarding and inspiring experiences that our volunteers are able to enjoy every week with our students and families. As an organization with over 550 volunteers, there are countless more experiences to be shared by existing volunteers and even more to come from future volunteers! Whether you are a book-lover or enjoy teaching others, there are several different ways to bring your passion into the classroom. To get involved in supporting our mission of improving literacy in San Diego, visit our page here to review the opportunities and create a story of your own!

Sonya Williams - Volunteer of the Month - May 2018

 
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Please join us in congratulating Sonya Williams - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month for May 2018!

Sonya has been with our volunteer family since December.  She has already made such an impact on her Adolescent Book Group students and teachers at South Bay Blended Tech in National City. Sonya’s charisma is unparalleled, which makes her a dynamic facilitator. She has a knack for commanding attention from her group of raucous teens while keeping the session fun and engaging. She makes it a point to provide one on one attention, connecting with individual students throughout each creative writing session.

Sonya has also contributed to the program by writing curriculum guides.  And, she has started to help facilitate volunteer orientations – sharing her classroom experiences and tips with new volunteers. 

Her support is well-rounded and given with such positivity and energy.  Sonya, we are so lucky to work with you!  Thanks for giving us your time.

Check out the Volunteer of the Month Interview with Sonya below:

Tell us a little about yourself.
I have always loved reading. As a young child, I was always sneaking off to read a book (and I still do). My love of reading took me to England for my master’s degree in English Literature, inspired me to start several book clubs, teach college, ESL and literacy classes, run an educational center, write curriculum, and develop training programs and e-learning courses. These days, I also spend a lot of time reading Mo Willems books with my kids.

What is the most rewarding part of your volunteer role(s)?
I initially got involved with Words Alive to develop curriculum, but was convinced to teach an ABG writing class, and I’m glad I did. It’s so rewarding to develop real connections with individual students, and to see a powerful, personal piece of writing come from a student who doesn’t speak in class. And it’s inspiring to work with the classroom teachers who invest their lives in these students.

What have you been reading lately?
I’m currently reading Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward.

Board Spotlight: Sharon Bakcht!

A picture of Sharon Bakcht at our Volunteer Appreciation Event. She is holding her award for Leadership Volunteer of the Year.

A picture of Sharon Bakcht at our Volunteer Appreciation Event. She is holding her award for Leadership Volunteer of the Year.

Sharon Bakcht is one of our newest Board Members but she's already proven to be dedicated to making positive change with us at Words Alive! Sharon is a San Diego native and has 16+ years of experience in strategic planning, innovation leadership, and marketing strategy in a variety of sectors. She currently heads up early stage innovation programs at WD-40 Company for the Americas region. A native of San Diego, Sharon is passionate about fostering positive impact in the local community.

Sharon recently was awarded Leadership Volunteer of the Year at our 9th Annual Volunteer Appreciation Event. Sharon’s journey with Words Alive started three years ago when our partnership with San Diego Social Venture Partners began. She volunteered to serve as the marketing lead with our project and led our staff and leadership in developing and executing our marketing plan. She continues to provide support in her area of expertise on our marketing and communication committee.

Now, let's hear from Sharon herself!

  • What was your relationship with literacy as a child?

As a child I loved looking at picture books in Spanish with my parents, who emigrated from Mexico City. My parents mistakenly thought I could read before the age of two because I would memorize the words and say them at the right times.

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

As a preteen, I was a voracious consumer of The Babysitter's Club and Sweet Valley High series. I loved immersing myself in the lives of these characters and their worlds. I spent a lot of time checking books out of libraries!

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

Literacy is an imperative for my success every day.  I read for pleasure, read for work, and most importantly, I read to my 1.5 year old son, whose face lights up with wonder every time we read new stories and re-read beloved books like "The Hungry Caterpillar". One of my son's absolute favorite books was given to us by Words Alive - "How To Make Vegetable Soup" in Spanish and English. It's the best hearing that little voice say "tomato!" and "water the seeds!"

  • What impact would being illiterate have on your life? Would you have the same profession if you couldn’t read?

Would you have the same profession if you couldn’t read?  Without literacy, I could not have achieved higher education in Psychology and Business Administration, and have the career I do today, leading product innovation programs at WD-40. Literacy is absolutely essential to my success.

  • What is your favorite book and why?

"A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" by Dave Eggers. Some books touch your soul. This was one such for me. The way Dave Eggers writes gets straight to the heart of emotion, and revealed to me what it means to be vulnerable, loving, and humorous in the face of personal tragedy.

  • What was your favorite book as a child and why?

“The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. I loved seeing the relationship between the boy and the tree evolve. Looking back now, I can see that the simplicity of the way the book reveals the moral of the story is brilliant.

  • Do you have a favorite memory relating to reading?

So many! I loved reading Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City" when I was a young twenty-something living in San Francisco. I imagined a wilder San Francisco of the past.

  • What made you join the Words Alive board?

I am truly passionate about language, books, stories, and the roles they play in our lives. On top of this, the staff at Words Alive is top-notch. I couldn't imagine a brighter, more effective, and more dedicated team.

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

The adventure has just begun!

Mercedes Santiago - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month - April 2018

 
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Please join us in congratulating Mercedes Santiago - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month for April 2018!

Mercedes has been a Words Alive Volunteer for over two years.  She is a devoted reader who brings consistency and positive energy to each of her Read Aloud Program sessions.  Mercedes is also one of the first to respond to fill in for a fellow reader.  She has volunteered for the organization's annual fundraiser, the Author's Luncheon as well. We rely so much on commitment and follow through, and Mercedes exemplifies those traits in a volunteer.

Thanks, Mercedes, for your commitment and enthusiasm! 

 

Check out the Volunteer of the Month Interview with Mercedes Santiago below:

Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Mercedes Santiago and I retired after 38 years of being a school counselor for San Diego Unified School District. I'm very grateful that I had such a wonderful career supporting teachers, administrators, parents and those amazing students. Just as my career was fulfilling my retirement is equally as rich. I enjoy new experiences, salsa dancing, the arts, yoga, meditating and volunteering. Life is too good to sit back and not participate!

How did you get involved with Words Alive?
I must thank my friends, Charlene Sapien and Estela Salazar, who introduced me to Words Alive. Reading has been the perfect vehicle to be part of student's lives.

What is the most rewarding part of your volunteer role(s)?
Seeing the children smiling so happy when you enter the classroom is just as thrilling and exciting for me as it is to them. I really like to spend time listening to the student's understanding of the message and how it relates to them. I like to expound upon self-respect and tolerance whenever the book bridges these topics. I truly look forward to our time together.

What have you been reading lately?
I love having a book in my hand and presently I'm enjoying Howard Cutler M.D. & His Holiness the Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness. Cutler writes that Dali tells you that happiness is the purpose of life and that every motion of our life is towards happiness. How to get there has always been the question. For me, it's service to others that truly makes me happy.

Thank you all for bringing joy to children.

Meghan Scripture - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month - March 2018

 
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Please join us in congratulating Meghan Scripture - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month for March 2018!

Meghan is a passionate and energetic addition to our volunteer family.  She joined the Teen Services Program this past fall as a book group facilitator at Monarch.  Since then, she has flourished in the classroom with her group of students. Meghan livens up the discussion by facilitating cooperative learning opportunities to encourage student participation. Her volunteer teammates often sing her praises, recognizing engaging ideas she brings to the classroom and the support she brings to the team.

In addition to her classroom support, she has helped spread the word about our programs and even recruited more volunteer support from her current employer, GoFundMe.

Meghan is a joy to work with and we feel lucky to have her in our program.  Thanks for the work you do for our community!

Check out the Volunteer of the Month Interview with Meghan Scripture below:

Tell us a little about yourself.
As a former military brat, I found that having my nose in a book was a way to bring comfort and familiarity to each new city and home. I majored in English because I simply couldn't imagine what else I could possibly be as interesting as reading and writing. Graduation and a job in sales had me itching for more, so at 26, I found myself in South Korea working as an ESL teacher. Two years later, my thirst for living abroad still wasn't quenched, so I joined the Peace Corps and was blessed to be placed in a remote Fula village in The Gambia- a tiny country known as the "Smiling Coast of Africa." Upon my return, I made my home in San Diego and am loving life on this very different, but equally amazing coast working for GoFundMe, a company I believe in.

How did you get involved with Words Alive?
One of the best parts of Peace Corps for me was meeting one my best friends, Jess Fryman, who introduced me to Words Alive after moving out to San Diego and finding a job that she was truly passionate about. I've become a huge fan of Words Alive and all the opportunities it brings to so many kids in the greater San Diego area.

What is the most rewarding part of your volunteer role(s)?
I'd say the most rewarding part of my volunteer experience so far has been the little moments. We've had a couple of sessions where the kids are excited about the topic that they just keep talking. It's also been a pleasant surprise to see that regardless of the topic, these young minds are mature and introspective in ways I just didn't expect. I feel at times they are teaching *me* a thing or two!

What have you been reading lately?
I'm currently reading Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. Apartheid is such a heavy topic, but he makes it so digestible with his impeccable comedic timing and wit.