Volunteer Recruitment

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!

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.

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.

Karen Archer - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month - February 2018

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Please join us in congratulating Karen Archer - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month for February 2018!

Karen is a newer member of the Words Alive volunteer team, and in her first program year with us has helped pilot our Read Aloud Afterschool Program in Oceanside! 

Karen has been a real superstar in this important expansion to Oceanside.  She has always remained positive and committed as we have found our way with a new initiative, delivering in an after-school site, and delivering a new curriculum for 4th and 5th graders.  I could not have wished for a more flexible and passionate volunteer, who clearly shares in our mission to bring a real love of reading to our young readers.

Karen is also an avid participant in the organization’s volunteer events.  She makes an effort to attend each monthly Cookies and Conversation hour, contributing to great discussion.  We are very appreciative of the huge commitment in the classroom she honors each week, and we enjoy working with Karen.  Thank, Karen!

Check out the Volunteer of the Month Interview with Karen Archer below:

Tell us a little about yourself.
I’ve been married for almost 38 years.  My husband, Bob, and I have two boys and six grandchildren.  Unfortunately, half are in Connecticut and the other half are in Italy.  We moved from Connecticut to Carlsbad in 2003. It only took one winter to fall in love with Southern California.    I retired from my Family Law Paralegal position in June of 2016.  Then waited for Bob to retire from Pfizer in April 2017. When I’m not reading to the “wigglers,” as we refer to the children in the Read Aloud Program, I read on my own, do counted cross stitch and “clean” cook.  (I stay away from any processed foods, so I make my own vegetable broth, mayo, ketchup, BBQ sauce, ice cream, etc.)  Bob is a member of the Carlsbad Senior Volunteer Police.  We started our own business, Archer Woodcraft, so on weekends we sell household items such as hardwood cutting boards, wine caddies, tissue boxes, and custom furniture at the College of the Desert Street Fair.   We are busier than ever doing all the things we love.

How did you get involved with Words Alive?
I never managed to make the time to volunteer while I was working.  One of my "after retirement" goals was to find a way to help my community by doing something I’m passionate about. I found the Words Alive posting on Volunteer Match and couldn’t wait to start.  To be able to help young children find the joys of reading is perfect.    

What is the most rewarding part of your volunteer role(s)?
I absolutely love to watch the emotions roll across these young children's faces as a story unfolds.  They can’t wait to find out what book I’m going to read.  When I begin, they sit back, relax and come along for the adventure.  

What have you been reading lately?
I recently finished reading Daughters of the Night Sky by Aimie K. Runyan and am currently reading The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.  Both are wonderful reads.

April Hayter de Lopez - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month - November 2017

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Please join us in congratulating April Hayter de Lopez - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month for November!

April started with Words Alive in 2012 as a reader in our Read Aloud Program.  She then transitioned to the Adolescent Book Group (ABG) program.  For the past three years, April has successfully volunteered in North county sites to facilitate the book group, and has led both volunteer teams and students to have an amazing experience with the program!

April is the lead volunteer at Innovations Academy of Empowerment, where the book group meets every other week. She is a positive and motivating force who keeps her volunteer team and their sessions on track.  She is always open to trying new ideas to increase student engagement.  Thanks for all you do to make our program successful!

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

Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is April Hayter de Lopez. I am starting my third year at Words Alive.  I love to read and have been in a book group for many years. In fact, members of my book group are the ones who got me interested in Words Alive. I really love to be with kids, so when my own went off to college, Words Alive gave me the perfect opportunity to continue to connect with teens. I work with the elderly as a social worker, so I feel privileged to work with people on both ends of the age spectrum.

What is the most rewarding part of your volunteer role(s)?
The most rewarding part of volunteering for me is when I'm talking with a teen and feel a spark, an interest between us, as we discuss books and life. I am excited when someone who doesn't particularly like reading gets hooked into a story and wants to read ahead.  When a teen can relate to the story or to a character from their own life, it is wonderful.

What have you been reading lately?
I am currently reading An Unquiet Mind by Kay Jamison, and Feed by M T Anderson.

Kitty McGee - Words Alive Volunteer of the Month - September 2017

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Please join us in congratulating Kitty McGee – Words Alive Volunteer of the Month for September 2017!

Kitty joined the Words Alive Event Committee this past spring, and jumped right in as a new member, contributing her graphic design skill set.  She has a wealth of corporate design experience which she generously applied to the creation of our wonderful Author’s Luncheon and Fundraiser event material as well as general Words Alive outreach collateral. We offered a new feature at the event this year – the Words Alive Passport – which Kitty designed as well.  The passport was a huge success and encouraged guests to visit each table to learn about the work of the organization.  Kitty has also been a great new source of special event expertise, and helped with soliciting silent auction items for the event.

Kitty has been an integral part of this committee and organization, providing fresh ideas and perspective.  She volunteered to support at the event as well.  We are so grateful for her volunteer service and her part in our successful event!  Thank you, Kitty!

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

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a freelance graphic designer, with a specialty in editorial and corporate print design. I am the former art director of several magazines, including American Airlines American Way, America West Magazine, TWA’s Ambassador magazine, Arizona Trend, and Texas Homes. I received my degree in journalism from Northern Arizona University, and am currently a licensed private pilot and a member of BIA Toastmasters.

Though currently attempting to retire, I still have a few clients/friends who keep me busy. I am now available to pursue some pro bono work when not traveling, riding a boogie board, or paddling a kayak.

How did you get involved with Words Alive?

I first heard of Words Alive through one of my book clubs, and then followed through with Andrea MacDonald, who happens to be the daughter-in-law of my neighbor. (It takes a village……!)

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

The most rewarding part of this particular volunteer role is the ability to bring a level of professional design to a group that wouldn’t normally have access to it due to economics. And then to delight those clients is priceless!

What are you reading lately?

What’s on my nightstand?  Well, Salman Rushdie of course!  Along with The Soul of an Octopus (Sy Montgomery, found at the Atlanta Aquarium), and The Little French Bistro (Nina George, from a Warwick’s event).

Bring a Friend - the Foundation of Growth

Words Alive Volunteers Chris Britton, Mona Moon, and Ed Hieshetter at the 2017 Volunteer Appreciation Event.

Words Alive Volunteers Chris Britton, Mona Moon, and Ed Hieshetter at the 2017 Volunteer Appreciation Event.

Since inception in 1999, Words Alive has relied on the leadership, creativity, and dedication of volunteers to deliver and grow our programming.  Our volunteer team makes us unique and effective - enabling us to reach over 5,500 students and families each month with contributed hours that more than double the impact of our staff alone. As our organization grows to meet increasing needs in the community, so does our volunteer team.  The means to that growth?  Personal invitation.

Our volunteers are some of the most capable and accomplished teachers, librarians, school administrators, lawyers, corporate professionals, and students in the community.  Their networks are also flush with talented and compassionate people, just waiting for an introduction to the right organization so that they can find a meaningful and impactful connection to giving. Tobi Johnson, President of VolunteerPro and seasoned volunteer manager, writes in her 2017 Volunteer Management Progress Report that 85% of people do not volunteer until asked.  We encourage our volunteers to ask. Volunteers are the leading champions of an organization.  They are able to talk to your mission and provide heartfelt stories of their experiences with your served populations. New supporters they bring in to your organization will be just as powerful.

Asking, or referring, friends and network contacts to volunteer within our organization has proven to be the most effective means of volunteer growth for Words Alive. Last year we piloted a volunteer recruitment campaign that incentivized referrals to our program, highlighting the power of personal invitation. We successfully onboarded over 20 referred volunteers within three short months, and referrals continue to come in.  In totality, our team of over 550 volunteers has a sourcing rate of 52% by referral.

We have just kicked off the second year of the "Bring a Friend" referral-based recruitment campaign.  The campaign runs May through September, and incentivizes volunteer referrals and awareness around the power of personal invitation to stimulate the growth we need to staff our upcoming fall semester with qualified and dedicated volunteers. Any Words Alive volunteer who brings a friend to a session, to an event, or to an orientation is entered into a drawing to receive a prize at the culmination of the campaign.  All volunteers will receive thanks and recognition for participating. 

With just a little over a month left in the school year, now is the time to bring your friends along to your own session or to one of their interest!  Contact Christina Meeker, Volunteer Program Manager, to set up a visit!  We also have new volunteer orientations scheduled monthly which provide an overview of the organization and the ways one can get involved.

Join the campaign now through September, and bring your friend to meet our organization!