Words Alive was established in 1999 by Leslye Lyons, a social worker and voracious reader. The organization was founded on the belief that if you value reading and understand its fundamental connection to all aspects of your life, then you will be better equipped to thrive as a lifelong learner and productive member of your community.


Leslye and a team of volunteers had the idea to implement a book club program for at-risk populations. This idea would become our flagship program, the Adolescent Book Group (ABG). Based on the traditional book club model of reading a book and hosting a facilitated discussion with club members, this program was created and then tested with the help of another local entity serving at-risk populations. After it proved successful, Words Alive developed curriculum and training materials and piloted the program at Lindsay Community Day School, a site that serves pregnant and parenting teens. This program continues to be administered today by highly trained book group facilitators and volunteers who use books and thoughtfully planned curriculum guides to reach at-risk teens. 


After establishing the first ABG site, the Words Alive founding volunteers turned their focus to early literacy.  Research shows that teaching children reading proficiency before third grade is instrumental in ensuring their success as readers in the future. For this reason, Words Alive developed an integrated read aloud program for preschoolers from low-income households. This Early Literacy Intervention model (ELI) ensured that these children would receive the same critical reading experiences crucial to pre-literacy development as their more affluent peers, preparing them for kindergarten and beyond. 

In January 2014, Words Alive welcomed Rolling Readers to our family of literacy programs.  For over 20 years Rolling Readers has provided read-aloud opportunities for elementary school students throughout San Diego. From this addition, we repackaged our programming to provide services to our littlest learners, teens and families through the Read Aloud, Teen Services, and Family Literacy programming.

Words Alive Today


Today, Words Alive proudly serves 5,500 students and families monthly through the support of our cadre of volunteers who donated thousands of hours in 2015.

Volunteers in our Read Aloud Program read weekly in 181 classrooms and this program has expanded to help not only preschoolers, but also kindergarten through 3rd grade students, to connect with the joy of reading while developing cognitive and verbal skills. Our Adolescent Book Group currently engages 450 at-risk teens across 22 classrooms and has expanded to not only include book-club style discussions, but also writing sessions and developmental workshops that build language, reading fluency, and critical thinking skills.

In addition to these two initial programs, we have since developed a Family Literacy Program and the Westreich Scholarship Program. Our Family Literacy Program focuses on empowering parents with the confidence, techniques, and materials that leads to deepened reading engagement with their children. In 2016, we trained our new partners at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Garden Grove to implement this program at their facility, marking the first time that one of our programs has been used outside of San Diego County.

The Westreich Scholarship program awards approximately 10-15 students from our Teen Services program with scholarship money in support of their pursuit of higher education. In 2016, 15 students were awarded with 10 students attending community college, 4 students attending a four-year university, and one student pursuing a master’s degree.

Here's a snapshot of our impact today:

  • 3 core programs - Read Aloud, Teen Services & Family Literacy

  • 5,725 program participants

  • 5,723 literacy program sessions

  • 500 + volunteers delivering over 8,800 hours

  • 215 classrooms

  • 22,251 books donated

  • 30 collaborative partners

Our Values

At Words Alive, our programs and impact made in the community are driven by our core values, which represent the motivation, dedication, and focus of our Words Alive staff and volunteers. Our values include:

  • Commitment: by pledging to make reading matter for everyone

  • Equitability: by working to level the playing field

  • Empowerment: by investing in lifelong learners

  • Responsiveness: by listening to community needs and developing innovative solutions

  • Collaboration: by partnering with the community

  • Connectedness: by creating a familial environment that includes all Words Alive participants and supporters

Words Alive is so proud of the progress that has been made since our founding in 1999, and we look forward to continuing to make reading matter for numerous children, teens, and adults throughout San Diego County and beyond.

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