By Frances O’Neill Zimmerman
For a good time, call maestra Amanda at (858) 274-9673.
This San Antonio-born Texas rose will explain everything you need to know about joining Words Alive, a local literacy non-profit now seeking adult volunteers for this school year which runs from October through May.
If you’re into reading stories aloud and think you would enjoy doing same for pre-school kids who return the favor by imagining you are nice, fun and funny – Words Alive is meant for you.
Or, if survivor teenagers are your cup of tea, you can lead a monthly book discussion for determined high school students from the County’s Juvenile Court and Community Schools. There’s a volunteer writing-help brigade as well – part of Words Alive’s Adolescent Book Group.
Not to worry about feeling insecure: all WA volunteers work in pairs or groups.
Words Alive’s Amanda Birmingham Bonds, an early childhood educator whose mom was also a pre-school teacher, pulls these remarkable programs together. She will orient you to whichever age group you prefer and explain the few simple requirements such as fingerprinting and TB tests.
Full disclosure: this will be my fourth year reading at Hawthorne Early Childhood Education Center in Clairemont. I can testify that participating in Words Alive is a great and rewarding experience, made effortless by its excellent professional staff. Call Amanda at (858) 274-9673. She will encourage you, guide you and sign you up.
Words Alive Early Literacy Services (ELS)
For ELS you are paired with another adult partner to read aloud to pre-school children ages 3 to 5 years old. “Readers” commit to a few morning hours once a month from October through May at one of 12 public early childhood education centers around town. The kids wear nametags and after a while, you know their names by heart. No rummaging for book titles is necessary — all books are pre-selected and on-site. This program reaches 800 children annually.
In the classroom, everyone gets to know one another – kids, “readers,” aides and teachers. Two stories are read aloud by the Words Alive volunteers. Kids learn to raise their hands to speak about the action and ideas in the author’s story. They appreciate the art work and imagine being the illustrator. They notice that reading happens from left to right and from top to bottom, and that books have front and back covers, spines and title pages, and dedications to friends or family in front.
Every volunteer “reader’s” unique style is valued and there is no rigid performance formula. Thirty minutes per class. Twice each year, every child gets a book, gratis, for his or her personal library. In the Fall, volunteers personalize each child’s book, but by Spring the children are able to inscribe their names independently. Small steps and amazing change!
Positive experiences of being “read-to” for a little kid set the stage for lifetime learning through reading. Early literacy experience in pre-school with read-alouds, attentive listening, sharing conversation about story ideas and how they relate to everyday life, identifying letters and sounding them out, learning about the public library – all contribute to having more fun and being able to navigate the customs and curriculum of modern kindergarten. But above all, early literacy exposure in pre-school is a source of pleasure and good memories about reading and sets up positive habits that can last a lifetime.
Words Alive Adolescent Book Group (ABG)
This original Words Alive literacy outreach program was designed for teenagers and continues to this day. Groups of Words Alive volunteers lead monthly Book Club discussions from October through May for 250 high school students from nine San Diego County Juvenile Court and Community Schools and one center for pregnant and parenting teenagers. Meetings take place at area public high schools and Book Club discussions last for one and a half hours.
In the last two years ABG has added twice-monthly expository writing exercises for these students, with prompts related to the Book Club’s monthly reading. Words Alive volunteers also staff the writing program.
ABG grads who wish to continue their education are eligible for Words Alive Ruth Westreich Foundation Scholarships ranging from $500 to $3000 each. These grants are renewable and can be used for basic needs as well as for continuing academic work or vocational training. Words Alive volunteers mentor these young people after high school graduation.
Words Alive Founding Benefactors
This non-profit was started in 1999 by Leslie Lyons who was both licensed social worker and professional book club facilitator. She wanted to connect “at-risk” youth with the pleasure of reading. Margie Blitz, an early WA board member, was interested in early childhood literacy. Ruth Westreich believed it was important to extend educational opportunity beyond high school.
Today the 501(c)3 Words Alive operates on a $400,000 budget with income divided by thirds among foundations, small grants and individual contributions. The organization has a Silver Guidestar rating.
Words Alive follows a social service model of change called “collective impact,” and so has established a relationship with the City Heights Partnership (Price Family Foundation and United Way. ) Amanda Bonds trains local Spanish-speaking “promotoras” how to teach area Spanish-speaking parents about kindergarten readiness. Similarly, Words Alive works with the Diamond Educational Excellence Partnership task force (Jacobs Center and United Way) on kindergarten reading readiness for children ages 0 to 5.
For the first time in January 2014, Words Alive will offer six-week family literacy experiences for parents at all its 12 pre-school sites. The program will encourage parents in their roles as their small children’s first teachers and coach them in the art of reading aloud and talking together about stories.