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Why I Volunteer: Kristi Benson

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Guest Blog by Kristi Benson, Learning Ally Volunteer  My son, Drew’s, reading fluency and piccomprehension has always been a point of difficulty since the beginning of his schooling. His issues due to autism (academically, socially, and behaviorally) often overshadowed his reading disability. Towards the end of Drew’s 8th grade year, his teacher noted that it appeared Drew had hit a “ceiling” in his reading comprehension and would likely never be able to comprehend past a 3rd grade level. His fluency was just too slow for him to comprehend. He was reading at about 40 wpm (words per minute). He did comprehend at a higher level when it was read to him, but he could not read independently. He would often see the first letter of a word and guess what it was, especially when it was a long word. In 9th grade, we were trying to keep Drew on a diploma-track. We put Drew into English I with a “reading readiness” supplemental class. Both classes required a significant amount of silent independent reading, which he could not do. He was failing his classes after just a month into high school. We decided to take him off “diploma-track” and move him to “certificate-track”, which is something I have been fighting to avoid. It was a very difficult decision, but given his age and time left in school, it appears to be the right decision. When I discovered Learning Ally in September 2014, it was in a search of desperation to help my son who was hitting a “ceiling” in his reading comprehension because of his reading disability. In the first two weeks, the “trial period”, my son read FOUR age-appropriate novels in TWO weeks and understood them! I was floored.
A whole new world opened up to him and I knew I had to find a way to give back to the organization who helped my son. Labeled a “reluctant reader” his entire life who seemed to only like to look at the pictures instead of read, my son now devours books. It has been life-changing.
Also, I love reading with my kids and I thought it would be fun to help other people while doing something that I already enjoy! That's when I decided to volunteer. From Parent Member to Virtual Volunteer I thoroughly enjoy volunteering in general. The flexibility that volunteering offers me, allows to be involved with my children but still have something that is mine. It’s priceless. This is going to sound odd, but I love feeling smart again. Volunteering for Learning Ally allows me to reach into the depths of my knowledge and all the academia from days gone by and apply it to my reading and checking.
It is also my way of giving back to an organization that I only wish I had found sooner for my son. The difference Learning Ally makes in his life is still being realized daily.
I have told everyone I can about Learning Ally, its impact on Drew, and the value and fun of volunteering to read or check. I have made it a personal mission of mine to spread the word about Learning Ally to the school media centers where I regularly volunteer, to the teachers at our schools, to other parents, and to my family. I am proud to be serving with Learning Ally. I always like to work with the end user in mind. It’s motivating to me to deliver an excellent product that the end user will benefit well from. I often imagine who I might be reading to when I’m reading. Volunteering Virtually  Since I don’t live close enough to a brick and mortar recording studio, I volunteer virtually - at home, via a computer. With my schedule and my four children’s schedules, it would not be possible for me to come into a brick and mortar studio. So I am so grateful that the virtual studio (VS) option opened up the possibility for me to volunteer when it is convenient for me. Even though I am not in a studio, I get to connect with other volunteers through Google Hangouts (a google platform allowing people to chat). It is a fantastic way for us to feel like we are part of a community! I thought it was neat that I “discovered” another St. Olaf Ole in the group (we both went to St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN -- about 20+ years difference between us, but still a “small world” connection!) I Know it Helps After discovering books from Learning Ally, my son quite literally can read, and comprehend what he is reading! The books which highlight text as he is reading are especially helpful to him. I had no idea my son wanted so desperately to read age-appropriate books by himself. I can say with confidence that his sense of independence, his increased ability to do other things on his own (better writing and verbal communication), and his improved self-esteem are all (at least in part) directly related to reading with Learning Ally books.
Never underestimate the job you are doing. It is quite literally providing access to a world that my son didn’t know was possible.
Had someone introduced us to Learning Ally earlier in his schooling, I feel confident he would have done much better. I cannot stress enough the importance of getting this service out to parents of children with a reading disability at a young age.   REVISED-LALogo_Stacked_Tag - CopyIf you would like to volunteer or donate to Learning Ally, a national 501(c)(3) non-profit, please find information here. For those with a certified print disability, we also over a library of over 80,000 human narrated audiobooks, voiced by volunteers just like Kristi. Discover membership options here.

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