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Celebrating 75 Years of Transforming Lives: Honoring Volunteers’ Impact on Struggling Readers

Categories: Activities, General, Giving, In the News, Public Policy/Advocacy, Volunteerism

It's Volunteer Appreciation Month, (2023) and Learning Ally is dedicating the entire month to celebrate our Volunteer Nation, and to thank the dedicated individuals across the globe for decades of their generous support and service to our organization. 

We are also celebrating our 75th Anniversary! 

volunteers faces on a screen For over 75 years, Learning Ally has relied on the tremendous support of volunteers to transform the lives of struggling readers and to reach more students as the literacy crisis continues to grow in the U.S. Serving this many students is no small undertaking. At the heart of our mission, our volunteers enable Learning Ally to continue to make strides in achieving literacy for all. In fact, in 2022, Learning Ally continued to make leaps and bounds, supporting over 2 million students and 450,000 educators nationwide. 

Who is the Volunteer Nation?

The Volunteer Nation is a global community of volunteers who bring their unique skills to make an impact on literacy and life outcomes for struggling readers in the U.S. Talented and passionate individuals from diverse backgrounds join Learning Ally weekly, including students, young professionals, seasoned educators, voice-over artists, university professors, retirees, and even former users of Learning Ally’s solutions. Last year alone, more than 2,790 volunteers donated 35,470 hours. Volunteers bring to life stories in the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution and Excite Reading, and they support strategic initiatives to grow our reach, engagement, and impact. 

Over Learning Ally’s 75-year history, volunteers have contributed to creating our audiobook library of over 80,000 titles for students to use in school and beyond. Today, our volunteer impact spans all areas of Learning Ally’s mission. Volunteers help Learning Ally engage and empower educators to be literacy leaders. They support call campaigns to thank donors and inform schools about grants available to them. They also assist at our annual conferences, conduct research, and contribute to advocacy efforts. 

Through our Corporate Volunteer Program, Learning Ally has welcomed thousands of employee volunteers from companies such as PwC, Yahoo!, Bloomberg, and CSAA. Our Corporate Volunteer Program helps to spread our mission to new individuals while assisting companies in giving back to their community.

How did the Volunteer Nation start? 

In the late 1940s, Learning Ally founder Anne T. Macdonald recognized a growing need for audiobooks when wounded war veterans returned from WWII newly blind. Macdonald set a precedent for how technology could be used to support equitable access to literacy. She famously said, “Education is a right, not a privilege.”

Today, Learning Ally volunteers are part of a historic community that continues these values of ensuring accessible education for all. In the digital age, we affectionately refer to our volunteer community as the #VolunteerNation because volunteerism at Learning Ally has grown exponentially, with individuals involved nationwide and now around the globe. Not only are our volunteers passionate about supporting students, but they are also thoughtful, determined, and caring to our staff members. They possess the true qualities of a Literacy Leader.

Our Earliest Volunteer Efforts

On average, we have over 200 volunteers working in 30 roles each month. Our largest and longest-standing volunteer program is in audiobook production. Volunteers have been supporting the creation of audiobooks since Macdonald first began recording books on vinyl records in the basement of the New York Public Library. Back then, each record could only fit fifteen minutes of audio. Recording one book required a great deal of time. 

As Learning Ally adapted to technological advances, so too did our volunteers. The Volunteer Nation eventually moved on to record books on cassettes and CDs at our 26 recording studios throughout the U.S. to volunteer. Now, many volunteers record professional quality narrations from their home studios. Learning Ally has one studio open today in Texas, which is often visited by students from universities to learn about the audiobook industry and donate their time to support our mission. Remote or in-person, it takes a team of 12-15 volunteers to produce one single audiobook. 

Learning Ally is beyond grateful for the many volunteers who generously donate their time and energy to serving students and educators across the country. With the support of our Volunteer Nation, Learning Ally has been able to help struggling readers achieve their full potential for over 75 years. Together we’re working towards literacy for all, and we look forward to 75 more years with our Volunteer Nation. 

Thank you, Learning Ally Volunteers, for your many years of service transforming literacy and life outcomes for students. 

Do you want to join the Volunteer Nation? 

Learn how to get involved as a volunteer with Learning Ally by visiting our website.