Words Alive

Words Alive is deeply committed to our mission - to open opportunities for life success by inspiring a commitment to reading. Our programs exist because we want to make reading matter and change the story for low-income students and families in San Diego County.

Location: San Diego , CA
Year founded: 1999


At Words Alive, we are passionate about improving literacy and facilitating book owner-ship to bridge the opportunity gap for the low income families we serve throughout San Diego county.  We seek grant opportunities for each of our three programs and for general operating expenses; to help us buy books and supplies to support the families and classrooms we serve, to nurture our organization through qualified personnel and trained volunteers, and to obtain general operating funds to sustain our organization.

Many important studies prove the value of preschool through high school reading skills for a student’s academic development.  Words Alive’s three programs - Family Literacy, Read Aloud, and Teen Services - contribute in profound ways to our student’s scholastic success.  These programs created and directed through collaboration between Words Alive program staff, classroom teachers, and volunteers, feature book choices and curricula based on California Common Core State Standards, so that we can make the greatest impact in our classrooms.

Each year, Words Alive facilitates the distribution of over 10,000 books to more than 200 Pre-K, K-3rd, and high school classrooms.  These books are often the only books in a preschooler’s home, the first book that many of our elementary school children have owned, and an opportunity for our teenagers to share what they are reading in school with their friends and family.

But more than that, Words Alive’s 500 volunteers represent caring adults who serve as mentors and role models while they nurture San Diego’s under served communities.  Helping students do better in school is a great thing.  When we combine this with listening to a teenager’s ideas about what they’ve read, reading a book aloud to a school room of 3rd graders gathered together on the carpet, and teaching parents the importance of holding a child in their lap as they turn the pages of a picture book, we achieve our mission of opening opportunities for life success by inspiring a commitment to reading!

Family Literacy:  Words Alive’s Family Literacy Program, (FLP) was developed when we understood, that while you can show any child your love of reading, the child’s first teacher is their family.  Through specialized workshop sessions and supportive intervention conducted in Child Development Centers, we provide families with a significant home library of quality children’s books and engage parents through a unique and in-depth education workshop series to build their confidence and ability to cultivate positive reading habits at home.

Addressing access and achievement gaps in this way, we provide an unparalleled foundation of life-long reading for these children before they enter Kindergarten.  Even more than that, our team is trained to follow-up throughout the 7-week workshop to give the families concrete and simple instructions, to get them everything they need to follow through with the new information, such as supplies and resources, and to provide support while they practice their new skills by building in time with a facilitator to monitor and help.  Ultimately, we give our parents the supplies and information they need to produce positive outcomes. Yet, the most powerful aspect of our program is that we go a step farther to teach the parents why.  It's the integration of skills and understanding that brings about lasting change.

In the coming year, we look forward to reaching more families through new partnerships, including elementary schools in southeast San Diego as part of the Diamond Education Excellence Partnership (DEEP) and improving at-home strategies for families with home languages other than English.

Read Aloud: Schools in under served communities depend on volunteers and community support to work together to maintain a healthy educational system. We provide highly trained volunteers who engage with approximately 4900 children from low-income families in a specialized Read Aloud curriculum.  This program supports literacy development during what is widely accepted as the most critical stage of learning: pre-K through 3rd grade. Onsite lending libraries and bi-annual new book giveaways encourage children to share stories outside the classroom with their families and friends by supporting access and book ownership.

We are unique in that our program designs are based on San Diego school district curricula and Common Core guidelines to serve as  “teachable programs.”  Because our students are in a range of special circumstances, such as children from low-income households, the foster care system, homeless, the kinds of tools we develop are designed to meet each classroom’s specific needs. Beyond just putting a book in children and young people’s hands, we help them understand reading is a tool that opens doors to their future.

In 2014 we developed new, Read Aloud curricula that are used in more than 178 classrooms.  In the 2015-2016 program year, we are replicating that curriculum in additional classrooms, 12 of which will use a refined, small group model piloted in Monarch School, an educational facility in downtown San Diego that serves homeless youth.

Teen Services:  Within the framework of the Juvenile Court and Community Schools (JCCS) system, we conduct monthly Adolescent Book Club (ABG) sessions where we share our love of reading through directed discussion and writing groups, lead by trained volunteers.  The reading choices are based on curriculum chosen specifically for this population of at-risk youth; students who are referred to alternative classrooms based on extreme life situations such as homelessness, teen parenting, gang involvement, arrest probation, and foster care.  We also administer the Words Alive Westreich Scholarship (WAWS,) a post secondary program for qualified ABG recipients who are awarded supporting funds to support their education and a volunteer mentor to guide them through the process.

Because of our program's success, our JCCS (Juvenile Court and Community Schools) partner's administration has requested an expansion of our programs to all schools within the system. Words Alive plans to more than double our impact during the 2015/16 school year, expanding from 300 students to 450 - 500 students and from 13 to 20 classrooms.

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