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Former Investee Turns Crisis into Opportunity

Ten weeks ago Words Alive (SVP Investee from 2014-2017) worked with over 4,000 San Diego children and teens, many facing homelessness, poverty, and teen pregnancy, and connected them with the power of reading through innovative programs. When schools started closing, they quickly anticipated that many of the children and families they serve were now also grappling with loss of wages, finding new sources of food and childcare, filing for unemployment and health benefits, pivoting to in-home teacher roles, and health scares. They knew their 20+ year legacy working with families coping with trauma meant they had resources to help.

Their response, “Books Connect Us” leverages the best practices of their proven model to help children, teens, and families cope with stressful social distancing, stay engaged with shared virtual learning experiences, and remain connected through books at home. Since the pivot mid-March, more than 17,000 unique users from across the country have come to Words Alive's website; and they are currently averaging 450-500 new users each day. In the last 30 days alone, they've seen over 14,000 unique users visit their website and engaged another 13,000 through Facebook content. While an Investee, SVP strengthened Words Alive in a variety of ways that included support to articulate their strategic vision and develop clarity of purpose. This clarity and overall strength have come to the fore during this shift. Now, one of our Crisis Response Spark Teams are back at it with Words Alive by supporting them through some remaining question about their medium to long term strategy as we all move toward recovery.

  • Creating a robust, online platform, QuaranTEENS, to help teens use the power of writing and reading to navigate and cope with social distancing. Nearly 3 of 4 of their website visitors are looking for content for teens.

  • Starting a daily, virtual storytime for young children and families to fill the gap left by shuttered schools and libraries. On average, each of Words Alive's Story Station videos has been seen over 700 times; some nearly 2,500 times. Story Station has content in English and Spanish.

  • Enabling 110+ San Diego teachers, working in under-resourced schools, to integrate new virtual versions of Words Alive's core programs for elementary and high school students into distance learning. This model allows students to continue to be inspired and connected by the power of reading.

  • Delivering more than 7,250 books and 450 backpacks filled with new books, craft supplies, workbooks, and Words Alive resources to low-income families through long-standing partnerships with local school and nonprofit organizations managing food and resource distribution in targeted neighborhoods across the county.

  • Activating more than 125 virtual and at-home volunteers to help coordinate this response and implement virtual programming. More than 60 of these volunteers are new to Words Alive in the past few weeks. (Not included in this count are nearly 3 dozen youth volunteers who are currently developing videos for our novel “Kids Reading to Kids” series.) Because of this success, they've been approached by a number of companies, universities, and organizations interested in group-based virtual volunteer opportunities.

Given the potential of recurring social distancing, this shift is not just an emergency response, it is catapulting Words Alive’s model forward.

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