We had the good fortune of connecting with Rachael Orose and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Rachael, as a parent, what do you feel is the most meaningful thing you’ve done for them?
I know it may be cliche as it’s what I do for my “day job” but I am quite sure the most important thing I’ve done as a parent is instill a love of reading and stories in our 3-year old daughter. Not only does she love to read, but she fulfills her need for connection to others through the power of books. I’ve watched as she chooses books and expertly wiggles into the laps of unsuspecting, caring adults and ‘big kids’ ready to read. During the pandemic, she’s created missing connections with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins by asking them to read stories together on video chat. I know that she has this innate love that will help her love her life to the fullest as she grows.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Words Alive connects children, teens, and families with the power of reading.
Now, more than ever, the ability to read and understand what we read is critical for survival. Too many of our community members struggle to understand health guidance, unemployment, directions to feeding sites, or updates about their child’s education. As the devastating educational and economic effects of COVID-19 continue to compound, and the deep disparities in access to education that have existed for decades come to the surface, Words Alive’s proven programs connecting students and families to the power of reading have never been more necessary, or in demand.
For over 21 years, Words Alive has provided access to relevant and quality books, shared reading experiences, and a connection to reading that lays the foundation for continued success. Started as a program supporting teenage mothers on a journey through reading, our work has grown to bridge the gap in access to education for children ages 0-18 and families facing extraordinary circumstances such as homelessness, poverty, foster care, abuse, and impact by the juvenile justice system.
Words Alive prides itself with meeting children, teens, and families where they are with programming that works. With COVID-19 closing doors throughout San Diego, we quickly shifted our programming from the classroom to the living room.
We collaborate with 80+ schools and community organizations to reach vulnerable students and families. The online extension of our programming, developed in response to COVID-19, has connected more than 60,000 people with free learning resources through our website, and our engaging social media content – including daily, live storytimes – has been viewed more than 1.5 million times by students and families across the globe.
We are seeing the intended effects in this iterative design: opportunities for youth and families to have shared positive experiences, instilling the critical habit of reading at home, and building reading skillsets necessary for survival. These outcomes are designed to protect our youth’s opportunity and motivation to learn.
While many organizations struggled to identify meaningful virtual volunteer opportunities early in the pandemic, Words Alive was able to activate more than 1,000 global volunteers who share our love and passion for reading to support our mission and transition to pandemic-friendly programming. This reflects a 300% growth in our volunteer base in under a year. Words Alive has been featured as a leader in virtual volunteerism on panels hosted by partners and sought out by domestic and international Fortune 500 companies, universities, and service organizations looking to engage in meaningful service work. Our volunteers support the organization at every level: from reading weekly with wide-eyed children, to mentoring college-level scholars navigating higher education; from packaging crafts for families, to reviewing books to add to our robust and relevant curriculum.
The not-so-secret to our success has been leveraging the deep passion of our volunteers, staff, and families we serve to share their love of reading – and lived experiences – in a way that honors our mission and inspires our whole community to read together. We are constantly balancing the speed that we want to move with engaging the time, talent, and philanthropic investment available to propel us forward. It also helps that as the world continues to change around us, Words Alive has a clear, proven path to help our children and families succeed.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
My best friends are book nerds, like me! If I were to craft a bookish adventure it might look like:
Coffee and a few minutes to read or write at Brew Coffee Spot in La Mesa
Stop into Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in hunt of the next fun book to read
Special tour of the Rare Books Room at the San Diego Central Library
A delectable brunch at the Kensington Cafe
Tour of the Geisel Library at UCSD
Browse the shelves at Warwick’s bookstore in La Jolla
Catch a sunset at Ellen Browning Scripps Park thought to be an inspiration for many San Diego writers
Pick up some fish tacos from Oscar’s and head home to curl up with our new books!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Early in my career I had the opportunity to work for Kyle Zimmer, an earth-shattering, forward-thinking social entrepreneur in the children’s literacy and education sector. I’d like to dedicate this shoutout to her — at the time I worked for her I’m sure I was a loud-mouthed thorn in her side, and now every day I draw on all that I can remember about her leadership style, specifically how she approached her work humor and visionary thinking.
If I can make another dedication, it’s to my husband. He is not only an incredible dad, but a beacon for our family to ensure we are living our fullest, and most wonderful, life together.