At the Rock Family of Companies, we often talk about the importance “tying threads,” which means finding innovative ways to solve for issues through creative collaboration across teams. A perfect example of this “thread tying” is how we supported the work of our education and employment team while providing our 30,000 team members a way to still make an impact in our communities during the pandemic.
Through virtual volunteering, our team members have been able to support our nonprofit partners in a safe but still impactful way. In fact, many of our team members expressed surprise at how meaningful their virtual experiences were. Many of the most popular virtual experiences involved interacting directly with residents in our home communities, like making phone calls to provide COVID resources to Detroiters, or making wreaths and writing letters to new Habitat for Humanity homeowners.
Recently, many of our team members participated in a virtual volunteer experience with Learning Ally as part of National Volunteer Week. This was the second virtual event hosted by Learning Ally for our team members and it proved to be a unique experience, not only for its format but the way it impacted team members personally.
Learning Ally Supports Struggling Learners
Too many children face barriers to literacy, especially in underrepresented communities. According to data obtained by Learning Ally, 65% of fourth-graders read below proficiency levels in the United States. This number jumps to 81% when students of color, English language learners, and those with neurodiversity are accounted for. Students who read below proficiency level are four times more likely to drop out of school.
Learning Ally is focused on solving this multifaceted problem. The 75-year-old national nonprofit is an education solutions organization dedicated to transforming the lives of struggling learners. Each year, they work with over 200,000 educators in more than one-fifth of the nation’s schools and reach over 1.5 million students. Learning Ally also partners with university and research partners to better understand the science behind how students learn.
“Our goal is to deliver sustainable ‘Whole Child’ focused programs that take into account student factors such as social-emotional learning alongside best practices in literacy instruction,” said Paula Restrepo, Volunteer Programs and Corporate Partnerships Lead at Learning Ally. ”It is possible to mitigate or prevent low literacy through early identification, intervention, and educator professional development.”
Learning Ally also engages with local government partners to drive legislative changes and program funding. “Research illustrates that our solution doubles the rate of reading growth, annually,” Paula said. Their success rate is positively impacted by their creative approach to sourcing volunteers, and they are far ahead of the curve when it comes to virtual volunteering.
Virtual Simulation Gives Volunteers A New Perspective
In 2018, Learning Ally moved to a 100% all virtual model for volunteerism, which enabled them to more effectively recruit skilled volunteers and partner with organizations across the country. Their virtual volunteer model empowered the nonprofit to transform volunteer opportunities into engaging experiences that improves outcomes for kids with learning differences. “Volunteers dive into Learning Ally’s mission and engage in an interactive and thought-provoking simulation to understand how it feels to be a struggling reader followed by direct service with our Audiobook Solution,” explained Paula. Learning Ally regularly offers opportunities to a network of over 1,000 volunteers from various companies, and that number continues to grow.
Team members from across the family of companies were interested in this unique interactive volunteer experience. Our volunteers participated in a virtual awareness simulation that puts them into the shoes of struggling learners. In this training, they were able to experience firsthand the struggles that students face in learning to read. For the second part of the volunteer event, team members were introduced to the audiobook solution, where they tested the program from a user experience perspective. They were spot-checking for potential issues, learning to ensure that the audiobook was easy to understand.
“We deeply value the commitment of Rock Family of Companies team members during the events and the level of engagement and participation. Rock FOC team members have been among the most engaged groups we have ever had attend these events,” Paula said. “We value the fact that their team members are also interested in volunteering outside of these corporate events, on their own time.”
So far, 55 Rock Family of Companies team members have contributed more than 110 hours of quality assurance work for the literacy nonprofit. Team members reviewed over 75 books that are now accessible on the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution for more than 1.5 million students in the United States who struggle to read. The books that our team members reviewed are part of an audiobook library comprised of over 83,000 audiobooks.
“Thank you for putting on this great event today for our team,” said a Rocket Mortgage team member who participated in the Learning Ally event for National Volunteer Week. “I think all of us left with a greater appreciation of the struggles students with learning differences endure, and it was wonderful to play even a small part in providing them a learning solution.”
We will be offering additional virtual volunteer opportunities with this literacy and learning-focused nonprofit in the coming months, as it is one of our most popular impact experiences. Our partnership with innovative organizations like Learning Ally empowers us to continually “tie threads” in ways that connect our team members with the communities we serve, while creating a more positive team member experience.