Although many things have changed in today’s fast-paced, demanding culture, one principle has remained: reading is a basic tool in the living of the good life. Reading gives us the confidence and awareness we need to make sound decisions that benefit every aspect of our existence.

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Support Words Alive by joining SDSVP as a Partner, by contacting Executive Director Sierra Visher Kroha at, or by visiting them online.

So how do we grow a community of avid readers? For starters, organizations like Words Alive, San Diego’s premier reading advocacy group, can help. Founded 17 years ago by social worker and voracious reader Leslye Lyons, Words Alive opens opportunities for life success by inspiring a commitment to reading in children, adults, and families.

Words Alive operates on the belief that when we value reading and understand its fundamental connection to all aspects of our lives, we’ll thrive as lifelong learners, ready to transform our community. Children who can read become agents of their own education, and adults who can read are in charge of their own success.

Last year alone, Words Alive conducted over 5,700 literary program sessions that served underrepresented San Diego students and parents, donated over 22,000 books, and partnered with 30 collaborative organizations to increase literacy and commitment to reading across the county.

Photo courtesy of Words Alive

Partners in A Shared Commitment to Reading

Words Alive’s increased reach and influence in San Diego is in large part due to a prosperous three-year partnership with San Diego Social Venture Partners (SDSVP), a unique philanthropic membership organization that provides local nonprofits with pro-bono professional guidance for general operations like finance, HR, and marketing.

Photo courtesy of Words Alive

“Nonprofits very often unfairly endure the pain of bad practices longer than they should, because they’re so focused on their mission,” said Mark Dillon, Lead Partner at SDSVP. “We are those extra resources and skills that nonprofits need. Our goal is to increase their capacity and enable them to do what they do more efficiently,” he said. SDSVP Partners like Mark Dillon are passionate individuals who join together to give more than their financial resources; they give their time and talents as well.

And with a little business acumen from SDSVP, Words Alive has become much more sustainable and robust as an organization, something Words Alive executive director Patrick Stewart can attest to.

“Words Alive is 100% philanthropically funded, which unfortunately isn’t sustainable,” Stewart said. “Our main objective in partnering with SDSVP was to get help with how to scale out our organization from a foundational model into a social enterprise model. SDSVP helped us identify some very solid business practices that will allow us accomplish that.”

Stewart adds that another big advantage of Words Alive’s partnership with SDSVP is the positive cultural shift that’s happened on the programmatic side. “It’s changed the way we’re looking at our programs, allowing us to really evaluate our delivery of them and their sustainability,” he said. “They have an extremely proficient resource team, with varying skillsets and interests. Of course the financial component is always important, but the human capital that SDSVP invests in their partners is priceless.”

Photo courtesy of Words Alive

Reading Programs That Invoke Change

Photo courtesy of Words Alive

Words Alive’s programs are making a huge difference in the lives of children and their families in San Diego. Beyond just putting books in hands, Words Alive helps their students and families understand that reading is a tool that opens doors for their futures through three distinct programs:

  • Read Aloud – Trained volunteers read aloud each week and conduct enhancement and language activities to approximately 4,300 children from low income communities at early childhood education and elementary school sites across San Diego
  • Adolescent Book Group – A facilitator and trained volunteers conduct book group discussions, language arts programming and writing groups that serve at-risk adolescents. Through reading, sharing opinions, and critical conversations about books, participants enhance self-esteem, vocabulary, language usage, and critical thinking.
  • Family Literacy Program – Parents in the program attend seven workshops, receiving around 10 hours of parent education covering early literacy development topics specific to preschool age children. Each workshop has skill-building exercises for parents, a group story time, and guided activities for parents and children

Ultimately, Words Alive seeks to build a habit around reading by giving access to reliable materials and the ability to practice reading. “When we create a reading habit that becomes second nature, it then turns into a generational practice,” Stewart said.

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