“Reading can take you places that you could never imagine.” – Mary Frances Early
ooks for Keeps was established with a core belief in mind: by creating open, equal access to books, we allow children the opportunity to connect the joy of reading with the thrill of discovery by coauthoring positive experiences they can forever associate with learning.
Since starting as a volunteer-led, grassroots program in 2009, Books for Keeps has distributed more than 1,000,000 books to children, teachers, fellow peer agencies, and other individuals in Georgia through book grants, community-based events, the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Clarke County, and its flagship program Stop Summer Slide.
Further, the organization seeks to demonstrate the inherent value of reading and therefore learning by leveraging the provided book access through community engagement activities and in-school programming such as our new Literacy Mentors Program.
To connect the joy of reading with the thrill of discovery through co-authored experiences that children can forever associate with learning.
A world where it is understood that books can be used as a bridge or gateway to understanding the universe and the boundless possibilities contained within it for every person, regardless of their life circumstances.
Our core values
IntegrityBecause it's the right thing to do
We seek to remain authentic and accountable to those that believe in our mission, no matter where we find ourselves in the community.
BelongingThere's always space at our table
Everyone should be able to see themselves in the work we do and the resources we seek to provide. Providing representation at all levels is crucial to the work we do.
ConnectionVulnerability builds community
We’re committed to taking the time to meet people where they are at, remain open-handed, and flexible.
EnthusiasmBe lifelong learners of what brings us joy
We work to express ourselves, and the things we enjoy, respectfully, intentionally, and often.
Meet Our Team
Name: Justin Bray
Start Date: November 2016 (As a volunteer) April 2018 (As an employee)
Role at Books for Keeps: If you reach out to BFK and ask for someone to come speak at your function, meeting, panel, kid’s birthday, bar mitzvah, etc. – I’m the one that will most likely show up to do the speaking. In this role, I get to be a dreamer, someone that possesses the ability to influence change in their corner of the world, and serve a community and mission that have become my forever hyper-fixations. I also have the immense privilege of leading a team of some of the most passionate, driven, and kind-hearted people here at Books for Keeps.
“Sparkbook”: I have two distinct memories of books I read and loved first before all others: Will Huygen’s “Gnomes” and Brian Jacques “Redwall.” I remember absolutely obsessing over the gnomes book with all of its history and lore of gnomes and the super intricate illustrations and diagrams caught my attention over and over again. “Redwall” was the first fantasy book and series that I dug into and I never really got over my love of anthropomorphized woodland animals.
Favorite BFK Moment: The first time I took the bookmobile out to a community event and saw kids get excited about our big, blue bus without any seats. I got to see them climb aboard and pour over the hundreds of books to choose from that filled our shelves. Seeing that project through from beginning to an end has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional career.
Why you’re here: Because I want to be, for the kids we serve, the kind of adult I wish I had more of when I was little. One that shows up often, gets excited about the things I’m excited about, and encourages me to follow my dreams no matter how big they become.
Director of Finance and Administration
Name: Rainey Lynch
Start Date: February 2017
Role at Books for Keeps: I started my tenure at Books for Keeps in February of 2017 as the Media Coordinator, a vast, nebulous role that included social media, bookkeeping, stewardship, and communications. I’m now the Director of Finance and Administration, a vast, nebulous role that includes bookkeeping, human resources, community outreach, administrative support of all kinds, and one too many calls to the GA Department of Revenue.
“Sparkbook”: Books spark in me a deep and complex joy. I have always loved everything from touching the cover to bending the spine to sinking myself into the world within, but I first remember connecting with a specific character when reading Harriet the Spy in fourth grade. I wanted to be a spy, but more than that, I wanted to live in a world as interconnected and ever-changing as New York City in 1964. After Harriet, this experience has happened to me over and over and over.
Why you’re here: In so many ways, literacy, learning, and reading have brought to me throughout my life a kind of freedom and hope I can’t imagine living without. Literacy at its most basic level is foundational to everything from grocery shopping to traveling to applying for a job to making informed choices about your life – opportunities every single person deserves. But the power of true, robust literacy lies in the places outside of ourselves reading can take us – giving us the ability to see who we are and who we can become, to explore the lived experiences of others, to escape when the world becomes too heavy a burden, or to simply dream.
Community Engagement Manager
Name: Colleen Craven
Start Date: June 2022
Role at Books for Keeps: I get to hang out with my 2nd and 3rd-grade friends at H.B. Stroud Elementary School overseeing our new Literacy Mentor Program! While I handle all of the logistics, recruitment, scheduling, and management, I most enjoy working with our Literacy Mentor Volunteers and meeting with the students themselves.
My Sparkbook: The first book I remember truly enjoying was a book I read from my homemade fort the summer in-between 4th and 5th grade, a book called Operation Redwood about a kid who finds out his uncle’s company wants to tear down California’s Redwood Forest. It follows him and his friends trying to stop that from happening. I haven’t picked it up again, but I bet it’s still just as good. (I just put a hold on it at the Athens-Clarke Library.)
Favorite BFK Moment: If you’ve worked with young kids, you get it. So many laughs and rewarding moments.
Why you’re here: I am an adopted child, and I grew up thinking that was the norm thanks to a book called Tell Me Again About the Night I was Born. In fact, it worked so well that I had to be told to stop picking on my friends for once being in a tummy because, contrary to my belief, being adopted does not mean one evades being born. This bedtime story boosted my confidence so much that I thought it was weird to not be adopted. That’s empowerment. However, experiences that differ from the “norm” are not always handled in a way that allows folks to look back so fondly.
That experience laid the foundation for why I wanted to go into social work and work specifically with kids who might be at a disadvantage circumstantially. I wanted to empower and normalize. Near the end of my Social Work graduate program, I see a job opening for a position that manages a program for elementary schoolers in a Title I district, with the goal of relying on a mentoring relationship to garner excitement around reading and therefore tangible literacy skills. Not to mention, it is with an organization that is devoted to providing access to high-interest books that share and normalize the diverse experiences of those around us. Sold! I am here because it was a perfect match and I could not believe something this wonderful existed; here to empower!
Name: Bryce Seuntjens
Start Date: August 2020 (As a volunteer); March 2021 (As an employee)
Role at Books for Keeps: If you visit our warehouse, you’ll more than likely catch me in action with volunteers or organizing books. I manage our wonderful key volunteers, individual volunteers, and volunteer groups. I also manage our warehouse space and book inventory, both purchased and donated. Book research and purchasing for our programs is another part of my role at Books for Keeps, which is honestly quite fun.
Sparkbook: I struggled with reading throughout grade school, causing me to avoid books for many years. After being diagnosed with ADHD and learning I have aphantasia my senior year of high school and into college, I discovered I do enjoy reading and reading may just look a little different for me. I started reading nonfiction books about politics, philosophy, history, and sociology and was hooked. With that, my ‘Sparkbook’ is actually a series – the Very Short Introduction series. This series allowed and continues to allow me to learn about dang near anything under the sun in an easily digestible way.
Favorite BFK Moment: Some of my favorite BFK moments have been seeing kids get excited about seeing themselves in books.
Why you’re here: I am passionate about equity and inclusion, two core principles here at Books for Keeps. I see the value that books bring to people, especially through representation and access. And I am fortunate to be a part of that. Given my experience with books growing up, I also want to help kids find the types of books that speak to them and build their confidence with reading.
Name: Andy Ekegbu
Start Date: October 2022
Role at Books for Keeps: I’m the Book Access Coordinator at Books For Keeps! My primary roles are communicating with media specialists to coordinate logistics for Stop Summer Slide, and supporting the Operation Manager in the warehouse. I also manage the Athens chapter of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, Pre-K Book Bundles, and book donations we receive from the community.
Sparkbook: My most memorable sparkbook was Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins. The amazing world that Suzanne Collins created that made me fall in love with the fantasy genre and opened my eyes to the exciting places books can take you. A very close second is A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, I couldn’t put those books down for a second and finished all thirteen books within a month!
Favorite BFK Moment: I enjoy seeing my mentee through the Mentorship Program at Stroud Elementary School every week. I’m so fortunate that I was matched with an amazing kiddo, and I look forward to meeting other mentees in the years to come. I also love working with our volunteers! Books For Keeps has the most fun, energetic, and hard-working volunteers, and I consider myself so lucky that I get to work with them throughout the week.
Why you’re here: As the child of an immigrant parent, I have seen the result of what literacy can do for a person. It is truly life-changing to have access to books without restrictions, and I want every child to have the same opportunity. Literacy is so important to showing kids that the world is full of beautiful, wonderful possibilities as to what we can learn, where we can go, and things we can imagine.
Meet Our Board
Name: Mary Alston Killen
Role: Board President
Start Date: January 2021
What’s your day job?: Director of Donor Relations and Stewardship in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, University of Georgia
“Sparkbook”: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I discovered his work in high school (as so many people do) and instantly fell in love with his dry sarcasm, incomparable wit, and his talent for exploring complex themes of social equality through a satirical lens.
Favorite BFK Moment:I have loved volunteering at both the spring book distributions and Community Book Fair! It has been so much fun to watch kids as they gleefully run around with a bag full of books, looking for the next one to add to their collection, or the see those that carefully look at each title with discernment as they try and decide which story they want to fully immerse themselves in next.
Why you’re here:Being a part of the University of Georgia as both a student and employee has afforded me countless opportunities, but I want to engage more with the greater Athens community. I am an advocate for higher education for all, and I think it is critical that kids develop their reading and critical thinking skills as early as possible so that they can be put on a path toward academic success. Books for Keeps helps fill the gap of inequity by providing books for kids who may not otherwise have access to them, which is a mission I am proud to support.
Name: Leigh Dillard
Role: Board Secretary
Start Date: 2016 (When I first heard Melanie speak at TEDxUGA)
What’s your day job?: Professor of English at University of North Georgia, Gainesville campus
“Sparkbook”: Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad stories. I don’t remember which book in particular, but I loved the stories — and illustrations — of these two amphibious friends. Years later, I found a beautiful, used copy of _Frog and Toad Storybook Collection_ while volunteering in the BFK warehouse. It’s now on my bookcase at home.
Favorite BFK Moment: I’m happy to be involved in multiple parts of the BFK project — book drives, the book fair, warehouse volunteering, and the occasional special event, but it’s hard to deny the magic of book distributions. I don’t have a specific memory, but it’s immensely uplifting to see the kids line up with their BFK bags, then excitedly enter their school library to pick out their books. They mostly do their own thing, but some ask for help finding a particular genre or title. Their reactions are priceless — from the quiet but present smile to exuberant high fives.
Why you’re here: I believe in BFK’s core values and the people who work hard to make this organization a meaningful contributor to the Athens community and beyond. I’m happy to be part of that mission as a board member, but I’m also still excited by volunteering.
Name: Susie Weller
Start Date: May 2020
What’s your day job?: Executive Director of Children First, Inc.
“Sparkbook”: My Sister the Moon By Sue Harrison. I have not revisited this series since I was 14 soooo I am not sure where it stands ethically.
Favorite BFK Moment: Making soup together with the other board members at our board retreat.
Why you’re here: I love to read and write and I like to be helpful. All three of those things align with my service for Books for Keeps. Reading was extremely important for me as a child and I want all children in our area to have the opportunity to read and read some more.
Name: Deirdre Sugiuchi
Role: Board Member
Start Date: I have been involved with Books for Keeps since the beginning— I am a former CCSD school librarian!
What’s your day job?: Writer/ Fitness Instructor
“Sparkbook”: Goodnight Moon, Fairy Tales, Swimmy by Leo Lionni
Favorite BFK Moment: Leading book drives with my students at Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary!
Why you’re here: I served as a public school librarian in Clarke County for over a decade and I understand firsthand how important it is for kids to be able to choose their own books. My students would look forward to the day when Books for Keeps came to visit all year. Even though I am no longer a school librarian, I am thrilled to continue to work with Books for Keeps.
In 2009, Melaney Smith heard about a little girl who was not looking forward to summer. The reason? This second-grader loved to read, but had no books at home. Melaney asked around and learned that there were many children in the same situation. In asking the question, “Why doesn’t somebody do something about this?” she realized, “I am somebody. I can do something.”
Books for Keeps was launched from that point as a grassroots effort, and has since morphed into a research-based nonprofit dedicated to ending summer slide. It was all built around Melaney’s realization that she not only had the power to get books into children’s hands, but also to recruit the best people to help her do it.