Books for Keeps blog

But why THAT promise?

For most people, the WHAT is a no-brainer.

Books are easy to get behind. It’s easy to grasp the importance of reading and literacy in building a successful life. Almost everyone who works with us – from staff to donors to volunteers to board members – can point to a way that books (or one single book) transformed their lives.

So, books – and making them easy to get access to – are the easy part for us to sell.

It’s all of the other details that get stickier. The WHY’s.

Why 12 books? (Because the research we founded our program on points to this as the sweet spot for moving literacy skills during summer.)

Why give them away rather than loan them? (Because pride of ownership and removing the fear of losing or damaging a book liberate many children and families to truly embrace this process.)

And then we come to the big question. The question we’ve been driving toward and aligning strategy around for the past five years: 

Why those schools?

Each school we serve is high-need. Every single one. We started out at just a few schools here in Athens that represent the most extreme need: 90 percent or more free/reduced-price lunch. As we grew outside of Athens, we targeted schools in Atlanta and in rural areas with the same characteristics.

And a few years later we set our sights on a big goal: to serve every child attending a Clarke County elementary school.

We’re finally fulfilling that goal this year – reaching every single child in grades K through 5 at all 14 elementary schools in Athens.

We couldn’t be more excited, and we want you to be excited too – here’s WHY.

Our home county has a lot of need. With [...]

Meet board member Joan Prittie!

(part of a monthly series)

How did you first hear or learn about Books for Keeps?

Through Vicky Wilkins [friend of founder, Melaney Smith, and early board member] when I was teaching in the MPA program 8-9 years ago, before Leslie was hired. My class helped the board do some planning and also taught the board some fundraising fundamentals to help them obtain the resources needed to hire an executive director.

How long have you been volunteering or serving with Books for Keeps?

There was this initial work through my class and then a bit of a gap. I have now been on the board of directors for 5 years. I had previously met with Vicky and Melaney before the class project, but board service was the next move.

Why did you choose to serve on the Books for Keeps’ board?

Certainly the experience working with and getting to know Melaney and the early supporters helped me learn the story and get to know the mission. But also a lifelong love of reading instilled by my family played a big part. I want all children to have the gift of that experience [of loving reading] and have access to books.

Have you had an inspiring/memorable interaction with a student since working with Books for Keeps? (This can be a direct interaction or something you observed.) If so, tell us about it.

Yes. I was at a distribution at Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary School, and I was checking in with a couple of little girls after they had made their selection of books.
They lived in the same federally funded housing community, and they had been very strategic in choosing their books. They chose all different books so that they could trade their books [...]

Looking toward spring 2020 – 20 schools and fulfilling big promises!

This is it.

This year and this milestone were a distant goal four years ago when Books for Keeps adopted its first true strategic plan. It was a pipe dream when I was hired six years ago. And when Melaney Smith, our founder, gave away the first books to a group of second-graders at Alps Road Elementary School in 2009, this was but a twinkle in her eye.

So it has been exhilarating to roll out this news with stakeholders over the past several months and to share it here: as of spring 2020, Books for Keeps will be in all 14 Athens-Clarke public elementary schools – serving a total of 20 schools across 4 Georgia counties.

That means if you have a child in Kindergarten through fifth grade at a Clarke County elementary school – no matter where he or she attends – that child will get to choose 12 books to bring home at the end of this school year. We’re meeting with parents at Chase and Timothy Road elementary schools in the coming weeks to share this news directly with them.

We’re also sharing this news on the heels of a banner year.

500,000 books given away since 2009! Celebrating 10 years!

But by golly, we’re gonna need all the help this community can muster to meet this goal. We need to raise an additional $40,000 from new sources and new commitments to make this a reality.

Is that a really big number for an organization with a budget of less than $500,000 and just three employees? It sure is.

Is it eminently possible? Yes – but only with the help of this incredible community that has helped us grow from a twinkle of an idea into a full-fledged, [...]

By |September 27th, 2019|Uncategorized|0 Comments|

Meet board member Denise Payne!

(part of a monthly series)

How did you first hear or learn about Books for Keeps?

I was the opening librarian for JJ Harris Elementary School and was approached by Leslie about bringing BFK to our school.  As soon as she said 12 free books for every student—I was hooked.  I think that  was in 2010.

How long have you been volunteering or serving with Books for Keeps?

When my husband was offered a position at HB Stroud as the assistant principal, I had to leave the media center position there.   When Leslie learned of this, she and a former board member spoke with me about being involved in BFK.   It was a tangible way to stay connected to reading and the students of CCSD.

Why did you choose to serve on the Books for Keeps’ board?

As a child growing up in rural Mississippi, books were my windows to the world.  I want children to have access to the same joy that I get when reading.

Have you had an inspiring/memorable interaction with a student since working with Books for Keeps? (This can be a direct interaction or something you observed.) If so, tell us about it.

There have been too many to name.  From the standpoint of a media specialist–I think the most heartwarming times are when kindergarten students come in and choose the biggest books that they can.   They lug those bags proudly back to their classroom and pour over them.   As a mother, my oldest son participated in BFK and he still had a couple of books from a distribution. He is now a senior and can still vividly recall getting books from BFK distributions.

What strengths are you bringing to Books for Keeps?

A positive attitude, a willingness to [...]

By |September 13th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Meet board member Denise Payne!|

Meet board member Jamie Cumbie!

(part of a new monthly series)

How did you first hear or learn about Books for Keeps?

My employer, Wells Fargo. Our office volunteers each year at book distribution.

How long have you been volunteering or serving with Books for Keeps?

I have been on the board since January 2019.

Why did you choose to serve on the Books for Keeps’ board?

This organization has such a worthwhile mission and accomplishes it in such a fun way. I definitely wanted to be a part of it.

Have you had an inspiring/memorable interaction with a student since working with Books for Keeps? (This can be a direct interaction or something you observed.) If so, tell us about it.

This was my first book distribution season, and I already can’t wait for next year. I absolutely loved the students’ pure joy and excitement. It’s endearing to see kids dragging their bags while they’re still picking out even more books.

Have you worked with other non-profits in the past? Which ones?

We are fairly new to the area, but my husband and I support various groups particularly through Franklin College at UGA. We moved from IL, and there I was heavily involved in Rotary, the hospital foundation, the Chamber of Commerce and Western Illinois University.

What strengths are you bringing to Books for Keeps?

I have a lot of experience volunteering and being an active board member with a variety of groups. Also, I bring a different perspective being relatively new to the area.

Do you have a keen childhood memory related to a particular book? Or an experience with reading – to yourself or to a loved one?

I’m the youngest of 5, so I had several family members that would read to me and I was fortunate to have [...]

By |August 20th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Meet board member Jamie Cumbie!|

Meet board member Kathy Poss!

The following is a guest blog post by board member Kathy Poss, and part of our monthly board member spotlight series. Kathy is a retired school nurse and Elbert County resident, and the mother of two educators in area counties. As someone who hails from a family of educators for whom books have played a central role, she believes heartily in the importance of Books for Keeps.

One day a few years ago my friend Joan Prittie asked me to lunch. She told me about Books for Keeps and how it was expanding to Elbert County. I later joined the Board.

What a great opportunity to encourage and improve reading skills in children. I have always enjoyed books but realize not all kids have access. Call of the Wild and White Fang fascinated me as a young reader. Biographies were favorites. Clara Barton, Florence Nightengale, George Washington Carver were a few summer books.

I can’t pinpoint a pivotal book in my youth but I vividly remember reading The Old Man and the Sea and For Whom the Bell Tolls. The Razor’s Edge was in the headboard at my grandmother’s house, so I read it.  This summer I am reading John Adams and probably some historical selections. Though I can’t do it all, I adore DIY books.

My grandmother finished high school at 16 and became a one-room school teacher in a very rural area.  Some of her children were named for book characters. This was evidence of her love for reading.

My mother loved poetry and tried her hand at writing poetry.  The thing that reading did for my family was widen a world that had physical boundaries into a broad rich world of idea.

In a very small town we [...]

By |July 14th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Meet board member Kathy Poss!|

Intern with Books for Keeps this fall

Books for Keeps is seeking fall interns in three main content areas. We’ve got several special projects we are working on, and we are looking for current students – undergraduates or graduates – to help carry them out.

Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis, and individuals with spring availability are preferred but not required. To see what we’re looking for, check out each of the descriptions below. To apply, please send resume and cover letter to the email address of the corresponding intern supervisor –

BFK Grants and Research Intern posting – Fall 2019
BFK Project Management Intern – Fall 2019
BFK Web Design and Development Intern – Fall 2019

Leslie Hale – Leslie@Booksforkeeps.org

Justin Bray – Justin@Booksforkeeps.org

By |June 26th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Intern with Books for Keeps this fall|

Meet Board Member Stephen Nobles!

The following is a guest blog post by board member Stephen Nobles, and part of our monthly board member spotlight series. Stephen joined the Books for Keeps board in January of this year, and by day, he serves as program registrar and data specialist with the Clarke County School District.

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Books for Keeps for me has been a dream come true. Not a personal dream for me today at my current age – but a dream that I had as a child who had a love for reading and a true belief in the power of books. I WISH when I was a child something like Books for Keeps existed!! I knew very little about the organization but was immediately intrigued when I learned about their mission, goals, and the work they had been doing for children throughout the state of Georgia!
I know first hand the benefits that come along with a love for reading. Those benefits go so far beyond the words in the books. My mother was a huge advocate for literacy and literature and she instilled those same core values in me.

I have read to more than 1,000 students throughout the state of Georgia for my “LIT About Literacy” Program, and after meeting Leslie (Hale, executive director) and being introduced to the other amazing and passionate board members it was a no-brainer for me to align myself with Books for Keeps. To me it was a win-win!

I can remember the joy that came with finishing a book cover to cover. I can remember the first time I read Homer’s, “The Odyssey” and being instantly thrown into an amazing world of Sirens, cyclops, and the travels of Odysseus! I see that same [...]

By |June 12th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Meet Board Member Stephen Nobles!|

“I would cry if I didn’t have books. I love to read.” ~3rd-grade Books for Keeps participant

Sometimes we’re at a loss for words here at Books for Keeps. If you’ve met any of our three staff or our dozen-plus board members, you are probably laughing right now. Real hard.

It’s true, though. Sitting down to write this post, it was hard to figure out where to start – what to focus on. There was simply so much good to go around this year at book distributions that it’s hard to wrap our brains around – from giving away our 500,000th book (and way, way beyond) to celebrating 10 years to gathering new insights into our students reading habits.

We served the same number of students as last year (nearly 8,000) and gave away the same number of books (roughly 95,000), yet this year felt big in so many ways.

So, where to start in describing it?

This is where we fall back to those wiser and more eloquent than us: the children we serve.

Among our core values and core behaviors: (1) focusing on stakeholders as individuals and (2) creating joyful opportunities for children to become owners of books. They are our future voters and decision-makers. It really is all about them because – one day – the world will be in their hands.

“I’m so excited I could explode,” one fifth-grader told a volunteer at Whit Davis Elementary School. This, in response to a simple survey question asking about her level of excitement over her books.

For the first time this year, we sought to gather more information from our student participants – right at the moment when they chose their books. What are we hoping to learn?

How motivated are they to read their books?
How many of their 12 books do they expect [...]

By |May 29th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on “I would cry if I didn’t have books. I love to read.” ~3rd-grade Books for Keeps participant|

Meet board member, Leigh Dillard!

(part of a new monthly series)

How did you first hear or learn about Books for Keeps?

I heard Melaney speak at the TEDxUGA event in 2016, and I immediately knew Books for Keeps was something I wanted to be involved in. Melaney’s message of thinking small — rather than being intimidated into inaction by a big task — resonated with me, and the notion of giving books to kids was equally compelling. As a professor of English and advisor of Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society at UNG, I also knew that this would be a great project to pass along to my students.

How long have you been volunteering or serving with Books for Keeps?

I did my first book distribution at Oglethorpe Elementary in May 2016 and have volunteered in various facets of the process since then. I’ve also worked in the warehouse and with the book sale (and have been an enthusiastic book sale customer). I enjoy seeing how the parts function to serve the bigger mission of BFK.

Why did you choose to serve on the Books for Keeps’ board?

I was ready to increase my commitment to Books for Keeps and thought that serving on the board would be a good way to do that. The timing was right.

Have you had an inspiring/memorable interaction with a student since working with Books for Keeps? (This can be a direct interaction or something you observed.) If so, tell us about it.

Book distributions are magical. Last year, after helping one student at Stroud Elementary School count his books, he jumped up and gave me a hug. It was this wonderful, joy-filled moment that really stuck with me. The work of the volunteers is such a small part [...]

By |April 12th, 2019|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Meet board member, Leigh Dillard!|