Books for Keeps blog

Why I love to read – and how it shapes my love for BFK

A guest post by Books for Keeps Board Treasurer Joe Hill

I remember when I first learned to love to read.  My father was stationed at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, NC, and I was at Tabernacle Middle School in English class with our teacher Mrs. Hellmer.  There we learned to diagram sentences and if we could, we used all the adjectives in our spelling list to make unnecessarily long sentences which we would then have to diagram.  Mrs. Hellmer had a bookshelf full of fiction representing every genre and she would ask us to choose a book for recreational reading or a book report.  We had a library I suspect, but I don’t recall going there in middle school.  All I remember was her bookshelf and how because of it I discovered that reading was something that could be fun.

When it came time to choose my first book in middle school English, I remember thinking a book cover with dragons looked pretty cool.  So I started with Anne McCaffrey’s The Dragonriders of Pern.  I started with Dragonflight, then Dragonquest, The White Dragon, Dragonsong, Dragondrums and pored through most all of her Pern-based books.  My school was a little way out in Maysville and the bus ride with all the stops was at least a half hour. The long ride to school and home provided ample time to knock out a couple chapters.  I became a voracious reader in middle school due to the long bus ride and my access to that bookshelf.

These were the days of Waldenbooks and B. Dalton Booksellers, where every mall had at least one bookstore.  Both the comic shop and the bookstores were within bike-riding distance for me.  After a slice of [...]

By |February 22nd, 2016|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Why I love to read – and how it shapes my love for BFK|

Save-the-date: 2016 distributions

It’s time to save the date for 2016 Books for Keeps distributions, that time of year when we depend on help from volunteers to give more than 45,000 books away to children all over Athens, Atlanta, and Warrenton. This is your chance to share in the joy of giving books to students for their summer reading!

School-specific volunteer shifts will be scheduled over the coming month, and we will announce when they have been set. If you are an individual who would like to volunteer at a specific school, please mark your calendar!

If you are part of a group (8 to 15 people) that would like to adopt and work an entire shift at a particular school, please email Rachel Watkins to reserve a shift for your group.


April 28-29, 2016: Fowler Drive Elementary School, Athens, GA

May 2-3, 2016: Gaines School Elementary School, Athens, GA

May 4, 2016: M. E. Freeman Elementary School, Warrenton, GA

May 9-10, 2016: J.J. Harris Elementary School, Athens, GA

May 11, 2016: Winterville Elementary School, Winterville, GA

May 12-13, 2016: Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary School, Athens, GA

May 16, 2016: Howard B. Stroud Elementary School, Athens, GA

May 17, 2016: Dunbar Elementary School, Atlanta, GA

May 18, 2016: Alps Road Elementary School, Athens, GA

By |February 4th, 2016|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Save-the-date: 2016 distributions|

Join us in welcoming Rachel Watkins to BFK!


Big news today out of Books for Keeps!

The Books for Keeps Board of Directors and Executive Director Leslie Hale are thrilled to announce the hiring of Athens resident and lifelong literacy advocate Rachel Watkins.

Rachel will take on the role of program manager, the second position ever filled here at Books for Keeps. It’s an exciting move by our organization as we launch an expansion to reach 15 additional schools in the next three to five years. Rachel will start work with Books for Keeps in January.

Read more about our plans to grow here.

Rachel was born and raised in Mississippi and came to Athens to earn her master’s degree in adult education in the early 1990’s. She spent ten years in Monterey, California, before moving back home to Athens in 2005. Rachel has four children in the Clarke County School District and has worked part-time at Avid Bookshop since August of 2011. Her husband is a paramedic in West Africa with International S.O.S.

Rachel is well known in Athens as an education advocate, a communicator, a networker, and a cheerleader for our community. She brings to Books for Keeps extensive experience in education, event planning, writing, community outreach, and – of course – literacy.

Read our press release announcing Rachel’s hiring here.

By |November 20th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Join us in welcoming Rachel Watkins to BFK!|

Books for Keeps is growing

There has been a lot happening at Books for Keeps lately, much of it behind the scenes and under the surface.

There are some things still brewing that we can’t share just yet (but they’re good – so keep watching!)

And then there are things that just beg to be talked about. Such big things that – as we started composing Facebook messages and tweets – we realized this announcement needed a little more room to spread out and breathe.

The short of it is this: Books for Keeps is growing. We are growing our service population – serving more students with more books. And we are growing our organizational capacity – hiring another employee to help us get there.

Our board of directors has been working on a strategic plan that lays out ambitious projections for growth: 15 new schools within the next five years. By the end of that five-year period, we plan to be in every public elementary school in Athens, five new schools in Atlanta, and three new schools in rural counties. The details of that strategic plan are still being crafted, but these are the broad (and exciting!) strokes.

To meet this five-year goal, Books for Keeps needs the boots on the ground to get it done. So, that’s the next part of this announcement: we are seeking the organization’s second-ever employee. This person will be responsible for managing the Stop Summer Slide! program – helping grow it into more schools, attracting new publishers and vendors as partners, and improving our volunteer program. (UPDATE: Read about our program manager here.)

In 2013, Books for Keeps was an all-volunteer organization serving just five schools in Athens. In the past three years, we doubled our program reach and hired an employee – a [...]

By |September 17th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Books for Keeps is growing|

Throwin’ back to the very beginning

What better way to Throwback Thursday than to start where it all began? One person, one thought, one opportunity to make a change.

This was all only an idea in 2009, when our founder, Melaney Smith, decided to take a leap of faith and tackle an issue that had been nagging at her heart. When Melaney saw one child’s simple desire for an education, there was no turning back. Read on, and click the links in this post to learn more about the step-by-step process that gave birth to Books for Keeps.

With no books at home, and no access to a public library, many children lose the opportunity to learn and build on their reading skills during summer. What’s more, Melaney realized many of those children would actually lose reading skills entirely. Seeing this, Melaney took action that lead to a vast change in the lives of children across the community.

The idea of Books For Keeps came to Melaney six years ago when her niece, MK, first joined a local mentor program. MK noticed that the children she was mentoring could not afford the materials required to make the most of their education. It all started when MK overheard a little girl say, “I wish I had a book at my house.”

Some would have chosen to observe the situation and say, “someone should do something about this.” Well, Melaney decided to be that person. She took the situation into her own hands and said, “I am somebody. I can do something.” As Melaney began to build on this thought in her personal blog posts, she sought advice and ideas. These ideas led to the creation of an organization that has provided 185,000 books to children [...]

By |August 27th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Throwin’ back to the very beginning|

Melaney is setting a BIG goal again…

The following is a guest post from Books for Keeps founder and board member Melaney Smith. When she started giving books to Athens children in 2009, she had no idea the program would blossom into a full-fledged nonprofit. She set goals for herself – and the goals kept getting bigger. Now, she’s setting her biggest goal of all to mark her 50th birthday. In Melaney’s words:

Six years ago, I appealed for help when I met a little girl who loved to read, but was facing a summer without books. Not a single book in her home, and no access to the public library. Her teacher told me that many of her classmates were in the same boat, and would fall behind in school as a result.

I asked for help, and a miracle occurred. Family, friends, book lovers, and regular folks all over the U.S. responded, and the result was Books for Keeps, a research-based program that gives away 45,000 books each year to prevent summer slide. This video tells the story better than I ever could.

I started out with a blog to reach people and ask for help. I’m hoping this method still holds its magic. Because here it goes: another request for help, six years later.

I’m trying to raise $50,000 by my 50th birthday, to reach more children. I’ve got til the end of November, but hey, I’ll be 50 for a whole year so let’s see how it goes. My late start is due mostly to fear of failure, but I’m taking the leap.

Like last time, my first step is to ask for help. I hope you will. Here are some ideas:

Make a donation. If just 200 people were willing to contribute $250 each, I [...]

By |August 18th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Melaney is setting a BIG goal again…|

Buy Preview Night tickets

BFK Book Sale Preview Night
Get first crack at our amazing selection of used books – thousands of titles priced from 50 cents to $3.

Tickets – for Preview Night only – are $10. All preview night patrons will be entered into a door prize basket that includes autographed copies of books by local authors and a hand-made quilt (for snuggling up with a good book!) Can’t attend but still want to make a donation? Your name will be entered into a drawing for the door prize anyway.


By |July 24th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Buy Preview Night tickets|

Distribution time is here – sign up to volunteer!

It’s that time of year when our hearts swell. It’s like Christmas, and we get to feel like Santa Claus, giving more than 45,000 books away to children all over Athens, Atlanta, and Warrenton.

Join us as we help children select and count their books and record their feedback on our book selection. This is the ultimate volunteer experience! Share in the joy of a books for keeps distribution by signing up to volunteer with us.

No special skills are required; training is provided in the first 10 minutes of each shift – so the most important requirement is to show up on time! Sign up for a shift at

If you are part of a group that would like to adopt an entire shift, please email Leslie Hale to sign them up:

Monday, April 27 – 7:55-11:30 a.m. and 12-1:45 p.m. (p.m. SHIFT FULL)
Tuesday, April 28 – 8:05-10:45 a.m. (a.m. SHIFT FULL) and 10:45 a.m.-1 p.m. (p.m. SHIFT FULL)

Monday, April 29 – 9-10:45 a.m.

Thursday, April 30 – 7:55-11 a.m. and 11:10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Friday, May 1 – 7:45-11:20 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.-2:50 p.m.

Monday, May 4 – 7:55-11:45 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.-2:40 p.m.

Tuesday, May 5 – 7:45-11:05 a.m. (a.m. SHIFT FULL) and 12-2:50 p.m. (p.m. SHIFT FULL)

Wednesday, May 6 – 7:55-11:30 a.m. and 12:05-1:50 p.m. (p.m. SHIFT FULL)
Thursday, May 7 – 8-11:35 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.-2:10 p.m.

Monday, May 11 – 7:55-11:05 a.m. and 11:20 a.m.-2:15 p.m.
Tuesday, May 12 – 10:35 a.m.-2 p.m.

Wednesday, May 13 – 7:55-11:20 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.-2:40 p.m.

Thursday, May 14 – 7:45-11:10 a.m. and 11:15 a.m.-12:25 p.m.
Friday, May 15 [...]

By |April 7th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Distribution time is here – sign up to volunteer!|

A BFK family’s story

When Trion Brown’s daughter, Z’mia, came bounding home with a tote bag full of books one day after school last spring, she was excited for her daughter, a kindergartener. But, she was also a little apprehensive.

“When I started seeing the princess books, I thought, ‘Oh, Lord, how am I going to afford all of these books?” Trion recalls. “We’re going to have to return these books and it’s going to break her heart.”

Then, Trion read the letter from tucked in with the books. It explained that the books were Z’mia’s to keep – from Books for Keeps. That they would help Z’mia’s brain expand and grow stronger during the summer. And, that every child in Z’mia’s school – all 400 students at Dunbar Elementary in Atlanta – got to pick out 12 books each and take them home, just like Z’mia, thanks to the efforts of Books for Keeps.

“She told me that she had picked them out herself,” Trion says. “She read the titles out to me. I knew that she could read, but I was amazed at how well she could read.”

That night, Trion and Z’mia read together all evening. They read until it was almost time to get up again, Trion jokes.

And then summer came, and Z’mia kept reading.

“This summer, she picked up books more than anything – more than a toy,” she says. “I don’t think her involvement in books would be as much if it weren’t for the books she got in the spring.”

And then fall came. When Z’mia entered the first grade, she received a reading assessment. Z’mia’s teacher was starting the process of putting students into groups according to their reading levels.

“Z’mia blew out all of the reading [...]

By |November 20th, 2014|Uncategorized|Comments Off on A BFK family’s story|

Bargain-hunting for a cause

Love shopping a good yard sale? Love giving to charity? Wish you could do both at the same time?

Wish no longer!

This Saturday, October 25, a few local families will be hosting yard sales to benefit Books for Keeps. They will be selling off their unwanted items and donating a portion of all proceeds back to Books for Keeps. It’s as simple as that.

This is the first year for this fundraiser, so we have just a couple of yard sales signed up. They will run from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the following addresses:

125 Wilcox Street, Athens
270 Brookwood Drive, Athens
295 Pebble Creek Drive, Athens

Out of town? Otherwise engaged? No problem! We are inviting folks to use our Facebook event page as a marketplace. Feel free to post items there for sale or peruse the items listed to sell.  List anything you wish to sell there through the end of October and follow up by sending BFK a portion of your sale (suggested 20%).

Instructions for Sellers on Facebook:

Please add only one photo per item to keep photo and description linked. You can continue to add different “views” by uploading photos to the comments under the photo.
Please delete items after they sell, or write the word SOLD in the comments section under your photo. Next, just remit your percentage of your sale to BFK either online or via check. Info on how to send us your donation can be found here at our website.

Feel good about the fact that you just lightened the load at your home and supported BFK!

Instructions for Buyers on Facebook:

Send a private message to the seller to arrange a meeting to exchange money for goods. Enjoy your purchase and [...]

By |October 21st, 2014|How You Can Help|Comments Off on Bargain-hunting for a cause|