Books for Keeps blog

Our BIG news – a BIG push to reach more children

Last week was a big one for us.

Part of a strategic plan in the works for over a year – we finally got to announce a major commitment to expand Books for Keeps into 14 additional elementary schools across Georgia over the next three years.

That commitment, formally announced at at meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in Atlanta, allowed us to reprise an appearance at the CGI America meeting made by Melaney Smith, the Books for Keeps founder, in 2011. Oh, how we’ve grown since then! We nearly tripled our program, hired two full-time employees, and grew outside our little home community of Athens. We were honored that Melaney was invited back to present our commitment on stage during Day 2 of the CGI meeting, while Executive Director Leslie Hale represented Books for Keeps during the full two-day event.

Officially, finally, we could say it: by 2019, Books for Keeps will be serving 11,000 children annually all over Georgia – including every child attending a Clarke County elementary school. Five of those schools will be in Atlanta, and another three in rural Georgia counties, starting with Elberton. That’s 140,000 books given away annually.

While last week was big – appearing on a big stage, making a major announcement – much of the work lies ahead. We will triple our program reach over the next three years. That means going out and getting the community buy-in – from EVERY corner of the community – necessary to serve 7,000 new students at 14 new schools.

Can we do it? We sure can – but only with the help of people like you. Make a donation, make an introduction, sign up for our newsletter – or just spread the word.

Want to help, [...]

By |June 21st, 2016|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Our BIG news – a BIG push to reach more children|

Books for Keeps is partnering with Malcolm Mitchell!

On March 31, 2016 we officially announced a partnership with former UGA wide receiver and reading advocate Malcolm Mitchell.

We are so excited to share the details of that partnership here. Our press release announcing the initiative – to give a copy of Malcolm’s book, The Magician’s Hat, to every first-grade student in the Clarke County School District – is below.

To make a donation to this initiative, please visit our Donate page. Make sure to designate your gift toward the Read with Malcolm partnership when you donate. And thanks!



ATHENS, GA. – March 31, 2016 –Books for Keeps and former UGA wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell are launching a partnership to ignite a passion for reading in Athens students.

Together, Mitchell and the Athens-based nonprofit plan to provide a copy of Mitchell’s book, The Magician’s Hat, to every first-grade student in the Clarke County School District this spring. Read with Malcolm and Books for Keeps are working together to raise the funds necessary to provide books to all 1,200 first-grade students in Clarke County this May – a $15,000 fundraising endeavor – and are calling on the community’s support.

“The only boundaries are those we create for ourselves,” Mitchell said. “I truly believe that books give kids the opportunity to reach their full potential, to expand their minds and accomplish all of their goals.”

Mitchell published his book after discovering and nurturing a love for reading while he was a student-athlete at The University of Georgia. After struggling to improve his own reading level, he joined a book club and was overwhelmed by the way that reading united him with other people and sharpened his [...]

By |April 4th, 2016|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Books for Keeps is partnering with Malcolm Mitchell!|

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 via Community Connection at this link.

If you are part of a group that would like to adopt an entire shift (8 to 12 volunteers), please email Rachel Watkins to sign up: Available shifts will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. There is limited space in each shift, so please don’t delay!


[Thursday, April 28, 2016: 7:55 a.m.-11:10 a.m. SHIFT FULL and 11:10 a.m.-2:10 p.m. BOTH SHIFTS FULL]
Friday, April 29, 2016: 7:45 a.m.-11:10 a.m. 

[Friday, April 29, 2016: 12:45 p.m.-2:30 p.m. SHIFT FULL]

[Monday, May 2, 2016: 7:55 a.m.-11:40 a.m. and  12:15 p.m.-1:45 p.m. BOTH SHIFTS FULL]
[Tuesday, May 3, 2016: 8:15 a.m.-11:45 a.m. SHIFT FULL] and 11:50 a.m.-1:50 p.m. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016: 7:55 a.m.-10:35 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.

Thursday, May 5, 2016: [7:45 a.m.-10:30 a.m. SHIFT FULL] and 10:25 a.m.-12:20 p.m.
Friday, May 6, 2016: 8:05 a.m.-12:25 p.m. [and 12:25 p.m.-2:15 p.m. SHIFT FULL]

Monday, May 9, 2016: 8:45 a.m.-11:25 a.m. [and 11:30 a.m.-2:45 [...]

By |March 29th, 2016|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Distribution time is here – sign up to volunteer!|

Malcolm Mitchell’s story – spreading the magic of reading

We talk a lot at Books for Keeps about third-grade reading scores – about how getting a child on grade level and in love with reading by the middle of elementary school is so critical because it can forecast the rest of their educational careers, even the rest of their lives.

But by the same token, we’re constantly reminded that it’s never too late to get a student hooked on reading. It was made clear during a conversation last fall with Aliyah, a middle-schooler who – as a new student in Clarke County in the fifth grade – found that her bag of 12 books from BFK transformed her perspective on school. She went from being a student who felt disengaged, whose self-esteem was shot because her reading scores were low, to feeling more confident and excited just to go to class.

UGA Football wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell’s story is one of those stories, and we have been itching to work with him. We’re excited that those stars are finally aligning.

To hear Malcolm talk about his journey is a testament to the power of books to open up new worlds. Before he walked into a Barnes and Noble, as a freshman in college, he had no idea there was an entire universe of children’s books out there. He didn’t grow up with them.

But as an adult, he discovered the power of good books, starting with The Hungry Caterpillar and working his way up, eventually joining a book club. He discovered the way books can illuminate dark corners of your life, spur conversations with new people, and totally change your perspective on the world – and yourself.

Malcolm wrote a children’s book, The Magician’s Hat, two years ago and [...]

By |March 3rd, 2016|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Malcolm Mitchell’s story – spreading the magic of reading|

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…|