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, research-based nonprofit giving away 570,000 books (and counting) within the span of ten years.

We’ve got one big commitment from a community partner to kick-start our progress toward that $40,000 goal: Reddy Medical Group is committing to a school sponsorship level, $12,500, to support nearby Timothy Road Elementary School. On top of this exciting, leadership giving, we have additional commitments from Synovus bank at $2,500, First American Bank at $600, and several fund-holders at the Athens Area Community Foundation. All told, we have $17,500 committed toward this big goal.

Isn’t it amazing how a seemingly huge, scary number can suddenly feel so achievable? $22,500 left to go, and the Little Engine that Could is off and running again.

Not sure how you can help? The rest of the money needed to meet this commitment is going to come in increments of $10, $30, and $100. There are opportunities for our community to pitch in no matter what your giving abilities may be.

If you’ve already given this year or you’re just not in a position to donate, you can help by telling someone else about Books for Keeps. Or maybe you can add $30 more on top of what you gave last year at year-end. We are continuously amazed by the generosity of folks who give simply because they learned about us from a friend or family member.

The end of the year is right around the corner (laugh at us, but you know we’ll blink and it will be Thanksgiving). We’ll be rolling out lots of exciting news and opportunities to give as we get closer to Giving Tuesday. More on that – and our even huge-er (yeah, I know it’s not a word) year-end goals – later.

For now, can we all revel in what an amazing thing it will be when every single elementary-schooler in Clarke County Schools – all 6,500 of them – will be connected by the common experience of choosing a bag full of 12 brand new books to build their home libraries just in time for summer?

-Leslie Hale, Executive Director