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.
Mentor Program 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!
Book Access Coordinator
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.
Director of Development & Communications
Name: Kelsey Ripley
Start Date: June 2023
Role at Books for Keeps: I get to work with our incredible donors, which include individuals, families, local businesses, foundations, and more. I also support the team by managing internal and external communications, ensuring that our community is informed about BFK’s work and the wonderful world of literacy here in Athens and beyond.
“Sparkbook”: Reading has always been such an integral part of my life and identity, and it’s hard for me to remember a time when books were not a key part of my world. (Thank you to my family, teachers, and community who made this possible!) The book that currently comes to mind is Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. I loved this book as a kid and have found even more joy in seeing my daughter connect with it as well. The first time we read it together, I was amazed both by how familiar it felt to me – I remembered the rumpus! And Max’s crown! And the dinner on his little table! – and how exciting it was for her to discover all of these things for the first time. We roar, and we gnash our teeth, and we get to be wild things. It’s reading joy that I get to share with her, and it reminds me how books can be lasting gifts from one generation to the next.
Favorite BFK Moment: My first Community Book Fair! After living away from Athens for several years, I was so excited to hear about the new format of the Community Book Fair and the opportunity to browse thousands of books and take some home for free! When I first approached the warehouse from the parking lot, I was thrilled to see so many families with their kids walking out with bags filled with books. What an awesome thing to be a part of!
Why you’re here: Reading has made me who I am today and informed my view of the world around me. I was fortunate to have a family and teachers who fostered this early passion and were able to ensure that I always had access to books that I was interested in. Later, as a literacy teacher and parent myself, I quickly learned that not every child, or every teacher, or every family, has this opportunity. I’m here to support BFK’s work in fostering joy-filled literacy opportunities for all kids and invite our community to do the same.