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.

Mel on stageThat 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, but you aren’t sure how? Email Executive Director Leslie Hale at


Here’s the full press release of our announcement:


At CGI America, Athens-based Books for Keeps Commits to Dramatically Increase Access to High-Quality Books by Low-Income Children in Georgia

ATLANTA, GA. – June 14, 2016 – A chance meeting with one little girl who didn’t own a book has blossomed into an ambitious commitment to give away 314,000 books in Georgia over the next three years.

On Tuesday, Athens-based Books for Keeps announced a Commitment to Action to nearly triple its research-based literacy program reach over a three-year period, distributing 140,000 books annually to 11,000 students in 25 high-need Georgia elementary schools by 2019. The commitment was announced at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) America meeting in Atlanta, during a session focusing on poverty and opportunity.

“At Books for Keeps, we firmly believe in the power of one summer and a bag of 12 books to change a child’s life,” said Books for Keeps Executive Director Leslie Hale. “Lack of access to books for one summer can derail a child, causing her to lose three months of reading achievement – a loss that compounds year after year. That’s why Books for Keeps is so excited to expand our program to reach nearly 7,000 additional children, keeping them on track simply by guaranteeing their access to fun, exciting books.”

In each partner elementary school, every child in grades K through 5 is invited to pick 12 books to take home and keep just in time for summer. Based on a model pioneered by reading researcher Richard Allington, Books for Keeps’ program gives away high-quality, high-interest titles in the schools. Books are purchased at low cost through partnerships with publishers like Scholastic and fellow nonprofits such as First Book.

“I cannot underscore how important the Books for Keeps program is to my students and to our community at large,” said Deirdre Sugiuchi, the librarian at Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary School in Athens. “The day Books for Keeps visits is the most exciting day of the school year – this organization is creating a culture where children associate literacy with joy.”

Foundational to Books for Keeps’ program is research that points to summertime learning loss as a chief contributor to the achievement gap between poor and middle-income children. Summertime reading has been identified by experts in the field, including Allington, as the single most important activity related to learning during summer. Meanwhile, students from low-income families are at the greatest disadvantage when it comes to accessing books outside of school. One survey of a low-income Philadelphia neighborhood, published in 2001, found as few as one book per every 300 children living there.

Books for Keeps’ commitment calls for the organization to serve every elementary school in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, which has a 40 percent poverty rate, making it among the poorest counties in the nation according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In addition to those schools, Books for Keeps will also serve six schools in Atlanta and four schools in rural Georgia counties by 2019.

“Books for Keeps started out of a desire to help one little girl – but when I learned about summer slide and its devastating impact on children’s futures, everything changed,” said Melaney Smith, founder and member of the Books for Keeps board of directors. “We have been leveling the playing field for children in need ever since, 12 books at a time. This new expansion commitment to CGI is a direct result of the impact the program has had in our home community of Athens.”

Books for Keeps leverages student feedback, with the help of exit surveys, to identify the right books. Using that feedback to identify high-interest titles for the next year, the program invites children to choose the books they are excited about reading. The strategy is modeled on a three-year research study, based out of the University of Florida and led by Allington, and is being evaluated with the help of volunteer researchers from The University of Georgia.

For more information, contact or (706) 410-1912.


About Books for Keeps

Books for Keeps started as one woman’s effort to help a child who loved to read but had no books at home. It grew from a grassroots movement into a research-based program to end summer slide by ensuring children have access to books when school lets out. The nonprofit was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization in 2011, and has since given away 240,000 books in Georgia.

Books for Keeps distributes books to students ranging from pre-K through 12th grade. The flagship program, Stop Summer Slide!, is based on a University of Florida study that found allowing economically-disadvantaged elementary school children to self-select 12 high-interest books at the beginning of summer had an impact on reading achievement statistically similar to attending summer school.

Books for Keeps distributed more than 50,000 books in spring 2016 to children in Athens, Atlanta, and Warrenton, Ga., focusing on 11 elementary schools with high percentages of low-income families. It has plans to expand to 14 additional schools in the next three years, reaching more than 11,000 children with more than 140,000 books annually. Find Books for Keeps at, on Facebook at, and on Twitter and Instagram @BFK_Athens.


About the Clinton Global Initiative America
Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) America brings together leaders from the business, philanthropic, nonprofit, and government sectors to develop solutions that encourage economic growth, support long-term competitiveness, and increase social mobility in the United States. CGI America’s annual convening is designed to be a working meeting that promotes collaboration. Each CGI America participant makes a Commitment to Action: a new, specific, and measurable plan that supports increased economic growth and opportunity. To date, CGI America participants have made more than 500 commitments, which have improved the lives of nearly 2.4 million people. For more information, visit