“I am somebody. I can do something.”

Meet our director

PSA_3463Leslie Hale began work in June 2013 as the first-ever executive director of Books for Keeps, after completing a Master of Public Administration from The University of Georgia. While earning her master’s degree, Leslie focused on public policy and nonprofit management, while working with the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities and Watkinsville-based Extra Special People.

Leslie spent the first part of her working life as a newspaper reporter in Naples, Florida, covering K-12 and higher education as well as state political races. Watching the policy process first-hand, in the context of an early introduction to volunteerism in her hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, pointed her toward nonprofit work. A long-standing interest in working with under-served and at-risk populations were critical factors in her journey toward taking the reins at Books for Keeps.

Leslie is now proud to call Athens, Georgia, home, along with her husband, Aaron; daughters, Evelyn and Tabitha; and their cat, Ocho. When she gets a weekend off, you’ll find her hiking in the North Georgia mountains, trying out new recipes in the kitchen, running at the UGA Botanical Garden, and, of course, reading in her hammock.

Email Leslie


louis-picMeet our program manager

Louis Crow began work with Books for Keeps in November 2016. He came to Books for Keeps after earning his Bachelor of Social Work degree from The University of Georgia. Louis has deep roots in Athens, where he was born and raised, and graduated from the Clarke County School District.

Louis has a background in mentoring children with Project Safe, serving Athens’ aging adults with the Athens Community Council on Aging, and volunteering with Community Connection (now part of the United Way of Northeast Georgia) in assessing local needs.

In his free time, Louis enjoys woodworking and spending time with his wife and pets.

Email Louis


Meet our media coordinator

Rainey Lynch began working with Books for Keeps in February 2017. She joins the team with a background in communications and administrative management – a perfect fit, as she has been tasked with coordinating the organization’s social media and traditional media strategy, as well as managing Books for Keeps’ administrative needs.

Rainey was born and raised in South Georgia, where the rural setting helped foster her lifelong love of reading. After completing her degree in English literature at the University of Georgia, Rainey could not bear to leave Athens. A year after graduating, she was joined in Athens by her partner, and the two have been active community members ever since.
In her spare time, Rainey enjoys writing, volunteering, lying in the yard with her dog, biking about town, and reading- naturally.

Meet our founder

Melaney-and-HenryIn 2009, Melaney Smith heard about a little girl who was not looking forward to summer. The reason? This second-grader loved to read, but had no books at home. Melaney asked around and learned that there were many children in the same situation. In asking the question, “Why doesn’t somebody do something about this?” she realized, “I am somebody. I can do something.

Books for Keeps was launched from that point as a grassroots effort, and has since morphed into a research-based nonprofit dedicated to ending summer slide. It was all built around Melaney’s realization that she not only had the power to get books into children’s hands, but also to recruit the best people to help her do it.

In 2012, Melaney was named one of the “Exceptionals” by the Athens Banner-Herald, having been nominated for her work to end summer slide in Athens. In 2015, Melaney was named one of 10 Women of Worth by L’Oreal Paris in their 10th annual program recognizing women for making an impact on their communities.

After serving as acting executive director during the organization’s early years, Melaney transitioned into the role of (very active) volunteer. She currently works full-time as director of prospect management and analytics for the UGA Terry College of Business, and lives in Athens with her husband, Bayne, and two cats.
Email Melaney

Meet our Board of Directors

Sheneka M. Williams, EdD, board president – email Sheneka
Associate Professor & Program Coordinator
Program of Educational Administration and Policy
Department of Lifelong Education, Administration, and Policy

Camilla Bracewell, board vice president
Retired, chair of accreditation and director of special projects
Athens Regional Medical Center
Active volunteer

Denise Payne, board secretary
Clarke County School District

Laura Evans, board treasurer
Executive Director
Community Partnerships of Elbert County, Inc.

Joan Prittie, JD
Executive Director
Project Safe

Kathy Poss
School Nurse- retired
Elbert County Schools

Jennifer Welborn
Jittery Joe’s 

Jordan Burke
Executive Director
Four Athens

Joyce Waller, MS
Retired, director of material services
Athens Regional Medical Center
Educator & substitute teacher
Boys and Girls Club of Athens & Clarke County School District