Meet Our Board
Name: Mary Alston Killen
Role: Board President
Start Date: January 2021
What’s your day job?: Director of Donor Relations and Stewardship in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, University of Georgia
“Sparkbook”: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I discovered his work in high school (as so many people do) and instantly fell in love with his dry sarcasm, incomparable wit, and his talent for exploring complex themes of social equality through a satirical lens.
Favorite BFK Moment:I have loved volunteering at both the spring book distributions and Community Book Fair! It has been so much fun to watch kids as they gleefully run around with a bag full of books, looking for the next one to add to their collection, or the see those that carefully look at each title with discernment as they try and decide which story they want to fully immerse themselves in next.
Why you’re here:Being a part of the University of Georgia as both a student and employee has afforded me countless opportunities, but I want to engage more with the greater Athens community. I am an advocate for higher education for all, and I think it is critical that kids develop their reading and critical thinking skills as early as possible so that they can be put on a path toward academic success. Books for Keeps helps fill the gap of inequity by providing books for kids who may not otherwise have access to them, which is a mission I am proud to support.
Name: Leigh Dillard
Role: Board Secretary
Start Date: 2016 (When I first heard Melanie speak at TEDxUGA)
What’s your day job?: Professor of English at University of North Georgia, Gainesville campus
“Sparkbook”: Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad stories. I don’t remember which book in particular, but I loved the stories — and illustrations — of these two amphibious friends. Years later, I found a beautiful, used copy of _Frog and Toad Storybook Collection_ while volunteering in the BFK warehouse. It’s now on my bookcase at home.
Favorite BFK Moment: I’m happy to be involved in multiple parts of the BFK project — book drives, the book fair, warehouse volunteering, and the occasional special event, but it’s hard to deny the magic of book distributions. I don’t have a specific memory, but it’s immensely uplifting to see the kids line up with their BFK bags, then excitedly enter their school library to pick out their books. They mostly do their own thing, but some ask for help finding a particular genre or title. Their reactions are priceless — from the quiet but present smile to exuberant high fives.
Why you’re here: I believe in BFK’s core values and the people who work hard to make this organization a meaningful contributor to the Athens community and beyond. I’m happy to be part of that mission as a board member, but I’m also still excited by volunteering.
Name: Susie Weller
Start Date: May 2020
What’s your day job?: Executive Director of Children First, Inc.
“Sparkbook”: My Sister the Moon By Sue Harrison. I have not revisited this series since I was 14 soooo I am not sure where it stands ethically.
Favorite BFK Moment: Making soup together with the other board members at our board retreat.
Why you’re here: I love to read and write and I like to be helpful. All three of those things align with my service for Books for Keeps. Reading was extremely important for me as a child and I want all children in our area to have the opportunity to read and read some more.
Name: Deirdre Sugiuchi
Role: Board Member
Start Date: I have been involved with Books for Keeps since the beginning— I am a former CCSD school librarian!
What’s your day job?: Writer/ Fitness Instructor
“Sparkbook”: Goodnight Moon, Fairy Tales, Swimmy by Leo Lionni
Favorite BFK Moment: Leading book drives with my students at Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary!
Why you’re here: I served as a public school librarian in Clarke County for over a decade and I understand firsthand how important it is for kids to be able to choose their own books. My students would look forward to the day when Books for Keeps came to visit all year. Even though I am no longer a school librarian, I am thrilled to continue to work with Books for Keeps.
Name: Nipuna Ambanpola
Start Date: Started volunteering in Fall 2021. Board Member since 4/20/2023
What’s your day job?: Research & Public Service Manager at the JW Fanning Institute for Leadership Development. Also working part time as the Executive Director at IVolunteer International Inc.
“Sparkbook”: One of my earliest memories is falling in love with the Harry Potter series. Three young kids having adventures in a far away magical world, hidden in plain sight from the real world really spoke to me. I’d come home from school and spend hours reading Harry Potter. When I finished all the books, I went through the entire series a couple more times.
Favorite BFK Moment: Once I had the opportunity to volunteer and distribute books across Athens. I was unsure of what to expect at first, so I was cautious. This was my first time volunteering with BFK and I was also new to Athens. But the experience really surprised me. Many kids were overjoyed and ecstatic when I came to deliver their books. I felt like Santa Claus. Parents often told me that this is the best part of the year because their children just dive deep into their books for weeks at a time and that is when they get some quiet time. It was life-changing for me, the empowerment these books grant these children.
Why you’re here: Because I believe. I believe in the power of words. I believe in it’s perspective, boundarylessness, and transformation. It is an essential condition for human growth and better societies.