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: Stephen Nobles
Role: Board Vice President
Start Date: April 2018
What’s your day job?: Governance & Flexibility Specialist for Clarke County School District
“Sparkbook”: “The Odyssey!” I remember spending summer afternoons in under my bed, engrossed in “The Odyssey.” The epic adventures of Odysseus transported me to distant lands, sparking my love for reading, storytelling and imagination. Those cherished moments still inspire my reading journey today!
Favorite BFK Moment: My very first book distribution with the students will always be my most favorite moment. Words cannot express the joy that was on almost every student’s face. Then the realization for me that this is all for books! What a “wow” moment for me and one I will not soon forget.
Why you’re here: It’s alignment! BFK’s mission aligns with my “Why.” We share a love for books, we share a love for Athens, and we share a desire to improve the reading levels and love of reading in students throughout the state! That is why I am here with BFK.
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: Keith Roberson
Start Date: 2020
What’s your day job?: Manager & Co-Owner Of Barron’s Rental Center
“Sparkbook”: I think it was definitely in middle school when I started reading Anne McCaffrey – Dragon Riders Of Pern. Made you feel like you were in another future world. It is interesting to think about what other people are experiencing in order to survive on a far away planet. Additionally, they forgot the science that brought them to the planet. It was definitely a book of the 1960’s & 1970’s.
Favorite BFK Moment: There are definitely many board retreats and day-to-day moments working with the staff that have been awesome. The best in my opinion is the book distributions. You will get a work out carrying boxes of books. What makes it really special though, is seeing the faces of the kids as they crazily run around checking out new books. They light up like its the best thing that’s happened all month, if not year. Makes me feel proud to help get those books into the hands of our future community members and leaders.
Why you’re here: The mission and its people. The organization is run by some of the best carrying and capable people. They do great work in Athens and beyond. Its also really about that warm part of my heart when I think about reading. ‘Tis also how much I learned and grown from reading since I was little kid. Growing up my brother and sister and I always did the summer reading challenges and loved it. My sister and I both loved Fantasy. Reading so many different genres of books opened my mind and really made me want to learn. So when I was asked to join the board, I thought back to that and said “yes, absolutely.” I really want kids to feel those things that I felt and grow.
Name: Julie Denton
Start Date: 2018
What’s your day job?: Marketing and Communications Director
“Sparkbook”: Books from childhood are like close friends. It feels impossible to name one as “best”. Charlotte’s Webb, Stuart Little, Encyclopedia Brown, Ramona Quimby, and so many more.
Favorite BFK Moment: Book distribution is definitely the pinnacle. The bookmobile brought me to tears.
Name: Pamela Garcia
Start Date: 2018
What’s your day job?: Principal, Fowler Drive Elementary
“Sparkbook”: Any Dr. Seuss books
Favorite BFK Moment: Summer Slide distribution in the elementary schools. As a principal, it is so exciting to see kids excited to read in their classrooms. Every student is so engaged in reading and it is so peaceful.
Name: Chandra Mincey
Start Date: 2017
What’s your day job?: Staff Scientist, Lab Operations at Ethicon
“Sparkbook”: Judy Blume books got me through puberty! I found comforting to read about some of the same thoughts I had and the same things that were actually happening. Books were my definitely my happy place. My favorite was “Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret.”
Favorite BFK Moment: My favorite BFK moment was volunteering in the warehouse with my family and friends for my birthday in July 2022. We had so much fun bonding over books, we didn’t want to leave!
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: Terris Thomas
Start Date: May 2020
What’s your day job?: Director of Neighborhood Engagement with Family Connection Communities In Schools of Athens
“Sparkbook”: Daddy’s Little Girls by TD Jakes
Favorite BFK Moment: Serving at the Annual Book Sales
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.
Name: Ben Jacobs-Nichelson
Role: Board Member
Start Date: May 2023
What’s your day job? Founder & Financial Planner at Fully Financial
“Sparkbook”: The Harry Potter series is one that definitely holds a special place in my heart. I remember when I was 8 years old, my mom surprised me by bringing me to the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I remember thinking that it was so cool to be able to stay up until midnight, but the series in general is one that always brings me so much comfort and happiness when I pick up one of the books.
Favorite BFK Moment: During book distribution at Oglethorpe Elementary, we were helping a 1st grade class pick out books to take home for the summer. One of the students walked right up to me, told me his name, and asked me if he could give me a hug. It was clear to me at that moment that what Books for Keeps does makes a huge difference in these kids lives. Watching their reactions as they find their favorite books series or a book about their favorite animal is priceless.
Why you’re here: When I was a kid and visited my grandparents house over the summer, I remember going around their small town in Vermont with my Grandpa – delivering books to daycares/schools each week. My grandparents have always been a staunch supporter of ensuring that everyone has access to great books to read, and that is a belief has been instilled in me. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to help Books for Keeps fulfill its mission!
Name: Kathleen Adams
Start Date: As a board member – August 2023. As a supporter – sometime in 2016 I think when I went to the book fair for the first time.
What’s your day job?: Marketing Manager for Leon Farmer & Company, and Chapter Organizer for Silent Book Club Athens
“Sparkbook”: I think reading in general was my sparkbook, but one of the earliest characters I can remember is Amelia Bedelia. She is very literal, and it always made me giggle to imagine her misinterpreting directions (sewing seeds, dressing chicken) as I learned how our crazy language works.
Favorite BFK Moment: I have two recurring favorite moments with BFK. One is when I am in the book warehouse and come across a book I’ve been looking for. What a nice little treat! The other is when I’m greeting patrons at the book fair and a child hears me say “you can get up to 100 books today” and their eyes go wide and they run to the children’s section with their BFK tote bag, and later they have a huge stack to take home.
Why you’re here:I remember being that kid who just could never get their hands on enough books. Books were the best part of my childhood and are still a huge part of my adult life. I want everyone to experience the sense of fulfillment that comes from reading. BFK is making it possible for a lot of people to have this experience, and it is so cool that we have this resource in our community.