“I am somebody. I can do something.”
Meet our director
Leslie 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.
Justin Bray’s professional career began with Chick-fil-A in various training roles until eventually accepting a position with their home office, helping open new restaurants all across the nation. He hoped to use this opportunity to find a new place to call home– perhaps something a touch larger than Grayson, GA where he grew up- but not quite as stressful as Atlanta. It wasn’t until after a year of travel with Chick-fil-A that he returned to Grayson and took a trip just down the road from home to a beautiful place called Athens, where he fell hard and fast for the kooky little town.
This theme of opportunities being “just down the road from home” continued on through Justin’s life, even up to today. Like how opening the Rook & Pawn Board Game Cafe would lead to a position with Creature Comforts Brewing Company. Or how his now fianceé grew up just 5 minutes away from his childhood home, and how they reconnected shortly after she began her teaching career in the Clarke County School District. And even how his relationship with Books for Keeps began in a volunteer capacity, and the Program Manager position became a possibility just at the right time in his life.
Justin’s passion for people shows through his work and daily interactions with those in his community, and he couldn’t be more excited to carry that passion along with him to Books for Keeps. In his spare time, you can catch him Podcasting, riding bikes, and having fun in the kitchen with his fianceé Anna and their two furbabies.
Meet our community development 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.
Meet our founder
In 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.
Meet our Board of Directors
Julie Denton, board president
Marketing & Public Relations Coordinator
First American Bank & Trust
Laura Evans, board vice president
Community Partnership of Elbert County, Inc.
Associate Professor of English
University of North Georgia
Keith Roberson, board treasurer
Special Projects & Business Development Manager
IT Management – retired
Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center
Whitehead Road Elementary School
Mary Alston Killen
Director of Donor Relations & Stewardship
UGA Franklin College of Arts & Sciences
Program Registrar/Data Specialist
Clarke County School District
Erin Parks, nonvoting
UGA Terry College of Business
Director of Neighborhood Engagement
Family Connection-Communities in Schools of Athens
Children First, Inc.