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Our Story

Books for Keeps began with

one child who loved to read, and

one community member who chose to listen.  Fifteen years and over one million books later, we are so grateful to get to continue this work alongside our community. 


A student at Alps Road Elementary School wasn’t looking forward to leaving school for the summer. Why? She loved to read and didn’t have access to many books at home. Hearing this, community leader Melaney Smith inquired further and soon learned that many children in Athens, GA were in the same situation. With the support of her friends, family, and fellow community members, Melaney initiated the first book distribution. Together, this group worked to collect and give away new, high-interest books to each child in a classroom of second graders at Alps Road Elementary School. 


The following year, Melaney worked with the principal at Alps Road Elementary to gather and give away at least 3 books to each of the 400 students at the school, distributing a total of 2,000 books!


Thanks to generous donations from community members, Books for Keeps was able to file for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. 

Led by Melaney, the team developed a strategic plan for book distribution based on findings from the Allington Study. Results from the study showed that  in order to stop learning loss over summer break (or “Summer Slide”), students would need open and equal access to books, specifically 12 books (one for every week of the summer). In response, Books for Keeps committed to sending every participating child home with 12 brand new books. To help pay for the books, Books for Keeps hosted its first Community Book Sale, raising $3,000 thanks to generous donations from community members. That spring, 1,000 students across 3 elementary schools received a total 21,000 books. 


More books for more kids! Books for Keeps expanded to serve all K-5 students in 5 Athens-area schools, distributing a total of 59,000 books to 1,600 students


Books for Keeps hires its first full-time employee, Executive Director Leslie Hale. Distributions continued across 5 schools, distributing a total of 93,000 books to 1,600 students.


Thanks to continued support from community members and school partners, Books for Keeps continues to expand its programming - reaching students in 10 elementary schools including new partners from both Atlanta, GA and Elberton, GA. 145,000 books were distributed to 3,600 students this year! 


Books for Keeps hires its first Program Manager, dedicated to executing spring book distributions at all partner schools. 3,800 students across 10 elementary schools received 240,000 books! 


Books for Keeps add a third employee and expands to 5 additional elementary schools. 6,100 students across 15 schools received 313,000 books! 


Over 500,000 books distributed - a huge milestone for book access in our community! 7,800 students across 18 Georgia elementary schools received a total of 501,000 books. 


Books for Keeps adapts its model in response to COVID-19 school closures in order to stay true to its commitment to bring its book access program  to every Athens-Clarke County Elementary school by 2020. BFK listed its full book inventory on a student-friendly website and invited students to select books for themselves with the help of their teachers and caregivers. The Books for Keeps Warehouse was transformed into a distribution center that filled orders and delivered books straight to students’ homes with the help of hundreds of volunteers. 585,000 books were distributed to 8,500 across 20 elementary schools. Thank you, Athens!

Books for Keeps began distributing book bundles to participating Pre-K and Head Start Programs in order to help grow home libraries and build a strong foundation in literacy ahead of kindergarten.  Each child received 3 books every month during the school year along with literacy tips for their families. 

Books for Keeps transitioned its annual book sale into an annual Community Book Fair, removing the financial barrier to entry in order to better align with its mission to provide open and equal opportunities for book access. Visitors were invited to browse the selection of donated books in our book warehouse and take up to 100 books home for their home communities. 


Books for Keeps became affiliate partner for the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Clarke County and began shipping books monthly to kids ages 0-5 in Clarke County to help build home libraries for families and prepare children for pre-K and kindergarten. This year, Leslie Hale passed the torch to Justin Bray who is named as the new Executive Director of Books for Keeps. Thank you, Leslie, for your leadership and continued partnership!

Spring book distributions returned to the in-school format, with 935,000 books distributed to 9,300 students across 23 schools. 


In collaboration with Creature Comforts’ Get Comfortable Campaign, Books for Keeps pilots a one-on-one Literacy Mentoring Program at Howard B. Stroud Elementary. 60 volunteer mentors were recruited, trained, and matched with 2nd and 3rd grade students to assist in establishing routines and habits that lend themselves to a foundational love of reading. 

The BFK Bookmobile hits the road! Books for Keeps renovated a retired school bus into a book fair on wheels in order to further expand its opportunities for shared book access. The funds and program were inspired and dedicated in loving memory of Brittany Feldman, a local University of Georgia student from Pi Beta Phi whose memory and curiosity lives on through the continued distribution of gently used books through our service communities. 

Books for Keeps distributes its one millionth book! 1,050,00 books were distributed to 9,500 students across 23 elementary schools. 

Our Founder

Melaney Smith

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.



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