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In the Media

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Flagpole peered into its crystal ball and had a vision of what its readers believe are the favorite things in all of Athens. The 2024 Flagpole Athens Favorites awards are not really magic; they are the results of thousands of readers’ votes in over 90 categories. 


Books for Keeps, a nonprofit to increase literacy rates among Athens elementary students that began in 2009, created a literacy mentor program in 2021. The initiative caught the attention of popular Athens hotspot, Creature Comforts, so the two organizations formed a partnership a couple of years ago to target low literacy rates at a local elementary school.


Creature Comforts Brewing Company partnered with Athens-based non-profit Books for Keeps to create a literacy mentor program, and it's working better than expected.


Walking into the Books for Keeps warehouse, you are immediately surrounded by books and more books. Justin Bray, who recently took over as executive director in August, battles with troubling technology to get music started for his volunteers as they sort through the many piles of books laid across tables. There are shelves surrounding the walls and large cardboard boxes of books fill the rest of the large room. Off to the left, there is a huge heart made of thank you cards from the students impacted by Books for Keeps.


A local youth literacy program is preparing to undergo a change in management in hopes of increasing participation and investing donation funding more efficiently. 


Life can be a balancing act, but for Leslie Hale MPA '13, executive director of Books for Keeps, helping local children read makes it all worthwhile. After the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the nonprofit from delivering books directly to schools, Books for Keeps volunteers responded by dropping off more than 53,000 books at students' homes after they made their choices online. 


Growing up in Jackson, Alabama, Sheneka Williams saw firsthand how living in a rural community could hinder access to something most people take for granted—books. Today, her passion for increasing access and narrowing the opportunity gap with the nonprofit organization, Books for Keeps, is helping thousands of at-risk youth combat the effects of “summer slide,” the learning loss many students experience while they are away from school. 


AFB&T is supporting Books for Keeps as part of Synovus' company-wide "Here Matters" community outreach program, which focuses on three areas of local community service: education, needs-based opportunities, and health and welfare.


Recently the president of the Classic City Rotary Club, Sarah Morang, and Service Committee Chair Paul Matthews presented Leslie Hale, executive director from Books for Keeps with a $2,500 check to support the reading of an entire grade at JJ Harris Elementary School. Each child will receive 12 brand new books in May to take home for the summer. Books for Keeps’ primary program is a research-based effort to end “summer slide,” the learning loss suffered by many children when they are away from school.


Learning won't have to end for pupils at Winterville and Oglethorpe Avenue elementary schools once summer starts next year. Books for Keeps recently announced plans to expand its Stop Summer Slide! reading program to include those schools.


"The real danger of summer slide (among students in kindergarten through sixth grade) is that it compounds every year," Books for Keeps founder and acting Executive Director Melaney Smith said. "If a child is not reading at a sixth-grade reading level by grade 6, their chance of catching back up is slim. The older a child gets, the harder it is to overcome."

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