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 slid”e. 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.
Since 2009, Books for Keeps (BFK) has given more than 260,000 books to children from low-income families in grades Pre-K through 12. For 11 months of the year, they collect, inspect, sort, and box books, only to give them all away each May. Books they can’t use are sold at their annual BFK Book Sale each August.
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. Children from low-income families are disproportionately affected by this loss, often due to a simple lack of access to books.
Many children cannot or do not access their public libraries for reasons related to geography, transportation, or something as simple as an inability to pay fines for lost books.
By middle school, the children from these families may be three grade-levels behind their peers. That gap is nearly insurmountable, and negatively affects their chances of graduating high school.
Books for Keeps bridges the gap by giving them books – high-quality, exciting books with contemporary titles. It’s a strategy proven to have a similar impact to attending summer school, but at a fraction of the cost.
We are also building on a strong foundation of research to evaluate the success of our program, using testing data from the schools we serve and with the help of researchers at The University of Georgia.
At its heart, though, Books for Keeps is a grassroots effort to just get books into the hands of children who might not otherwise have books at home. Our organization has grown because of the help of people like you.
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.
If you would like to get involved, Please consider joining them, by volunteering, donating books, donating funds, becoming a sponsor, hosting a book drive, or just spreading the word. Your contributions could make a difference in the life of a child.