Books for Keeps

Student reads books provided by Athens nonprofit, Books for Keeps. 

Throughout the month of May, Books for Keeps will be delivering approximately 72,000 books to students throughout the state. This book distribution is an annual event that the non-profit organization has been preparing for since April of last year.

“We’re helping the kids build home libraries and ensuring they have access to the same things their more affluent peers have,” said Leslie Hale, executive director of Books for Keeps.

Hale said the books that will be provided to these students are accumulated through community donations, local book drives and by purchases from publishing companies.

Pi Beta Phi, a University of Georgia fraternity for women, assisted in the collection of community donations by holding a book drive throughout March and April.

Caroline Macolino, a junior fashion merchandising major from Alpharetta and chapter president of Pi Beta Phi, said the book drive was held in honor of a member of their organization, Brittany Feldman, who passed away in a car accident last year. The book drive was held as a means of continuing Feldman’s legacy and positive impact on Athens.

According to Macolino, the Books from Brittany book drive resulted in over 2,000 books that were donated by members of the community.

“The community was more than helpful,” Macolino said. “We’re very thankful for all the people that helped us achieve this number [of books].”

Another UGA organization, First Book, is also very supportive of Books for Keeps’ mission because it aligns so closely with their own. First Book also distributes books to children in need, but focuses mainly on PreK and middle school students with their donations.

Alexandra Case, a junior consumer journalism major from Cumming and First Book UGA president said she and four other members of the organization helped Books For Keeps distribute books in one of their first book drives of the season.

The students were all extremely polite, and we actually saw a few of them heading to lunch afterwards and they all had their heads in their books,” Case said. “It was an amazing feeling to know that we had helped spur that excitement of reading.”

Case said First Book has volunteered to help with book distributions in the past and will continue to do so in the future since the two organizations are so intertwined in their goals.

“We have really similar missions, so we work together in order to benefit the community as much as we can,” Case said. “I personally have learned so much about the literacy community and our partners through meetings with Books for Keeps, and I know our members love volunteering with them too.”

Several local organizations, including Athens First Bank & Trust, also set up book drives throughout the month of April to collect donations for BFK.

According to Myung Chogan, a business development manager of the downtown corporate center, AFB&T set up donation centers at all of the Athens-based branches. Chogan said there was a donation area outside for customers as well as an area for employees in the break room.

“It’s been a little slow getting the word out to customers about it,” Chogan said. “But I’ve see so many employees bring in bags of books to donate.”

Chogan said AFB&T chose to partner with Books for Keeps for this event as part of their ongoing community project and “Here Matters” campaign.

“One of our bankers, Joe Hill, is on the board for Books for Keeps and is a really big advocate of what they do,” Chogan said. “We thought it was a really good fit, especially given the timing.”

This timing Chogan refers to is in reference to Books for Keeps’ understanding of an incidence called "summer slide." According to this idea, elementary school students risk losing reading competency during summer months if they do not have access to appropriate reading material.

According to an article by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development about the phenomenon, elementary school students’ performance will fall “by about a month during the summer.” The article also mentions that “the decline is far worse for lower-income students.”

Hale said the focus of their organization lies primarily in their attempt to “even the playing field” by giving students of all socioeconomic backgrounds the same opportunities to increase reading competency throughout the summer.

“We will visit 15 different schools throughout the month and make sure each child in those schools goes home with twelve new books that they can read over the summer,” Hale said.

Of the 15 schools Books for Keeps will visit, eleven are located in Athens, two in Atlanta and two in rural counties. Hale said approximately 6,000 students total will participate in the event this year.

With so many books being given away at each distribution, the organization must constantly prepare for the upcoming year.

“The book drives going on this time of year are to replenish our stock for 2018,” Hale said. “So far, we’ve seen a really terrific response [from the community] and have been able to grow our staff and capacity to expand our outreach for participation in book drives.”

Hale said the community book drives contribute approximately 20 percent of their entire stock of books. The other books are purchased through publishers throughout the year. In order to raise revenue for these purchases, BFK hosts an annual book sale throughout August to sell books that are not considered appropriate for the students.

“It’s basically the circle of life for books,” Hale said. “The community plays a very important role in making it all come together for these students.”

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