“You are somebody and you can do something,” says Melaney Smith.
Smith, the founder of the summer reading program Books for Keeps, gave an empowering speech on making a difference in lower income communities. As a UGA alum and current Athens-Clarke county resident, she brought to light the importance of reform and educational resources within lower income communities.
Statistically, educational resources are not offered at the same level in lower income communities as they are in middle or higher income communities. In 2009, Smith saw the need for a free book program to encourage summer reading and keep all children’s brains active and engaged outside of the school year.
“Children from low-income families are so much more susceptible and it’s often due to simple lack of access,” says Smith. She calls this learning gap summer slide. “This can lead to a two-year achievement gap by the 6th grade.”
Through her Books for Keeps program, Smith has created an opportunity for economically disadvantaged children to have access to reading and other academic materials throughout the summer and keep up with their classmates. She started from humble beginnings, realizing that there was a need in her community and found a way to address it.
Smith says that initially she had to fight off feelings of being small and inadequate when it came to starting her foundation.
“We have a tendency to believe that our small efforts can’t possibly make a difference,” says Smith. “But it’s so empowering to stop thinking about your or the world’s massive problems and just address the need that is in front of right at that moment.”
Smith is challenging community members to think small and make efforts despite how small they might seem. No matter how small, needs are still needs and even one hour of someone’s time or $5 can ensure that a child eats dinner that night or has a book to read before they go to bed at night. The biggest differences people can make in their communities start with them. If everyone thought smaller, communities could be transformed and built as a collective effort.
“That first small step, that dollar, that hour, I’m telling you they matter even if you never see the proof,” says Smith.
UGA alum, Melaney Smith, has started a summer reading program called Books For Keeps. This program will ensure lower-income children have educational resources outside of the school year.
Statistics show that summer reading helps keep young minds active and engaged, avoiding a summer backslide.
“It can lead to a two year achievement gap by the 6th grade,” says Smith. “Children who aren’t reading on grade level by the 3rd grade are four times more likely to drop out of school.”
Books for Keeps is currently distributing over 45,000 books a year for children in the Athens-Clarke county area.
As a current resident of Athens-Clarke county, Smith is working diligently to ensure that the educational resources in the community remain accessible for each child.
“We are leveling the playing field for these children where access to books is concerned,” says Smith.