Hale functions as the executive director and the only true employee of Books for Keeps, a relatively new nonprofit in the Classic City that seeks to improve the literacy of local children.
Books for Keeps collects and buys new and used children’s books, organizes them in a small section of a warehouse into various boxes, and then distributes 12 books to each elementary student at the end of every school year. The organization plans to hand out 50,000 books this year. Hale’s goal is to have the students reading for fun over the summer.
“Books for Keeps is a great organization that I am really proud to be a part of,” Hale said. “Its goal is to get books in the hands of kids that, because of transportation problems of financial issues, may not get the chance to own books otherwise.”
Founder Melaney Smith passed the reigns of the nonprofit to Hale in June 2013, after Hale had earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Georgia. To Smith, Hale was the obvious choice to take over the day-to-day responsibilities.
“It was nice to see someone take this job as serious as Leslie does,” Smith said. “She is just so enthusiastic about the kids and brings so many fresh ideas to the company.”
Hale’s responsibilities include sorting books in the warehouse, calling potential donors, training volunteers, organizing book drives to raise money, pitching expansion ideas and distributing the books at the elementary schools.
Students that volunteer with the organization look up to Hale as not just a hard worker, but as an intelligent mentor who is a true professional in all aspects of her job.
“She’s just extremely intelligent,” volunteer and UGA student Charlotte Burney said. “I mean if you just look around the warehouse, she has probably read most of them. Anytime I have a question about anything I can come to her.”
“Leslie is just so patient with us,” volunteer Sayer Delk said. “Even when we are brand new or we mess things up completely in the warehouse, she never gets flustered or angry. She is calm in every situation.”
Before working with nonprofits, Hale spent four years as a journalist. She received a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina, covered topics such as higher and K-12 education along with state and local government for a paper in Naples, Fla.
“I left the journalism field for multiple reasons, and when I started looking for other jobs, I really focused in the nonprofit industry,” Hale said. “I had a really strong interest in doing something that had a social impact. I wanted to do something that really mattered. That is why I even tried to be a journalist in the first place.”
Hale found the opportunity to make that social impact when she was working public relations for Watkinsville-based non-profit Extra Special People while in graduate school at UGA. She and her husband Aaron Hale decided Athens was where they belonged.
“After we worked as reporters, we visited Athens and just fell in love with the city. It felt like home,” Hale said.
Hale has enjoyed the Athens community so far. Her work she has done for the students has provided the rewarding job she was seeking. The Books for Keeps’ distribution day in particular keeps her going.
“That is the day that is so exciting and is definitely my favorite,” Hale said. “Just to see the looks on the kids faces is so rewarding and worth all the work. When you do work like this, you just want to see it all pay off. On distribution day, it does. Just to see the kids pick out books they want to read, as opposed to ones that they are told to read, is such a great thing.”
One more reason Hale and her husband plan to stay put in the Classic City is the arrival of their first child later this year. However, that still isn’t enough to slow her down.
“Leslie is five months pregnant and she is still here in the warehouse,” Burney said, “If that doesn’t make you a hard worker, I don’t know what does.”
1. Leslie Hale- Books for Keeps director
2. Melaney Smith- Books for Keeps founder
3. Charlotte Burney- Student volunteer
4. Sayer Delk- Student volunteer
5. Brenda Rawson- volunteer