Q&A: The Macon nonprofit is giving free books to children. Here’s how you can get involved.

Book ‘Em and Bibb Sheriff’s Office partner to get free books for Brookdale kids this summer.

Katie Powers, Book 'Em founder, says giving students choice of five books is the way to start summer break right.
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Katie Powers, Book 'Em founder, says giving students choice of five books is the way to start summer break right.

Editor’s Note: This is an occasional series featuring conversations with leaders of area nonprofit organizations that provide a variety of services and support to many in the community.

Book ‘Em, founded by Katie Powers, is a nonprofit organization that gives free books to children.

Powers is a former teacher in the Bibb County public school system. She started Book ‘Em to fulfill a need to put books in the homes of children who didn’t have any.

The organization is partnered with the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office to distribute the books.

The Telegraph spoke with Powers about the organization.

Q: Would you describe what your organization does to help the community?

All the books that we distribute, that’s something very important to me, is that they are of the highest quality and they are new. We do make exception and take some donations of books, but they have to meet the standard of really appearing to be new. Generally, they’re books that are chapter books for older kids, like Harry Potter series and things that I can’t necessarily get at a reduced price.

There’s data out there, a lot of good data, that shows that putting books in homes really directly predicts reading achievement and that children who have books in their homes reach a higher level of education than those who don’t. There’s a study that found the number of books in middle-income neighborhoods per child is about 13, and when you go into low-income neighborhoods, the ratio is 1 book for every 300 children, which is pretty astonishing.

Another thing that’s important to me is that the children select their own books, that we’re not just going into schools or communities, neighborhoods, community centers and saying, “Here’s your book. Take it. We don’t really care if you like polar bears or not. Here’s your polar bear book,” or, “Here’s your baseball book.”

And also, kids kind of know what their reading level is, and sometimes they’re a little embarrassed if maybe they’re reading a little below level, so we think it’s really important that they can self-select these books.

By using the sheriff’s deputies as the delivery points for the books, we’re doing two things. We’re obviously helping to, hopefully, boost childhood literacy rates but also strengthening the bonds of trust between children and their parents and law enforcement. It also gives the law enforcement officers a positive way to be able to interact with children, and if they happen to have books in their patrol cars, if they encounter children in difficult situations, it gives them a positive way to interact with the kids or distract the kids and something the kids can take away that’s positive from the encounter.

Q: How long has the organization been serving the community and how many people work and volunteer there?

Since fall of 2015, we have been a 501(c)(3), and since that time we have, I would estimate we’ve distributed over 20,000 books to children in the community. So we don’t have any paid employees. I myself am a full volunteer, and of course the law enforcement officers are paid by the sheriff’s office. So really, for me, it was just a brilliant solution in terms of, we really don’t need that many volunteers because they’re the ones who are giving the books to the kids. Either outreach deputies or deputies who are on the job.

A good chunk of the time, I do use volunteers, but they’re primarily school age, like high school age volunteers who need community service hours, to help me unbox. One other thing that we do is we have bookplate stickers in each of the books for the children, if you were to have your own personal library, so that they can put their name in the book. It has our logo and let’s them know that the book came from Book ‘Em and from the sheriff’s office. So that’s sort of laborious, putting these stickers into thousands of books.

We’ve had 10-20 student volunteers throughout the course of the year who, at different times, have come in and helped with that task. Which is a nice thing to tell people who are interested in making a donation, that they can be assured that 100% of any money they donate goes directly to the purchase of books. I like to say that if you give me $20, I can buy 10 brand new books, and these are wonderful, often hardcover books for these children.

Q: What is the newest or most unique program or service that you provide?

I would say our biggest annual event is our schoolwide book giveaway, and we have done four of those in the past five years. Two of them were at Brookdale Elementary School, and we did one at Bruce Elementary. This past year we did one at Bernd Elementary.

At each of these schoolwide book giveaways, which are all-day events, every student in the school is able to select five brand new books to take home and keep. Like I said, they all have stickers in them. They also get a bookbag to keep their books in. There are deputies at the school all day to help the kids pick out their books. We have had some guest celebrity readers such as the sheriff, the mayor. Some personalities from The Creek have also been really generous with their time and coming out to support.

That’s really, I would say, our biggest single event per year, but we also do multiple events with the sheriff’s office. We’ve done book giveaways at Santa in the Park for the past four years. We’ve done book and treat giveaways at Powers Law Group for the past four years with deputies onsite. Anytime the sheriff’s office needs books at an outreach event or any kind of event where there are going to be children, we supply those. We’ve done events at several of the community centers, the Buck Melton Center, the Family Investment Center and the Rosa Jackson Center.

I would say our newest program, we just received a grant from the Linda Harriet Lane Foundation through the Community Foundation of Central Georgia for $5,000 for the purpose of purchasing books specifically for patrol deputies to have. We are in the process of purchasing those books and delivering the books to the districts. We’ve been delivering to the annex, which is the main district downtown and replenishing those books. That’s one thing we’re really excited about.

Q: Do you have an annual event or special community activity that our readers should know about?

I would say that the schoolwide book giveaway would probably be the biggest annual event, other than the Halloween and the Santa in the Park. We’ve given books to the Mentor’s Project’s summer program and during their fall festival for the past several years. We’ve periodically taken books to the safehouse for the children who are there, and also we supply books to the weekend lunch program for the homeless that’s at Christ Episcopal Church. There’s a deputy who is onsite there. If there happens to be children who come to be served a meal, then they can give them books, too.

For more information about Book ‘Em, visit maconbookem.org, or contact them at 478-461-2323. Send donations to 3557 Vineville Ave.

Anisah Muhammad is an intern reporter at The Telegraph, a journalism major at Mercer University, a self-published author, a spoken word poet and the co-founder of an online magazine.