“I had no idea what I was doing,” says Betty Metz, Founder and President of Books-A-Go-Go.
Luckily for kids in Jacksonville, FL and later all over the world, she figured it out. During the past 10 years Betty and Books-A-Go Go have distributed more than 1 million books to kids in the United States and in 25 different countries. It all started with one person looking to make a difference in the lives of children in need.
“I moved from Pittsburgh to Jacksonville and I wanted to get involved with something, volunteer-wise,” says Betty, “and I got involved with an art program that was going to inner-city schools.”
West Jacksonville Elementary is where Betty volunteered and there she saw the toll living in poverty can have on students who are eager to learn but might not have everything they need to do so.
“A friend of mine who worked at an exclusive private school in the area said, ‘Betty there’s some old books in the library that they don’t want anymore, would the kids at your school want them?’”
With that, the seed was planted.
That holiday season, students at West Jacksonville Elementary received a book that was all their own to take home. For many, it was the first book they had ever owned.
“It was like a pride thing. They carried their books back-and-forth and were always bringing them up, like if I were to ask you for the time and you say, ‘well let me check my Rolex’ that kind of thing, except with their books” says Betty.
Soon others began reaching out to Betty with books they wanted to donate. Eventually word spread to other Jacksonville schools serving kids in needs and they asked Betty for books too. It was a lot to take on, but what had started as simply volunteering was blossoming into much more.
“I mean, I’m not a parent or a teacher,” says Betty, “and I was raised with books, but all my friends who are teachers or literacy specialists were coming to me with this passion about what’s going on so I thought, okay I’m going to do a book drive.”
In organizing the book drive, Betty was introduced to First Book, then just a small, up-and-coming organization trying to make a difference. Using First Book’s expertise and resources, Betty and her book drive were featured on the local news, in newspapers, and the mayor even reached out and said directly, “we want to partner with you.”
Not bad for a woman who, “had no idea what she was doing.”
Within a year after that initial book drive Books-A-Go Go was launched as a nonprofit and has been distributing books to kids in need ever since.
“But the thing is—First Book has always been there,” says Betty.
In 2017 Books-A-Go Go is celebrating a milestone, giving out its millionth book. In addition to used book donations, they’ve used the First Book Marketplace and First Book National Book Bank to provide brand-new, high-quality books for kids in hospice care or who have been affected by natural disasters.
After 10 years together, Books-A-Go Go and First Book have helped bring the joy of reading to kids who may not have much to be joyous about otherwise. “There was one kid, it was about eight or nine years ago,” says Betty, “and he was having a whole lot of problems in school and elsewhere. We gave out books and there was this one, he just kept reading it over and over and over. The principal of the school told me that book changed his life and that he still– he’s in high school –he always cherishes that book because it just meant so much to him.”
When First Book delivers books and resources to children in need, that is the kind of long-lasting impact that can happen. It doesn’t take a degree, lots of wealth, or powerful connections to affect the lives of kids for the better. Anyone who cares about kids can work with First Book to make a positive impact.
And if you ask Betty Metz, you can make an impact even before you know exactly what you’re doing.