My Interview with Meredith Alexander, Founder & Executive Director of Milk + Bookies.
As a new mom, over fifteen years ago, Meredith Alexander didn’t want to spend EVERY weekend going to birthday parties and soccer games with her kids. She was hungry for more meaningful and impactful experiences with her small children, experiences that would reinforce the values that their family feels strongly about (like giving back and reading, for example). In 2004, she decided it would be fun to throw a party, which she named “Milk + Bookies”, at the local children’s bookstore, Storyopolis, and invited all their friends with kids. Once there, the children were all asked to choose a book that they would want to give to a local child without any bedtime stories. Then they asked the young guests to inscribe a bookplate (most of the kids could only scribble with a crayon), stick it in the book and then drop that book into a box for a local recipient group. There were milk and cookies and story readings – it was fantastic! “When the bookstore’s cashier had a 30-minute wait to buy books,” Meredith says. “I knew I was on to something good and that other families were looking for these kinds of experiences as well.”
Because of her dedication to service and literacy, over the past 12 years, Meredith has grown Milk + Bookies into a hugely successful force for change in education. The national “Book-Raiser” program has since helped raise over 400,000 books, impacting 141,000 children in over 600 Title I schools and in-need organizations nationwide. Furthermore, after seeing firsthand the extent of Los Angeles’ literacy problem, she took action and piloted a school-to-school book drive program called Leaders + Readers. The Leaders + Readers Program
is designed to engage student volunteers in the Los Angeles community to organize school-wide book drives that will in turn benefit another LA "sister" school in a low-income community. The goal of every Leaders + Readers book drive is to flood underserved school libraries, classroom libraries and student’s homes with the books needed to support learning and academic excellence. At its core, Milk + Bookies is founded on the principle of teaching young children just how important it is to give back to others. “We’ve found a simple but effective way to harness the innate goodness in children, and then use it to impact lasting change on our community,” Meredith says.
Kathy ~ To what do you attribute your success?
Meredith ~ We are so lucky that Milk + Bookies’ mission resonates with parents. Most forward thinking families are looking to expose their kids to doing good in the community. We provide a super easy (and fun) framework for that. I also attribute some of our success to our graphic design team. I think that the logo and branding that they created for us have provided an optimistic and whimsical platform upon which we can do our work. Lastly, I have very generous friends who have supported me and Milk + Bookies for the last 13 years! Our donor list is compiled of many personal relationships for which I am forever grateful.
Kathy ~ What do you look for in an employee?
Meredith ~ When I am hiring for a position at Milk + Bookies, I am looking for enthusiasm. I, personally, have learned so much on the job that I’m not a stickler for a full and perfect resume. I know that one can’t come to an organization knowing everything they would need, so it’s more about the personality of a potential employee and how much they are willing to go outside their comfort zone by learning while doing.
Kathy ~ What’s your company’s goals in the next 10 years?
Meredith ~ We are just continuing to plug along as we’ve been doing. Our organization is poised for growth and is easily scalable, however, that requires more fundraising, which, in turn, takes us away from our programming.
Kathy ~ If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
Meredith ~ If you have an idea for something you’d like to create, do your homework to see if someone else is doing something similar then think about joining forces - especially in non-profit. There is an inordinate amount of time and energy spent on the not-so-fun stuff, so you actually end up spending most of your time NOT doing what you love and care about, and essentially working to feed the machine. If you could team up or work under another company’s umbrella, there is more time to do what you love about your initial idea - feel that passion everyday - and divide, or hand over, the less fun tasks.
Kathy ~ What was your mission at the outset? Did you envision it being the Milk + Bookies that it is today?
Meredith ~ When I started Milk + Bookies in 2004, it was a bi-annual hang out day at the bookstore kind of event, which was straightforward and involved minimal time and effort on my part. All I did was book a day with said bookstore, invite friends and buy some cookies. As we’ve evolved, Milk + Bookies has become a full time (and then some) job. Now I have daily administrative tasks, board meetings, grant applications and reviews as well as book deliveries all over town. As far as envisioning a bigger future in the early days, I never thought too ahead, as I was focused on my life as a new mom. I feel like Milk + Bookies spoke to so many people so the train left the station, then all I could do was grab onto the caboose and take this ride!
Kathy ~ Was this your first business?
Meredith ~ This is my first business. I’ve worked as a flower designer and I love spending time decorating my house, and sometimes advising friends on decor, but prior to Milk + Bookies, I held jobs as a personal shopper, a writer’s assistant and a mother’s helper.
Thank you Meredith for being an inspiration and a guiding light for so many. Most importantly thank you for creating such a amazing organzation that helps so many, you are making a difference.
Help support Milk + Bookies by attending their next Story Time Celebration, it's taking place on February 26th from 11 am to 2 pm at HD Buttercup in Culver City. If you're unable to attend please donate, help make a difference in a childs life.