Strengthening Early Literacy in Tennessee

In 1996, country music star Dolly Parton started the Imagination Library in her hometown of Sevierville, Tennessee. The program mailed one book a month to enrolled children from birth to age five at no cost to the families. In 2004, Tennessee’s then-governor Phil Bredesen wanted to give the gift of books to all children in Tennessee, so he formed Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation (GBBF) to expand the Imagination Library program statewide. In January of 2020, the organization celebrated 15 years of the Foundation’s work in building a love for reading in Tennessee’s children, and turned the page to the next chapter in its story to serve the early literacy needs of Tennessee. Thus, Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation is now officially known as Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation (GELF)—a name that reflects its mission and recognizes its role as an early literacy advocate in Tennessee.

With support from the State of Tennessee, foundations, and corporate sponsors, GELF funds half of the cost of books for enrolled children statewide. The Foundation mobilizes a team of more than 700 volunteers, serving in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties, to raise the rest of the program cost each year. Since its founding 15 years ago, GELF has mailed more than 38 million books to Tennessee families.

Over the last several years, GELF has expanded beyond providing books to strengthening early literacy and building lifelong learners in Tennessee. The Foundation partners with school systems and other programs and organizations throughout the state to provide reading materials for families and literacy-rich experiences for children to develop early literacy skills.

GELF will function as a thought leader, advisor, and catalyst—supporting children from cradle to career. “Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation is driven by collaboration and knows that, together, we can help ensure a prosperous Tennessee by providing children with the resources to develop skills for becoming lifelong learners,” said Claire Jones, Communication & Marketing Outreach Coordinator at GELF.

The Opportunity

In 2019, GELF formally recognized its transition into the state’s early literacy landscape by reframing its mission from providing books to strengthening early literacy in Tennessee. In 2020, the Foundation will continue to expand its programming and shift its strategic direction.

During this transition, GELF’s management wanted to make sure they were getting the most from the organization’s HR policies. The Foundation’s small team of five could not manage HR services on their own. Because of its small size, GELF already partnered with LBMC for accounting and technology needs, so the decision to turn to LBMC Employment Partners to help the Foundation with its expansion was easy.

The Solution

LBMC EP began its HR relationship with GELF through a conversation about the Foundation’s needs. This allowed LBMC EP’s staff to generate a list of custom services to best meet those needs. Through a new partnership, LBMC EP performed an initial audit of the Foundation’s current policies. GELF initially enlisted LBMC EP to handle payroll services and then decided to outsource HR tasks as well in 2019. LBMC EP now provides GELF with consultation and assistance as needed for all HR matters.

“LBMC EP provides a fresh, third-party perspective through its knowledge of employment-related regulations related to various HR situations that arise in the normal course of business,” affirms Jones. “This partnership allows GELF’s team to focus on day-to-day responsibilities, improving workflow by providing insight on best practices for ongoing employee relationships,” she adds.