Year in Review 2021

January 1–December 31, 2021

A Letter from the Leader

2021 was a year of milestones for Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation. As we began to understand the educational impact from the COVID-19 pandemic (3rd grade reading proficiency falling from 34% to 28% statewide), the Foundation moved forward to respond to the early literacy needs of Tennessee’s children. 

With the help of dedicated partners and visionary leaders across the state, we achieved more than we expected—accomplishing our strategic plan two years ahead of schedule and growing each of our initiatives to serve more children than ever before (approx. 600K total). We also worked with partners to provide several special activities, including Rookies Read Day with the Tennessee Titans and an end-of-year book giveaway that benefitted children in flood-hit Waverly and children with parents experiencing incarceration in Memphis. Finally, we hosted the very first Statewide Early Literacy Education Collaborative of Tennessee (SELECT), bringing together early literacy leaders from across the state for collaborative discussion and exploration into how we can work together to serve Tennessee children.

With this growth, we at the Foundation are very excited, not just because we are achieving goals, but because our work is changing lives. We are deeply grateful to all of the individuals, stakeholders, and partners who help make this possible. Together, we will continue to strengthen early literacy in Tennessee. 

It’s more than milestones.
It’s more than books.
It’s the future of the next generation.
It’s the future of Tennessee.

James Pond
Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation

The Voices of our Co‑Authors

Tennessee has made strategic investments to ensure every student can become a strong reader and succeed in life beyond the classroom. The Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation is a valuable partner in supporting these priorities, and I commend their work to benefit Tennessee’s young learners.

 Tennessee Governor Bill Lee

Throughout its seventeen-year history, Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation has built a reputation for putting the early literacy needs of  Tennessee children first. Over the past year, having this priority in clear focus has led the Foundation to incredible achievements through programs and initiatives that have reached hundreds of thousands of families. It is my privilege to be a part of this journey, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for this responsive, steadily-growing organization.

Denine Torr
GELF Board Chair
Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility and Philanthropy
Dollar General Corporation


Functional Expenses



64.7% – Birth5 Book Delivery
17.1% – Caregiver Engagement
16.8% – K–3 Home Library
0.74% – Book Bus
0.30% – Storybook Trails
0.26% – SELECT & Special Events





Special Activities

  1. Tennessee Titans Rookies Made Community Debut with GELF Story Time

  2. Granted Waverly Schools’ Holiday Wish List to Rebuild Libraries Destroyed by Flooding

  3. Bridged the Gap Behind Bars with Books for Incarcerated Parents & Their Children

Initiative Impact

Book Delivery program logo, girl with book at mailbox

Birth–5 Book Delivery

Delivering books each month to children from birth to age five, through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, to foster a love of reading at an early age

Birth-5 Book Delivery
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

Books Delivered to Date

Books Delivered in 2021

Children Enrolled


Statewide Enrollment as of Dec 2021

2021 Enrollment Partnership Stats

Books Mailed to Children Enrolled through TN Department of Human Services

Books Mailed to Children Enrolled through TN Department of Children’s Services

K-3 Summer Reading logo, children of different ages reading outside school

K–3 Home Library

Delivering quality books and literacy resources to combat learning loss and support student learning in the home

K–3 Home Library

(formerly K–3 Book Delivery)



School Districts

Books Delivered

Our Report Card
Our Report Card
of caregivers reported liking the books and using them in the home
of teachers reported referencing or using the books during instruction
of students reported liking the books and using them in the home

Many of our students do not have access to good books outside of school. This is one of the most beneficial initiatives for increasing literacy that I have witnessed as an educator.

 A Jefferson County Teacher

Thank you to the Tennessee Department of Education Reading 360 program and Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation! We got these readers in the mail last week and then a surprise from Scholastic today! Parents, these are wonderful resources to help keep your child reading in the summer!

 A Sullivan County Parent

My son really enjoyed these books to the point of requesting more books on his own and wanting to pick them out himself, which is new for us. Thank you for this program!

A Tennessee Parent

K-3 Summer Reading logo, children of different ages reading outside school

Educator Advisory Council

A group of  Tennessee educators who serve as a consulting body to help GELF determine the best resources to meet the literacy needs of K–3 students across Tennessee

Educator Advisory Council

Council Members

School Districts in which Members Serve

Total Years of Experience

Caregiver Engagement logo

Caregiver Engagement

Equipping caregivers to be deeply engaged as a child’s first teacher

Caregiver Engagement



Text Messages Delivered

School Districts & Charter Schools

Caregiver Feedback
Caregiver Feedback
reported doing at least one activity per week
say that the activities helped grow their children's literacy skills
experienced an increase in confidence to support their children's learning

[The texts] are quick to read, easy to understand, and give me something small to incorporate into our busy lives! For this working mom, that is all a win-win in my book!

 A White County Parent

I appreciate the encouragement and timing; I don’t have to wait for someone else to teach; I can take the initiative to teach and gain satisfaction by sitting back and thinking, “I taught him that!”

A Johnson County Parent

Book Bus logo, child exiting book bus

Book Bus

Establishing mobile libraries to provide children and communities with access to high-quality literacy resources

Book Buses

Active Buses

Newly Supported Buses in 2021

School Districts

I can’t even describe the excitement of my students when they climbed onto the book bus! They just couldn’t wait to pick out a book for them to take home and read. We are thankful for this opportunity to put books into the hands of our students.

A Tennessee Teacher

Mrs. Mary (Book Bus Aide) helped me find the books I like. She even saved other books from the same series for my brother and I. We can’t always check out the whole series in the library at school, and now they are ours.

A Tennessee Student

Storybook Trail logo, child with caregiver at storybook trail

Storybook Trail

Collaborating to create outdoor reading experiences where families interact through literacy and physical activity

Storybook Trails

Active Trails

Newly Supported Trails in 2021


My girls love Storybook Trails! We love reading and the outdoors, so it’s a perfect activity for our family. It’s a great way to read a story and burn off a little energy at the same time. I also really appreciate that it’s something that both my 4 year old and my 1.5 year old can enjoy.

 A Nashville Parent

Book Bus logo, child exiting book bus

Statewide Early Literacy Education Collaborative of Tennessee

A collaborative conversation for Tennessee’s early literacy leaders to explore, learn, and connect around a shared vision to build a brighter future for children


Early Literacy Leaders




reported gathering with this group valuable

I loved hearing what groups and individuals in the other parts of the state are doing. It helped me to think of ways that we are or aren’t supporting literacy in our region. It gave me ideas of things we can or need to do. It also made me realize that in other parts of the state there is an organization that is especially the “champion” of literacy. I don’t think we have that in the 1st congressional district. We are doing things but they are disjointed rather than to achieve a common goal. I believe we are headed in that direction…as we begin to have a more focused effort. This event really inspired and invigorated me!

Karin Keith
East Tennessee State University

Thank You to Our Corporate Partners!

Our Governor’s Circle partners help us address key literacy needs to build lifelong learners statewide.






Thank You to Our Storyteller Society!


Individuals inspiring the literacy legacy for Tennessee’s next generation

  • Burton Jablin


Individuals writing Tennessee’s early literacy story

  • Mark and Cathy Cate
  • Margaret F. Rappaport


Individuals bringing the vision for early literacy in Tennessee to life

  • Gregory and Brenda Duckett
  • Andrea Willis, M.D.
  • Anonymous


Individuals empowering literacy and lifelong learning

  • Nancy and Harold Dishner
  • Carol and Howard Kirshner
  • Susan and Richard Mattson
  • Phil Wenk, M.D.

GELF Board

Denine Torr

Board Chair (2021)

Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility and Philanthropy
Dollar General Corporation

Parul Bajaj

Board Vice Chair (2021)

Senior Manager Philanthropy
Nissan North America

Dr. Nancy Disher

Board Secretary (2021)

President & CEO
Niswonger Foundation

Jennifer Colquitt

Executive Assistant
Frist Family

Jeff Ballard

Chief Financial Officer
Delta Dental of Tennessee

Gregory M. Duckett

Senior Vice President
& Chief Legal Officer

Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation

Judge Brandon Gibson

Senior Advisor
Office of Tennessee Governor Bill Lee
State of Tennessee

Danielle Whitworth Barnes

Ernst & Young, LLP

GELF Staff

James Pond


Dean Hoskins

Vice President

Claire Jones

Communications Manager

Paige Atchley Shapiro

Senior Program Manager

Abigail Sanderson

Development Director

Jacob Edwards

Program Manager
Birth–5 Initiatives

Joe Strausbaugh

Data Manager

Judi Hankins Davis

Regional Consultant
Birth–5 Book Delivery Program

Chad Carter

Executive Operations Manager