Our Mission & Vision

The mission of Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation is to strengthen early literacy in Tennessee. Our vision is a Tennessee where all children have access to the resources, guidance and support they need to become lifelong learners.

Our Values



We are mission-driven.
Striving to be innovative, effective leaders in early literacy



We are collaborative.
Seeking to empower and amplify a shared vision



We are positive.
Encouraging the best in ourselves and others



We are lifelong learners.
Fostering personal and professional development



We are responsible.
Serving with accountability as a resource for Tennesseans

Our Story

In 2004, Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation (GELF) was founded by former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen as a public-private partnership to foster a love of reading in preschool children by expanding Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library program statewide, giving all birth to age five children the opportunity to receive books in the mail at no cost to families. Since then, GELF has grown from solely a book-gifting program to an early literacy thought leader, advisor and catalyst, supporting children beyond age five to build lifelong learners in Tennessee.

History Timeline

  1. 1996

    Dolly Parton established the Imagination Library program and began mailing one book each month to Sevier County children from birth to age five, at no cost to families.

  2. 2004

    Governor Bredesen and the Tennessee General Assembly establish Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation (GBBF) to “promote and foster the development of a comprehensive statewide program for encouraging preschool children to read.” GBBF became the supporting partner of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Tennessee.

  3. 2005

    Corporate partnerships are formed with Delta Dental of Tennessee, Dollar General Literacy Foundation, Nissan and Enterprise Holdings Foundation.

  4. 2006

    After just two years, GBBF establishes Imagination Library programs in all 95 Tennessee counties by recruiting sponsoring organizations and volunteers to serve as management partners. For 15 years, Tennessee remained the only statewide Imagination Library program.

  5. 2011

    GBBF establishes a partnership with the Verizon Foundation and TN Department of Children’s Services to ensure that every age-eligible child in foster care is enrolled in the Imagination Library and receives monthly books.

  6. 2012

    Amazon becomes a partner, supporting four county programs in which it has fulfillment centers.

  7. 2013

    Research in Shelby County and Knox County finds Imagination Library participants outperform peers in kindergarten assessments through third grade. GBBF establishes an enrollment partnership with TN Department of Health’s Welcome Baby Initiative.

  8. 2014

    GBBF celebrates 10th anniversary, reaches 20 million books distributed, and rebrands with new logo. GBBF celebrates with a bus tour across the state, visiting county affiliates and hosting community events.

  9. 2015

    With key support from the Niswonger Foundation, GBBF launches the Birthing Hospital Initiative by partnering with birthing hospitals across the state to enroll newborns into the Imagination Library and provide families with a copy of the program’s first book to take home from the hospital. BlueCross BlueShield of TN Health Foundation becomes a partner.

  10. 2016

    GBBF establishes a partnership with TN Department of Human Services and joins TN Department of Education’s “Read to be Ready” initiative with the shared goal of increasing Tennessee’s third-grade reading proficiency.

  11. 2017

    GBBF launches its Book Bus program in partnership with local school systems and reframes its mission to “promote early childhood literacy in Tennessee’s birth-to-age-five population.”

  12. 2018

    GBBF launches its Storybook Trail program in partnership with TN Department of Environment & Conservation and TN State Parks Conservancy.

  13. 2019

    GBBF celebrates 15 Years and 38+ million books distributed. Statewide enrollment reaches 70%. Strategic planning re-envisions GBBF’s role in Tennessee’s early literacy landscape to meet state needs.

  14. 2020

    GBBF “Turns the Page” to its next chapter, with additional emphasis on K-3rd grade, reframing the Foundation’s mission to “strengthen early literacy in Tennessee” and changing the Foundation’s name to Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation to reflect its early literacy vision. Our vision is a Tennessee where all children have access to the resources, guidance and support they need to become lifelong learners.


James Pond


Dean Hoskins

Vice President

Abigail Sanderson Portrait

Abigail Sanderson

Director of Development

Claire Jones

Director of Communications

Meredith Brown Hilleary

Director of Programs

Chad Carter Portrait

Angel Bebout

Director of Finance

Chad Carter Portrait

Katie Elam

Program Manager, SELECT

Abigail Sanderson Portrait

Heather Logan

Regional Program Manager

Chad Carter Portrait

Chad Carter

Executive Operations Manager

Chad Carter Portrait

Alissa Miller

Communications Coordinator

Abigail Sanderson Portrait

Judi Hankins Davis

Regional Consultant
Birth-5 Book Delivery Program

Chad Carter Portrait

Alexis Wade

Special Projects Manager

Chad Carter Portrait

Keri Braswell

Operations Coordinator

Meet Booker, our Owl Mascot


Great Horned Owl (also known as the “Tiger Owl” or “Hoot Owl”)

Length (Height) x Wingspan

22″ x 44″

Where You Can Find Me

Flying through Tennessee’s hills and mountains, forests, agricultural areas and urban woodlands

Favorite Book

Little Owl’s Night by Divya Srinivasan

Favorite Subjects

Aviation, Owlgebra and AP Literature

What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

Owl figure it out and explore a lot of different careers in Tennessee

To Learn More About Booker

Board of Directors

Judge Brandon Gibson

Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee

Jennifer Colquitt

Sarah Blair Event Design

Jeff Ballard

Delta Dental of Tennessee

Dr. Nancy Dishner

Niswonger Foundation

Denine Torr

Dollar General Corporation

Danielle Whitworth Barnes

Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee

Jamie Wildman


James Nicholson

Pinnacle Wealth Advisors

Jake Bynum

University of Tennessee at Martin

Bryan Jones

Marcum LLP

William Franklin

Path Company

Nicole Watson Portrait

Nicole Watson

Holland & Knight

Our Outreach Partners