top of page

Service Spotlight: Millie’s Bookshelf

Every day I am inspired by the efforts of people around the world, actively pursuing a better world for others. Hearing about the mission of Millie’s Bookshelf in San Diego, California is no exception.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to share their mission. Without further ado, allow me to introduce Katie Howland, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Millie’s Bookshelf.

Liz: Let’s start in traditional Smile Project fashion. Give me a “Happiness is.”

Katie: Happiness is devoting your time and energy to lifting other people up!

Liz: What is Millie’s Bookshelf?

Katie: Millie’s Bookshelf is a humanitarian literacy nonprofit based in San Diego, California working to improve access to reading resources and promote childhood literacy in refugee settings. We achieve our work by installing micro libraries in community spaces and running refugee-led literacy programs for refugee children ages 4-7 years old. Our organization is guided by the core belief that every child fleeing war and persecution deserves access to a good book.

Liz: What is the driving force behind what you do?

Katie: A growing problem in refugee communities is the presence of book deserts - environments where it is virtually impossible for families to access reading resources. With humanitarian actors allocating only 3.6% of their budgets to investments in education, there is a critical need for additional programming in the formal and informal education sectors to promote reading and literacy.

Ensuring adequate access to books is critical in helping children develop pre-literacy skills that assist with language acquisition and socio-emotional development. Additionally, studies have shown that reading can provide psychological benefits for children who are coping with toxic stress due to the trauma of displacement. Therefore, our mission is to improve access to reading resources in displacement settings in an effort to promote childhood literacy and well-being.

Liz: What does service mean to you?

Katie: Service is something that you integrate into your day-to-day life - not just something that you reserve for the holidays or an occasional beach clean-up. Being service-minded means constantly examining the world around you and brainstorming ways to make life more equitable.

Actions don’t have to be big to be impactful, but they should be thoughtful and focus on lifting up the voices of others who may have less positional power than you do. While wanting to help others is an admirable trait, we must always remember that how we help others is just as important as whether we help others. Service is ultimately about championing other people to be their own effective agents for change.

Liz: How can people get involved?

Katie: Visit our website,, to sign up for our email list, where you will be regularly updated about ways to volunteer or contribute to our cause! You can also follow us on social media on Facebook and @milliesbookshelforg on Instagram.

If you feel moved to directly support our programs serving refugee kiddos, you can donate here or support us while shopping online! If you select Millie’s Bookshelf as your charity of choice when utilizing Amazon Smile, Amazon will donate a portion of the proceeds to our programs. To select Millie’s as your charity of choice, you can follow this link and bookmark Amazon Smile for all of your shopping sprees!

In addition, Millie’s recently launched a book club! For just $5/month, you can help displaced children find refuge in reading and get some great book recommendations along the way - sign up here!

Liz: Anything else you'd like to add?

Katie: Our namesake, Millie, is a playful nod to our favorite childhood bookworm, Matilda!

Liz: Do you have a favorite quote to leave us with?

“So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.”

-- Roald Dahl, Matilda

bottom of page