When sisters Jennifer Parker and Becca Hamby formulated the idea of a non-profit literacy club for students in 2012, they knew students would be excited about the idea, but they didn't realize the excitement would spread statewide.
"When we started, it was very small - I think we had 100 kids at our first TomeCon," said Hamby. "To have more than 1,500 here today is very surprising - it's double last year - but we always expected it to grow because we love the vision and we love what it's doing for the kids."
Hamby, along with two other members of the Tome Society Executive Board, took a quick break from the activity at the University of North Georgia's Gainesville campus on Tuesday to talk about the growing popularity of the Tome Student Literacy Society.
For the last seven years, the Tome Society has released an award list of 36 books - books termed "clean, encouraging and engaging" - and those books serve as the content for student competitions throughout the year. Among those competitions is the Reading Bowl.
Reading Bowl Chair Ashley Walden said the set-up is much like a trivia game show.
"It starts as an online competition that all my schools can compete in and that way everyone gets a lot of opportunities to compete throughout the year," said Walden. "There are three online competitions and then my top four teams get to come to TomeCon and compete face-to-face quiz-bowl style with buzzers...and the [team] with the most points takes home the trophy."
Shelby Day, who serves at secretary for the Tome Society board, said while reading is central to the mission of the non-profit, it's not the only focus.
"Our competitions also focus on writing and art and technology, so we try to have competitions that will draw in kids that maybe don't have a place," Day said. "Maybe they're not an athlete, maybe they're not an A+ student, but they like their niches...so we try to have a home for everyone."
To date, there are close to 160 Tome clubs, according to Hamby. She said the clubs are spread all across the state, some as far south as Savannah.
"And this year we had our first chapter from Alabama, so we can officially say now that we are multi-state," said Walden.
Hamby said the four executive board members - all full time educators, by the way - will sit down a few days after TomeCon 2018 is over and cast a vision for next year.
"It will either continue growing in Georgia alone or we'll expand it to the region or maybe even eventually the whole nation," said Hamby.
While the four women are the driving force behind the Tome Society, Hamby said they always need volunteers. She said they always take monetary donations, but they need people to read and review books.
"We publish a list of 36 clean, exciting reads for kids every year and we definitely need readers because we read hundreds of books each year to find those 36 perfect books," said Hamby.
Icing on the cake this year, said Hamby, was the fact that her niece, daughter of co-founder Jennifer Parker, was part of Tome at her school and was a competitor at TomeCon 2018.
"We're seeing it come full circle with our own children," Hamby said. "We're getting to see our own children come into this thing that we've built and that's just really exciting for us."