Ladies First highlights women and girls who are making the world better for the rest of us.

It was 2016 when Lisa Lucas was appointed as the executive director of the National Book Foundation. She was the third person to step into the role, but the first woman and the first African-American to lead the organization. It was a huge step in the right direction for the National Book Foundation, injecting some well-needed diversity into the literary institution. Lucas hoped her presence at the organization would create and inspire “more opportunities for women of color in the industry.”

Since her appointment, she has done everything in her power to make the foundation more inclusive and, well, a bit more exciting. She challenged herself by bringing fresh eyes to the nearly 32-year-old organization in order to help determine where to take it next.

“It’s nice to be in my second year, where I have a better handle on our direction and potential so that we can really begin to grow outward into new communities, and reaching new audiences,” Lucas tells us.

One of the educational initiatives Lucas is most excited about is BookUp, which has been running since 2007 and which Lucas wants to develop even further. The program pairs authors with middle school classrooms to create after-school reading programs that help cultivate reading habits and interpersonal skills.

“I fully believe that reading is for everyone and that everyone benefits from reading,” Lucas says.

Through the program, kids can cultivate home libraries using special funds provided to them by the National Book Foundation for bookstore visits. Lucas believes that readers need to be developed and that the more readers a generation has will ultimately be reflected in a more compassionate, intelligent, and productive world.

Another program that Lucas has gained a lot of attention for is the Book Rich Environments initiative. The program, which aims to infuse underfunded communities with books, helped distribute 270,000 books to kids and families last year.

“There are so many communities across the country that simply don’t have easy access to books, and Book Rich Environments is an effort to find those communities and fill that need,” Lucas explains.

The National Book Foundation has partnered with the US Departments of Education (ED) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Urban Libraries Council, and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading to connect families in housing authorities with libraries and other partners to inspire a rich culture of reading and help build home libraries.

As Lucas sets her sights on the new year, she is energized by how much the foundation’s work is expanding, and how many more readers and potential readers they have been able to reach.

“I’ve always been a huge reader, and getting to spread that love of books as my job still feels like an impossible joy,” she says. “There’s so much natural excitement surrounding our work, and that really keeps me going each and every day.”

What was the reading culture like for you at home, growing up? Tell us @BritandCo.