What a year it has been at Way to Grow! From January through December, we packed our year with family programming, staff collaboration, and community connections. Here are some of our favorite highlights from this busy year:
Rise on 7
This year, Way to Grow partnered with CommonBond Communities and Rise Early to launch a new affordable housing community with an early childhood learning center in St. Louis Park.
The Rise on 7 community will offer 120 units of new-construction affordable housing and a ground-floor commercial space being reserved for Rise Early Learning. Rise Early Learning, in collaboration with Way to Grow, will provide on-site childcare and early learning programs for families and community members at Rise on 7. This distinctive partnership is the first of kind in Minnesota and offers much-needed affordable housing and childcare accessibility in the area. A portion of the spots for students will be reserved for residents of Rise on 7, and at more affordable rates than what is typical of childcare services in the Twin Cities.
Partnership with Osseo’s Early Childhood and Family Education
In 2023, Way to Grow continued its partnership with Osseo’s Early Childhood and Family Education (EC&FE) through Osseo Area Schools Community Ed. Together, we are providing free parent and child classes in Brooklyn Center, serving parents and children birth to age five.
Each month, families can attend Way to Grow Family Play Time where they can learn and play alongside other Way to Grow families, with structured play activities, songs, movement activities, and stories. Additionally, families can attend a monthly Way to Grow Family Affinity Group where parents can learn, discuss, and explore family topics alongside a community of other parents and caregivers!
Photo credit: Andres Perez
Meet Destiny and Sharla
In February, you were all introduced to our latest My Scholar, Destiny, and her Mom, Sharla.
Destiny’s journey with Way to Grow began when she was just two years old, pointing out the Way to Grow Preschool Pals bus each time it drove past her Minneapolis home. After a bit of research, Sharla and Destiny began attending Play to Grow groups with other Way to Grow families.
“Both Destiny and Sharla would attend nearly every week,” remembers Mr. Tony, Destiny and Sharla’s Family Educator. “Over time, Destiny became more confident in herself and started to join in small group activities.”
These days, Destiny’s lost some baby teeth and is now a vivacious first grader!
Community Baby Shower
In March, we held the first of five Community Baby Showers in partnership with Broadway Family Medicine in North Minneapolis, and First Care in Richfield. These events celebrated new parents in the community, as well as provided Way to Grow the opportunity to educate parents on important topics like attachment and bonding, safe sleep, as well as their own wellness and self-care with a new baby.
In order to help build a strong foundation for these families, attendees received care packages with critical supplies and resources, including baby books, outlet covers and other home safety supplies, and toys for newborns. Parents also had the opportunity to take home larger gifts like infant seats, hand-made baby blankets, and pack-n-plays. Thanks to our amazing partners, we were able to support over 35 new parents this Spring!
Advocacy for Children Day
In March, 21 caregivers, 25 children, and Way to Grow staff bundled up and headed to the Minnesota State Capitol for Advocacy for Children Day, hosted by the United Way!
Alongside other education advocates from across the state, Way to Grow families showed up to support early childhood care and education in the state of Minnesota. On the policy agenda: expanding access to culturally responsive, trauma-sensitive early child care and education for all children, prenatal to age five!
Dresses from Ella
Each spring, the Tushie family gathers dresses for Way to Grow families to remember their youngest daughter, Ella. In April, our office was filled with brand new dresses in every size, shape, and color of the rainbow.
Family Educators picked out the perfect dresses for each of their families, and delivered them just in time for the warm spring weather. We are so grateful to be a part of this beautiful tradition. Thank you to the Tushie family for all of the smiles these new dresses brought to Way to Grow children!
Education is Power
On May 10th, we gathered at the Walker Art Center for our annual Education is Power event! It was a packed room that featured speakers including Way to Grow Board Members Art Rolnick, Senior Fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and Luis Moreno, Co-Founder at The TCBPN. We were also thrilled to hear from Sharla, a Way to Grow parent. She and her daughter Destiny were featured as a My Scholar earlier in the year, and their story continues to inspire us.
Our keynote speaker was Dr. Rhoda Mhiripiri-Reed, Superintendent of Hopkins Public Schools. She spoke on how the implementation of Hopkin’s strategic education plan made an incredible impact on students in the district. Much like Way to Grow, Hopkins Schools uses a personalized approach to help each child grow and reach their educational goals. We were so thankful we could hear from one of our own local education leaders making a difference in the lives of families in this community!
Third Grade Graduation
On May 20th, we gathered at North Mississippi Regional Park to recognize our 3rd grade graduates! We celebrated with a picnic lunch, plenty of sweet treats, jumbo yard games, and heartwarming words from our Family Educators.
While our 3rd graders (rightfully) stole the show, this graduation is also a celebration of all the work that families and their Family Educators have done together throughout their time with us. For some, it can feel bittersweet to say goodbye after years with our staff and program. Yet we love nothing more than to watch as families branch out on their own and continue their journeys, knowing we have helped prepare them to succeed in school and life. We are so thankful for the lifelong bonds we have with so many of these amazing kids and their families!
Preschool Pals visit the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
In May, our Preschool Pals classes began a unit on plants, just in time for Minnesota spring! They spent time learning about plant anatomy, their lifecycles, growing food, and gardening. To celebrate the end of the unit, Preschool Pals took a field trip to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum!
The kids attended the Arboretum’s Ready, Set, Grow! program where they watched a puppet show, looked at bugs under a microscope, released ladybugs into the greenhouse, planted seeds to bring home, and went on a bird watching walk! So many sights, sounds and textures to explore!
Way to Grow at the Minnesota Twins
This June, the Minnesota Twins gifted over 250 tickets to Way to Grow families. Folks got to experience either a night game on June 15th or attend a day game on Father’s Day!
With perfect weather and awesome seats looking right over center field, families got to spend time together and meet other Way to Grow families. As a special treat, those who attended on the 15th were even able to enjoy a free T-Pain concert at Target Field after the game!
While the Twins might have lost, spirits were high and fun was had thanks to the Minnesota Twins Community Fund. There’s always next year—go Twins!
In July, we met Ricardo—a single dad from El Salvador who is raising his two sons to foster a love of learning and reading in Minnesota.
“He’s a very good dad,” says their Family Educator, Maria. Ricardo remembers meeting Maria for the first time: “Necesitaba mucho apoyo,” shares Ricardo. “I needed a lot of support.”
Maria’s language-to-language connection has allowed her to build a strong foundation of trust with Ricardo and his boys.
Early Learner Graduation
This August, Way to Grow had the opportunity to celebrate our Early Learner Class of 2023 at the Metropolitan Ballroom. One of our favorite annual celebrations, we watched as these young scholars walked across the stage and were recognized for all their hard work to be ready for kindergarten. Graduates were even able to take home books thanks to the incredible generosity of the Ciresi Walburn Foundation!
Early Learner Graduation is not just a recognition of kindergarten readiness, it is often the first (but not the last!) time parents see their children in a graduation cap and gown. Beyond the portraits and smiles, it is this image that invites families to envision a future where their child has achieved all they could ever dream of becoming, and Way to Grow is committed to making those dreams a reality!
Back to School for Preschool Pals
At the end of August, it was back-to-school time for our Preschool Pals students. After a short break, the preschoolers were ready to begin making new friends, learning new skills, and having a ton of fun along the way!
For the littlest kids, time was spent learning their new routine, practicing classroom rules, and learning to play together. The older class was quick to remember the routine and adjusted wonderfully to the new afternoon time. Most of our friends in the PM class have known each other for over a year, so they were excited to see each other again and dive right into the new school year.
You can follow along with our Preschool Pals on our blog, thanks to our Lead Preschool Teacher, Ms. Gwen!
Turning Pages, Changing Lives: Community Children’s Book Drive at the Mall of America
Just in time for back-to-school, Way to Grow partnered with the Mall of America Community Foundation, Thrivent, Barnes & Noble, and Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) to provide a day of fun and learning at the Mall of America!
It was a great day that featured crafts, character meet-and-greets, Nickelodeon Universe rides, and children’s author readings to Way to Grow families, all thanks to the Mall of America Community Foundation. We were also thrilled to be able to send families home with over 100 brand-new books thanks to our friends at Thrivent and Barnes & Noble!
Way to Grow Shine Celebration
We kicked off October with our annual Shine Celebration Gala at The Depot in Minneapolis. With speakers Dr. Anne Gearity and Dr. Yohuru Williams, it was an evening that shined bright with celebration, dancing (thanks to the Cypher Side Dancers and Dr. Mambo’s Combo!), and a collective reminder of how hope rooted in humanity can serve the community. Thanks to amazing donors and sponsors, Way to Grow raised over $400,000 in support of our Great By Eight program!
Over 20 laptops donated by AT&T
This fall, Way to Grow received a grant from AT&T to help bridge the “digital divide” in our community, helping families connect and learn in our increasingly digital world.
For many families, phones and tablets are the only digital devices in the home, making it difficult for students to learn virtually and for families to connect to the resources they may need. This grant provided funding for laptops and materials to support students in our virtual tutoring initiative, ensuring there would be a laptop in the home for children and families to use every day. A total of 24 laptops were given to Way to Grow families in need of access to digital technology thanks to AT&T’s support!
Way to Grow receives a $2 million surprise grant from MacKenzie Scott
We’re still pinching ourselves over the tremendous gift that MacKenzie Scott gave Way to Grow this year! On the impact of such a gift, our CEO, Carolyn Smallwood says, “It’s a game-changer in how organizations can serve more folks.” This new funding will go a long way toward serving over 300 Twin Cities families through our home visiting program!
We join the ranks of 24 Minnesota-based nonprofits to have received funding from Ms. Scott and we are thankful for her incredible vote of confidence in the work we do every day! You can read more about this amazing gift in the Star Tribune and on our blog.
Adopt a Family
Our community showed up for Way to Grow in the final month of the year by donating over 200 gift cards for our families! These gifts helped empower families to purchase needed household items and special gifts and treats, bringing smiles and hope during the holiday season. We are so grateful for the generosity of our supporters and for the opportunity to give something special to families in need.