Empowering our next generation of leaders.

While Minnesota may be a leader in education, our children of color are too often left behind. With one of the largest opportunity gaps in the country, we made a promise to our community—we will be there for you.

At Way to Grow, we support families with children from birth to age eight, empowering our next generation of leaders. We are proud to work with more than 1,700 individuals in Minneapolis and the surrounding suburbs—neighbors who work hard to provide for their children and are active in their community and their child’s education. With a team of talented Family Educators, we provide year-round services every day to Way to Grow families and their surrounding communities.

Meet Our Team

Carolyn Smallwood joined Way to Grow in 2004. She previously served as vice president for Sales and Marketing at Twin Cities Rise! and Executive Director of the Minnesota Minority Supplier Development Council (MMSDC).

In 2014, the Star Tribune named Carolyn on one of the Twin Cities’ “Top African-Americans of Influence.” She currently serves on the Ciresi and Walburn Foundation Board of Directors, the African American Leadership Forum Board of Directors, Minnesota Comeback Board of Directors (where she serves as Co-Chair), and the MinneMinds Executive Committee. Carolyn also sat on Governor Mark Dayton’s Early Learning Council for four years. In 2014, Carolyn was selected by Mayor Betsy Hodges to co-chair the Cradle to K Cabinet.

Other previous board positions include the MacPhail Center for Music, the College of Saint Benedict, the Jeremiah Program, the Citizen’s League, and the Children’s Theatre Company. She also served as a member of the Greater Twin Cities United Way’s Early Learning Executive Committee, as well as the Promise Neighborhood Solution Action Group.

Program Leadership

Patricia Hayes


Ronel Robinson


Programming Staff

Bruce Murray


Nichole Jensen


Pamela Khang


Family Educators

Alexa Rodriguez


Alison Dakota


Amanda Erickson


Amina Ammi


Amber Skogsberg


Andrea Lechuga


Anthony Allen


Eveline Rojas


Guadalupe Montano


Jamesetta Diggs


Juliet Cha


Maria Soto


Phoua Yang


Roxanne Bell-Afolabi


Ruth Gishen


Sadia Abdullahi


Saleta Sallet-Cobb


Santa Rodriguez


Shany Fahiye


Tatiana Buckner


Preschool Pals Staff

Craig Allen


Eka Nagoya


Gwen Berrisford


Marisa McKinley


Willie Lane


Development & Communications Leadership

Kim Bowman


Melissa Meyer


Development & Communications

Chelsea DeLong


Kate Kinkade


Liz Woods



Andrew Lindvall


Daniel Hanson


Tom Frank


Office and Administration

Sara Brandt


Mark Henderson


Roggie Robinson



Sophie Kelley, Chair
Retired, Market Director, Associated Bank

Michael Garrett, Vice Chair & Secretary
Senior Vice President, Human Resources and Inclusion, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis

Darrell Ellsworth, Treasurer
Senior Manager, Business Risk and Control, Wells Fargo

Gaye Adams Massey, Past Chair (Emeritus)
Chief Executive Officer, YWCA of St. Paul


Julie Baker (Emeritus)
Community Volunteer

Bob Barnett (Emeritus)
Senior Fellow & Principal Consultant, MDA Leadership Consultants

Laura Bohlander
President, LRE Foundation

Jim Boyle
President, James R. Boyle & Associates

Janis Clay
Executive Director, Board Chair, Civic Caucus

Karen Contag
Community Volunteer

Susan Corridoni
Corridoni Foundation For Agency and Self-Determination, Director

Brian Crosby
Vice President, Community Accountability Officer, Associated Bank

Darrell Ellsworth
Retired, Senior Manager, Business Risk and Control, Wells Fargo

Kyle Green
Senior Manager, National Department of Professional Practice, KPMG LLP

Julia Halberg (Emeritus)
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Dean’s Cabinet, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota

Laurie Lafontaine
Retired, Vice President of Finance and Treasury, Allina Health Minneapolis

Vanessa Laird (Emeritus)
Executive Director, University of Minnesota Center for Integrative Leadership

Vickie Mattys
Community Volunteer

Sarah Mitchell
Director, Marketing, Comcast Business, Midwest Region

Chris Mongeon (Emeritus)
Wealth Advisor, Parable Wealth Partners

Luis Moreno
Co-Founder, The TCBPN

Dave Nassif

Kevin Nilan
Retired, Global Asset Manager, 3M

Jeanne Ravich
Community Volunteer, Founder, Books to Grow

Art Rolnick
Senior Fellow, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota

Nasibu Sareva (Emeritus)
Executive Director, African Development Center

Randy Sauter
Senior Manager, Information Security, U.S. Bank

Frank Schweigert
Retired, Professor, Department of Philosophy, College of Liberal Arts, Metropolitan State University

Angela Slaughter
VP, Associate General Counsel, Capital RX

Jaime Stilson (Emeritus)
Partner, Dorsey & Whitney

Yohuru Williams
Distinguished University Chair, Professor of History & Founding Director of the Racial Justice Initiative, University of St. Thomas

Ann Yates
Director, Pharma Vertical, Evoqua Water Technologies

"Alison and Way to Grow give us access to resources, opportunities, and events that we never would have been able to experience otherwise."

Sydney, Way to Grow Parent

Our Stories

Paying it Forward

An early start and so much support truly paid off for Octavio. A fast learner, he would pick up new skills quickly and his comprehension consistently challenged his Family Educator to bring different and interesting lessons to the home.

Now a seventh-grader, Octavio’s performance in math and science far exceeded grade level. Yet rather than coasting through his classes, he stepped up to help those around him. “I was just able to grasp what was being taught and then helped others understand it as well,” he explains. Octavio was such an asset to his class that he was asked to help tutor kids in a summer school program.

All for One, One for All

With the help of Patricia, her Family Educator, Lauren was able to get her son Zachariah into speech and occupational therapy, then into a Head Start program. “He first came to us not talking and now we cannot get him to be quiet,” Patricia laughs. “Even this early, I think he knows he has some obstacles, but he is determined to overcome them.”

“Miss Patricia is my backup, my resource. I know I can count on her,” expresses Lauren. Patricia agrees: “We all just have a tight knit bond. Working with them has elevated my experience as a Family Educator.”

People to Look Up To

Often the first and last Way to Grow employee our preschool students see, Mr. Willie makes it a point to be not just a driver, but an integral part of their lives every day.

“We bond because I listen to them. Sometimes they have problems, sometimes they have concerns, and sometimes they just want someone to talk to,” Mr. Willie explains. “Each child is different, and they are so intelligent and energetic. When I look at our bus, I see that we have the makings of future lawyers, doctors, politicians—almost every type of position that will contribute to our community in the future.”

Culture to Culture

“Having Alison, having a native person as my Family Educator, has positively contributed to my experience at Way to Grow. There is something about sharing a culture; she just understands where I am coming from and what I am going through,” Sydney expresses. “She makes it easy and comfortable…. Alison and Way to Grow give us access to resources, opportunities, and events that we never would have been able to experience otherwise. They have been able to show us what community really is, and we are so grateful.”

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