About Us

What We Do Together Matters

For more than 30 years, Way to Grow has brought the community together to address the serious and prevalent gap in early childhood education in the Twin Cities. 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, Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center—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 these families throughout Minneapolis, Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, and surrounding communities.

Our Mission

Working closely with parents and communities, we ensure that children within the most isolated families are born healthy, stay healthy, and are prepared for school.

Our Vision

Together we will ensure that every child has an equal opportunity to succeed in school and life.

“Education is important because without it, people will treat you like you are invisible. I do not want that for my children.”

Lauren, Way to Grow Parent

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.”

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) Prior to entering the nonprofit field, she was the Director of Supplier Diversity with ADC, the Broadband Company, and a senior business banker at U.S. Bancorp.

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, she 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.

Carolyn is a dynamic leader who has a deep passion in serving others and making the world a better place. With a passion for working with diverse communities, Carolyn brings a solid background in business, marketing and strategic development, strong executive experience, and an inclusive leadership style to Way to Grow. She is a bright, influential presence who puts the Way to Grow mission above all.

Program Leadership

Patricia Hayes

phayes@mplswaytogrow.org

Ronel Robinson

rrobinson@mplswaytogrow.org

Deedee Stevens-Neal

d.stevens-neal@mplswaytogrow.org

Angela Hamilton

ahamilton@mplswaytogrow.org

Family Educators

Alison Dakota

adakota@mplswaytogrow.org

Amanda Erickson

aerickson@mplswaytogrow.org

Amina Ammi

aammi@mplswaytogrow.org

Anthony Allen

aallen@mplswaytogrow.org

Elizabeth Korzenowski

ekorzenowski@mplswaytogrow.org

Eveline Rojas

erojas@mplswaytogrow.org

Fartun Ahmed

fahmed@mplswaytogrow.org

Janice Peabody

jpeabody@mplswaytogrow.org

Juliet Cha

jcha@mplswaytogrow.org

Maria Soto

msoto@mplswaytogrow.org

Maria Varela

mzavala@mplswaytogrow.org

Pamela Khang

pkhang@mplswaytogrow.org

Roxanne Thiede

rthiede@mplswaytogrow.org

Ruth Gishen

rgishen@mplswaytogrow.org

Santa Rodriguez

srodriguez@mplswaytogrow.org

Shamsa Idle

sidle@mplswaytogrow.org

Shany Fahiye

sfahiye@mplswaytogrow.org

Preschool Pals Staff

Craig Allen

callen@mplswaytogrow.org

Alanna Welsh

awelsh@mplswaytogrow.org

Melissa Watson

mwatson@mplswaytogrow.org

Willie Lane

wlane@mplswaytogrow.org

Office & Administration

Mark Henderson

mhenderson@mplswaytogrow.org

Roggie Robinson

r.lrobinson@mplswaytogrow.org

Dawn Brocken

dbrocken@mplswaytogrow.org

Development & Communications

Kim Bowman

kbowman@mplswaytogrow.org

Melissa Meyer

mmeyer@mplswaytogrow.org

Liz Woods

lwoods@mplswaytogrow.org

Payton Gresczyk

pgresczyk@mplswaytogrow.org

Kate Kinkade

kkinkade@mplswaytogrow.org

Data

Andrew Lindvall

alindvall@mplswaytogrow.org

Daniel Hanson

dhanson@mplswaytogrow.org

Tom Frank

tfrank@mplswaytogrow.org

Leadership

Sophie Kelley, Chair
Senior Vice President, Market Director, Associated Bank

Michael Garrett, Vice Chair
Senior Vice President, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis

Robin Shroeder, Treasurer
Finance Committee Chair
Retired, Former Chief Financial Officer, Schroeder Company

Robert Barnett, Ph.D., L.P.
Governance Committee Chair
Senior Fellow & Principal Consultant, MDA Leadership Consultants

Jennie Carlson
Fund Development Committee Chair
Retired, Former Executive Vice President of Human Resources, U.S. Bancorp

Kevin Nilan, P.h.D.
Human Resources Committee Chair
Retired, Global Assessment Manager, 3M

Directors

Gaye Adams Massey
Chief Executive Officer, YWCA of St. Paul

Laura Bohlander
President, LRE Foundation

James Boyle
President, James R. Boyle + Associates

Julie Baker
Retired

Jason Brandenborg
Executive Director, Douglass Brandenborg Family Foundation

Susan Cary-Hanson
Co-CEO and Owner, PGC

Dani Deering
Of Counsel, Innova Law Group, PLLC

Mel Dickstein
Retired, Former Hennepin County Judge, Fourth Judicial District

Julia Halberg
Occupational Medicine Specialist, University of Minnesota

David Henderson
Managing Director and Founder, TripleTree

Michael Garrett
Senior Vice President, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis

Sophie Kelley
Senior Vice President, Market Director, Associated Bank

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

Vanessa Laird
Executive Director, Center for Integrative Leadership at the University of Minnesota

Malcolm McDonald
Retired

Christopher Mongeon
Wealth Advisor, Thrivent Financial

Luis Moreno
Co-Founder, The TCBPN

David Nassif
Retired

Jeanne Ravich
Community Volunteer

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

Nasibu Sareva
Executive Director, African Development Center

Randy Sauter
Assistant Vice President, U.S. Bank

Frank Schweigert
Dean, College of Community Studies and Public Affairs, Metropolitan State University

Carolyn Smallwood
Chief Executive Officer, Way to Grow

Sharon Smith-Akinsanya
Founder and CEO, Rae Mackenzie Group

Jamie Stilson
Partner, Dorsey & Whitney LLP

Join Our Team

We employ individuals who share our passion for early education and believe that together we can make a difference for the future of children, families, community, and economy. Please check back regularly for updated opportunities.

Current Openings

  • The Director of Education is responsible for driving the activity of all capacities of early and elementary education departments including: exceeding budgeted goals for retention and student outcomes, hiring, coaching and mentoring staff and ensuring compliance with accreditation, state and federal standards. Success in this position requires a person to continually drive top team performance through disciplined execution of responsibilities.

  • The Family Educator is responsible for conducting outreach activities, intake and assessment procedures, and utilizing participant home-visiting to establish and maintain trusting relationships with families. Responsibilities include teaching parenting techniques and pre-literacy skills to parents and educate parents on the importance of parent participation in early education and developing family plans, goals, and referring families to the appropriate service providers in the community to address the school readiness needs of children from prenatal to age eight.

  • The Family Educator is responsible for conducting outreach activities, intake and assessment procedures, and utilizing participant home-visiting to establish and maintain trusting relationships with families. Responsibilities include teaching parenting techniques and pre-literacy skills to parents and educate parents on the importance of parent participation in early education and developing family plans, goals, and referring families to the appropriate service providers in the community to address the school readiness needs of children from prenatal to age eight.

  • A great way to get involved with Way to Grow is to volunteer. We deeply appreciate the generous donation of time and talent our volunteers provide. Check out our volunteer opportunities and see if you might be a good fit for Way to Grow!

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