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

Ronel Robinson


Patricia Hayes


Angela Hamilton


Family Educators

Alison Dakota


Amanda Erickson


Amina Ammi


Anthony Allen


Eveline Rojas


Juliet Cha


Maria Soto


Oluwatomike Bali


Pamela Khang


Roxanne Thiede


Ruth Gishen


Santa Rodriguez


Shamsa Idle


Shany Fahiye


Preschool Pals Staff

Craig Allen


Janice Peabody


Willie Lane


Office & Administration

Mark Henderson


Roggie Robinson


Development & Communications

Kim Bowman


Melissa Meyer


Liz Woods


Payton Gresczyk


Kate Kinkade



Andrew Lindvall


Daniel Hanson


Tom Frank



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

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

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

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


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

Laura Bohlander
President, LRE Foundation

James Boyle
President, James R. Boyle + Associates

Julie Baker

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

Michael Garrett
Senior Vice President, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis

Sophie Kelley
Retired, Former Senior Vice President, Market Director, Associated Bank

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

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

Vickie Mattys
Community Volunteer

Karen Contag
Community Volunteer

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


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

Malcolm McDonald

Christopher Mongeon
Wealth Advisor, Thrivent Financial

Luis Moreno
Co-Founder, The TCBPN

David Nassif

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

Jamie Stilson
Partner, Dorsey & Whitney LLP

Brian Crosby
Vice President, Community Accountability Officer, Associate Bank

Janice Clay
Retired, Executive Director, Board Chair

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