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Kate Kinkade

Congratulations, Class of 2023!

Congratulations, Class of 2023! 2560 1707 Kate Kinkade

This August, Way to Grow had the opportunity to celebrate our Early Learner Class of 2023. The achievements of our families shine bright: this school year, 89% of our preschoolers were evaluated as ready to enter kindergarten on track!

Beginning kindergarten is a major milestone, and each of our Early Learners have been working hard alongside their families to prepare for their next big adventure. Way to Grow’s assessments indicated that 89% of our pre-k students are beginning the school year on track to succeed, determined by the results of our Individual Growth and Development Indicator (IGDI) assessments. Developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota, these assessments are administered to our Early Learners three times annually.

Starting school—at any level—is a big step worth celebrating. Way to Grow is here to help families navigate questions, new systems, and major changes at home. Our Early Learners will continue to be enrolled in Way to Grow for the next four years, learning and growing alongside their Way to Grow Family Educator all the way until they’re ready to begin fourth grade.

Way to Grow’s Early Learner graduation was supported by many of our dedicated volunteers, funders, and partner organizations. Our friends at the Ciresi Walburn Foundation funded a book fair for the celebration, filling the Metropolitan Ballroom with tables of over 600 books for each child to hand-pick for their home libraries. Graduates were also supported by our dedicated partners at the Books to Grow project, which has been partnering with Way to Grow for over a decade. Each family received a hand-crafted gift bag, filled with art supplies and a brand new copy of “The Crayons Go Back to School.”

When it was time to receive their diplomas, our brave graduates walked across the stage with their heads held high!

Way to Grow would like to extend heartfelt thanks to all who made this celebration possible. Thank you to all the Way to Grow parents and caregivers for your work and commitment to your child’s education. To our Way to Grow Family Educators and staff, thank you for all your hard work, enthusiasm, and dedication. Finally, thank you to our event volunteers from PNC, the Way to Grow Board of Directors, and our network of funders for your continued support.

To all of our Way to Grow families: you are going to do amazing things this year. We’ll be there for you every step of the way!

Photos by Alden Content

Meet Ricardo!

Meet Ricardo! 1971 1971 Kate Kinkade

Since moving to Minnesota from his home country of El Salvador, Ricardo has dedicated his life to being a role model for his two sons, Ezequiel (6) and Alexis (10). “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.”

Seeking new ways to increase the family’s access to Spanish language resources, Maria introduced Ricardo, Ezequiel, and Alexis to their local public library last fall. Ricardo remembers watching Ezequiel and Alexis run through the library shelves for the first time, laughing together amidst a seemingly endless collection of books, computers, and games.

“Eso no tiene precio,” says Ricardo. “That’s priceless.”

Maria’s language-to-language connection has allowed her to build a strong foundation of trust with Ricardo and his boys. When water began creeping into the basement of their family home, Ricardo called Maria for support during a Brooklyn Center city inspection: “She advocated for us and practically demanded that the problem be resolved.”

Through resource connections and engagement with community services, Way to Grow Family Educators create a unique network of support that reflects the needs of each individual family. As Ricardo dedicates each day to building a bright future for Alexis and Ezequiel, Maria will be there to offer support, resources, and trusted advice along every step of their journey.

Meet Destiny!

Meet Destiny! 1707 2560 Kate Kinkade

With a special love of painting pictures and reciting pages from her favorite book, Chrysanthemum, Destiny is bright, talented, and determined to be a leader. Her mom, Sharla, laughs: “Sometimes I call her auntie,” she says, “because she has an older soul.”

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.”

When Destiny graduated from Way to Grow’s Preschool Pals in 2022, she was ready to start her next big adventure. Adjusting to kindergarten at a brand new school was difficult at first, but Mr. Tony was there to offer support and answer questions for every step of the process. 

Sharla explains that Tony is always checking in with her family to offer resources and support: “It’s never overwhelming,” says Sharla. “He’s always warm – it’s comfortable, genuine support.”

These days, Destiny is excelling in her studies at KIPP Academy. When Destiny isn’t in school, she’s probably playing with her turtles, Bobby and Steve, having snacks at the YMCA, or leapfrogging across your local library. When she grows up, Destiny wants to be an artist—and, with determination like hers, anything is possible!

Meet Brian!

Meet Brian! 7971 6000 Kate Kinkade

On a chilly Saturday morning, Brian arrives at the Way to Grow office with bright red sneakers, a flashing light-up watch, a smile just short of one front tooth, and an important question on his mind: “Did you know that the blue whale has the biggest heart in the world?”    

Brian is a polite and inquisitive 6-year-old with a creative imagination and an impressive knack for organizing his toys. He’s quick to open up, sharing fun facts and stories of his love for reading, coloring, and dinosaurs: “All his toys are just dinosaurs,” says Brian’s dad, with a laugh. “If it’s not a dinosaur, he doesn’t want it.”   

After moving to the United States, Brian’s parents received a referral to Way to Grow and were quickly paired up with their Family Educator, Juliet, who has been working with them ever since.

“We’ve known Juliet for a long time,” Brian’s dad, Bee, explains. “When we first came to the U.S., we didn’t know English—Juliet helped the kids learn. If there’s a word we don’t know, we ask her.”  

Like Brian’s family, Juliet is fluent in Hmong. Through language-to-language support, Juliet has been both a mentor and a friend to Brian’s entire family.  “I’ve been working with Brian since he was a baby,” says Juliet. “Brian is funny, he’s smart, and he’s very creative!”

As for Brian, he’s a bright student with big dreams for the future. “I like to learn about math,” says Brian. Brian’s dad has always been deeply involved in his children’s education, and math is no exception. With Bee’s encouragement, Brian proudly adds: “Yesterday, I counted to seven hundred and twenty!”  

As Brian continues to explore a great big world of adventure, his parents will be by his side every step of the way. “It’s up to the kids,” his dad says. “We just support them. If they want to do something, they can do it.”  

Magers & Quinn Spotlight

Magers & Quinn Spotlight 3334 1459 Kate Kinkade

We are so thankful for our Community Partner, Magers and Quinn Booksellers! Thanks to their talented Outside Sales and Outreach team members, Christine and Charlie, Way to Grow is able to put unique and culturally relevant books in the hands of children and families. Christine and Charlie spend time working directly with booksellers and publishers to find books that reflect the needs and requests of our Family Educators. They enjoy listening to feedback from families who have purchased books from Magers and Quinn and love to pass this information on to others. 

Because they handle a wide range of books, they’re able to suggest stories for all scenarios like read-alongs, school lessons, bedtime stories, and more! Christine says that working with nonprofits and schools is one of her favorite parts of the job. She loves to find books that kids are genuinely excited to read, stories that speak to them and have characters of different races and ethnicities that mirror the child reading them. With the help of Magers and Quinn staff, our Family Educators are more successful in their roles and provide educational and fun reading materials to their families. 

Thank you, Magers and Quinn, for helping to fill the bookshelves of Way to Grow families!

Welcome to the Team!

Welcome to the Team! 3334 1459 Kate Kinkade

We are excited to welcome four new team members at Way to Grow! Learn a bit more about Mariana, Sheena, Tomi, and Jeanetta.

Mariana Villegas Ramírez

Family Educator

Tell us a little bit about yourself! 

I moved to the Twin Cities from Mexico in 2011 to continue my undergraduate program in Human Resources Development from the University of Minnesota. In 2015, I pursued a path in education, working and supporting non-profit organizations around Minnesota, including the United Nations Association of MN. In 2016, I discovered the Montessori philosophy and joined the Montessori Center of Minnesota – where my graduate education continued. In 2020, I received her master’s degree in Montessori Education from St. Catherine University, and now I am hoping to pursue a doctoral program in Educational Psychology. 

What excites you most about working for Way to Grow? 

I believe that life is about helping each other, especially children and vulnerable communities. As a Family Educator, I have the opportunity to guide those children and families through the system so that they can also experience a dignified life. 

What do you like to do in your spare time? 

I am passionate about nature spaces, traveling, reading, cooking, running, yoga, and spending time with loved ones. 

Sheena Moss

Assistant Preschool Teacher

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

My name is Sheena, and I am a Minnesota native, born and raised in south Minneapolis. I’m currently a student studying Early Childhood Education.

What excites you about working at Way to Grow?

I’ve had a dream of teaching since the first grade! It’s an honor to live out this dream of mine with Way To Grow and I’m excited to share my passion in this company with others and with students.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

In my spare time, I like to cook, draw pictures, and FaceTime my older brother and his two-year-old daughter.

Tomi Bali

Family Educator

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I’m called Tomi,  recently graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato with a Bachelor’s in Public Health. I love interacting with people, traveling and tying out new foods. I’m excited about the work I get to do at Way To Grow.

What excites you most about working for Way to Grow?

Way to Grow gives me the opportunity to make an impact in the community through my passion for working with children and families. The work environment has also been a positive place so far, I’m excited to work with everyone!

What do you like to do in your spare time?  

I like to spend time with loved ones, trying new restaurants, cooking, traveling and watching TV shows

Jeanetta Searcy-Cooper

Director of Education

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

Fun Facts: 

-We have lived in Minnesota for almost 4 years from Texas. 

-We moved here for the ministry, my husband is a Pastor in Minneapolis. 

-I have worked in the Early Childhood Education field for 24 years. 

-I have a BA, MBA, MA and working toward my Ph.D. in Education Leadership at Concordia University in St. Paul. 

-I love all things peppermint/mocha including my coffee and coffee creamer. 

-I love WWE Smackdown (yes that is wrestling). 

-My favorite color is pink, but for some reason I don’t wear it much. LOL 

-Lastly, I love Minnesota winters, the snow, and the cold, all of it.  And the Fall! 

What excites you about working at Way to Grow?

What excites me most about working for Way to Grow is the diversity in families and students served. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy being outside in nature and spending time with loved ones.

Living Generously

Living Generously 3334 1459 Kate Kinkade

Way to Grow is deeply thankful for the financial support we receive that allows us to serve the most isolated families in Minneapolis, and ensure that children are born healthy, stay healthy, and are prepared for school.  Last year, we served 1,720 children and parents through 11,139 home visits.  With your great support, we can reach even more families whose futures will be brighter because of your generosity. 

Want to join our family of supporters?  It’s easy!   You can choose from several ways to give that will fuel our mission.  Four ways to support Way to Grow:

Go online:   You can find our website here (link).  With a few keystrokes, you can make a one-time gift, or set in motion an automatic monthly gift.  Either way, we are grateful for your support which helps us serve families and children. 

Mail us a check:  We love receiving checks!  Simply send your gift to Way to Grow, 201 Irving Avenue North, Suite 100, Minneapolis, MN 55405.  Your envelope will put a song in our hearts. 

Shares of stock:  If you own stock that has grown in value – and that you’ve held for one year or longer – it may be tax-wise to transfer the shares directly to Way to Grow (rather than selling them).  Here’s why.  First, you’ll avoid paying capital gains tax on the shares’ growth, and so will Way to Grow, which receives 100% of the proceeds tax-free as a charitable organization.  Second, you’ll enjoy a tax deduction for the increased full fair market value of the shares.  Third, you can make a meaningful gift without draining your checkbook.  For details, call us at (612) 874-4740. 

Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) from your IRA:  If you are age 70-1/2 or older, you can send a gift to Way to Grow directly from your IRA.  This bypasses your federal tax return, so it is not counted as income, nor deducted as a gift.  Even better, you are using pre-tax dollars to make a gift, so the gift costs you less.  Individuals can give up to $100,000 each year to qualified charities through this method, putting already saved up dollars into action now to serve neighbors in need.   Way to Grow would be pleased to receive your IRA gift!  For assistance, check with your tax advisor or call us at (612) 874-4740. 

Way to Grow cherishes gifts of all types and sizes.  You have our heartfelt thanks for generously supporting our vision to ensure that every child has an opportunity to succeed in school and in life. 

The Page Amendment

The Page Amendment 3334 1459 Kate Kinkade

[Updated February 3rd, 2022]

Way to Grow is proud to endorse the Page Amendment in partnership with Our Children MN.

The 2022 Minnesota legislative session (#MNLEG) began this week, and we need your help to get the Page Amendment on the November ballot.

According to a 2019 report published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Minnesota students of color, as well as families with lower incomes, face one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation.  

The Page Amendment is a proposed bipartisan amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution that would provide all children with a civil right to quality public education. Named after former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page, The Page Amendment would read: 

 “All children have a fundamental right to a quality public education that fully prepares them with the skills necessary for participation in the economy, our democracy, and society, as measured against uniform achievement standards set forth by the state. It is a paramount duty of the state to ensure quality public schools that fulfill this fundamental right.” 

Several attempts have been made to close the education gap in Minnesota over the last several decades, but the Page Amendment is the first to establish quality public education as a civil right.  All children have a fundamental right to a quality public education that fully prepares them with the skills necessary for participation in the economy, our democracy, and society, as measured against uniform achievement standards set forth by the state. It is a paramount duty of the state to ensure quality public schools that fulfill this fundamental right.

Closing the achievement gap in Minnesota is at the very core of Way to Grow’s mission. For more information about the Page Amendment, visit 

Minnesota’s Congressional Districts and their Representatives:

  1. Jim Hagedorn
  2. Angie Craig
  3. Dean Phillips
  4. Betty McCollum
  5. Ilhan Omar
  6. Tom Emmer
  7. Michelle Fischbach
  8. Pete Stauber

Summer Tutoring Initiative

Summer Tutoring Initiative 3327 1441 Kate Kinkade

This summer, Way to Grow is partnering with Literacy Minnesota’s Summer Reads program! Literacy Minnesota hires AmeriCorps VISTA members and provides literacy education training to young Summer Reads mentors. Way to Grow provides a supervisor, technology, and supplies! The Summer Reads mentors offer virtual small group reading and writing instruction for children in order to maintain and improve their skills during the summer months. With the help of Way to Grow supervisors, Summer Reads mentors will provide each child with 30 minutes of instruction 2-3 times per week!

Summer Reads is just one exciting piece of Way to Grow’s tutoring initiative. During the school year, Way to Grow partners with Reading Corps: Reading Corps tutors provide virtual individualized reading support for children from Kindergarten through 3rd grade. Way to Grow also works alongside Wooddale Church to provide virtual assistance to individual children with reading homework, and reading for fun! Volunteers are trained by Way to Grow and are paired with a specific child to build a relationship and provide support.

Reading can be so many things: imaginative, exciting, educational, and comforting. We’re so excited to continue joining our community partners to help young learners improve readings skills this summer!

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