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A message for the Way to Grow community

A message for the Way to Grow community 1051 776 Way to Grow

Way to Grow’s CEO Carolyn Smallwood to retire in January 2025

A message from Michael Garrett, Chair, Way to Grow Board of Directors

It is with a blend of emotions that I announce, after a remarkable two-decade tenure at Way to Grow, our esteemed
leader and cherished colleague Carolyn Smallwood has decided to retire as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) effective
January 2025.

Carolyn has been instrumental in elevating Way to Grow to a prominent and influential position in the field of early
childhood education. She is a respected and tireless advocate for progress, spearheading efforts to remove obstacles to
early education by motivating scholars and enabling parents to champion their children’s cause. Carolyn is known for her
unwavering integrity, candid and forthright leadership, and her knack for forging robust community partnerships. During
her leadership, Way to Grow has assembled a skilled team and developed an operational framework that has garnered
respect both locally and nationally.

As Carolyn transitions to the next chapter of her life, she reflects: “Leading this remarkable organization has been one of
the greatest privileges of my life. To guide a dedicated team committed to early childhood education and the prosperity
of children and families has been deeply fulfilling and a source of immense pride. With the organization’s consistent
growth and promising future, now is an opportune moment to introduce a new leader who will preserve the legacy of
strength and expansion we’ve envisioned for Way to Grow for the foreseeable future.”

Way to Grow is privileged to have a skilled team of senior leaders dedicated to ensuring the continuity of our vital work.
The Board of Directors has established a search committee and secured an executive search firm to partner with us in this
significant leadership transition. The search will commence later this month and is expected to culminate by year’s end
with the appointment and announcement of a new leader.

While we will miss Carolyn’s active involvement, we are fortunate to have her with us for the remainder of the year to
appreciate, cherish, and reflect upon our shared experiences. We are organizing an event to honor and express gratitude
to Carolyn for her remarkable service to Way to Grow over the last twenty years.

As we conclude, we extend our best wishes to Carolyn as she embarks on this exciting new chapter of her life. We invite
you to join us in celebrating and acknowledging Carolyn for her unwavering commitment, leadership, and devotion to
Way to Grow, and to wish her a joyful and fulfilling retirement with her beloved family.

Should you have any comments or inquiries during this transition, please feel free to reach out.

With warm regards,
Michael Garrett
Chair, Way to Grow Board of Directors

Preschool Pals Update: Summer is here!

Preschool Pals Update: Summer is here! 594 594 Way to Grow

An Update from Ms. Gwen

At the beginning of April our classes started a unit on color theory. The students mixed lots of colors, made sidewalk chalk, created rainbow crayons and worked together to make a classroom mural! Our class read the book “White Rabbit’s Color Book” by Alan Baker to learn more about mixing primary colors. Through hands-on activities like mixing colored water and making side walk chalk, the kids learned what colors make purple, green, orange and brown. The kids favorite activity was making crayons and having a glow in the dark dance party!

This spring we introduced two new music teachers from MacPhail Center for Music to come once a week to sing with our kids, teach them new instruments and engage in fun musical activities. 

Our class took time at the beginning of May to celebrate May Day. We had a picnic in the park, played games, made flower bracelets and decorated vases for our flower bouquets.

Our preschool held a parentchild class on gardening. Families worked together to plant their own seeds and the kids helped plant in the outdoor garden. 

Our unit for the month of May is on plants and gardening.The kids helped teachers put together the new garden bed. They worked to spread out the dirt and water our herb garden. The kids were fascinated with the different shapes, sizes and textures of each seed. They are most looking forward to the fruits and vegetables that our garden with produce this summer!

Celebrating our Third Graders!

Celebrating our Third Graders! 2560 1706 Way to Grow

Congrats, Third Graders!

Hats off to our third grade class of 2024! This May, Way to Grow honored our third grade graduates at North Mississippi Regional Park. At Way to Grow, we partner with families from before birth through third grade, so we’re wishing our students and families well as they graduate from Way to Grow. This graduation is not a farewell but a “see you soon” to our 8-year-olds.

Our celebration included a picnic lunch, an array of sweet treats, jumbo yard games, and inspiring words from our Family Educators. Gathering with our families reminds us of the hope, joy, and laughter that fill our community every day.

To Way to Grow’s Class of 2024,

Congratulations on your amazing achievement of graduating from third grade! This is a special milestone, and we are all so proud of you. Your hard work, curiosity, and determination have brought you here, and it’s wonderful to see how much you’ve grown and learned.

As you move forward, remember that every step you take is a new adventure. Keep asking questions, exploring new ideas, and always believe in yourself. Your journey is just beginning, and we can’t wait to see all the incredible things you will achieve.

Enjoy your summer, have fun, and get ready for the exciting challenges ahead. Remember, you have a bright future, and we’re here cheering you on every step of the way.

With heartfelt congratulations,

Your friends at Way to Grow

Education is Power 2024!

Education is Power 2024! 4054 2444 Way to Grow

Last Wednesday, Way to Grow celebrated our annual luncheon at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. To all who attended in person, as well as those who supported us from home: our community says thank you.


Sold a Story: How Teaching Kids to Read Went So Wrong is the award-winning podcast produced by Way to Grow’s Education is Power featured speaker, Emily Hanford.

There’s an idea about how children learn to read that’s held sway in schools for more than a generation — even though it was proven wrong by cognitive scientists decades ago. In this podcast, host Emily Hanford investigates how educators came to believe in something that isn’t true, and are now reckoning with the consequences — children harmed, money wasted, an education system upended.

Listen by clicking the link above, or by searching “Sold a Story” wherever you get your podcasts.


To learn more about the Science of Reading, check out Emily Hanford’s APM Reports reading list.

“I’ve chosen 10 things to recommend. I’ve read hundreds of books and articles since I started getting interested in this topic […] so it was hard to narrow it down. This is by no means a comprehensive list. But it’s a start. Here goes…”

Way to Grow at the MN State Capitol #ACD2024

Way to Grow at the MN State Capitol #ACD2024 2560 1707 Way to Grow

Last Monday, Way to Grow had a busy morning at the Minnesota State Capitol! Alongside other education advocates from across the state, Way to Grow families showed up again to support early childhood care and education in the state of Minnesota at Advocacy for Children Day. With the help of Greater Twin Cities United Way, we’re asking legislators to prioritize Minnesota’s youngest children.

At Advocacy for Children Day, we heard from Northside Achievement Zone’s Andre Dukes, featured author Pamela Mercado Michelli, parent speakers, Shannon Smith Jones of Greater Twin Cities United Way, and Way to Grow’s very own Director of Programs, Patricia Wilson.

Thank you to all the Minnesota representatives who shared, listened to our stories, and supported this event, including Mayor Melvin Carter, Rep. María Isa Pérez-Vega, Rep. Nathan Coulter, Rep. Samantha Sencer-Mura, Senator John Hoffman, Rep. Matt Norris, Representative Patricia Mueller, Senator Erin Maye Quade, and Senator Zach Duckworth.

Here’s how you can help: continue spreading the word about the importance of early childhood education. Support advocacy and engagement work that leads to lasting change, through direct participation or through financial contributions. Be an active participant in your local government and consider writing to your lawmakers and policy leaders. You can find your policymakers using the “Who Represents Me?” tool on Minnesota State Legislature’s website.

Together, we’re creating a bright future for Minnesota’s youngest generation.

We are thankful to work with and alongside our community partners, as well as countless other organizations advocating for early childhood care and education in Minnesota on Advocacy for Children Day: United Way Twin Cities, The Sheltering Arms Foundation, Start Early Funders Coalition, BlueCross BlueShield of Minnesota, CARE Fellowship, Child Care Aware of Minnesota, Children’s Defense Fund Minnesota, Generation Next, PICA Head Start, Free Spirit Publishing, YWCA Minneapolis, Initiative Foundation, Joyce Preschool, Kids Count On Us, Little Moments Count, Minnesota Association for the Education of Young Children, MNAFEE, MCAA, Minnesota Coalition for Family Home Visiting, MN Prenatal-to-Grade 3 (P3) Initiative, NAZ, New Horizon Academy, Planting People Growing Justice, Before Racism, Rainbow Child Development Center, Take Action MN, Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood, Think Small, West Central Initiative, and Women Venture Twincities.

Meet Daya!

Meet Daya! 2560 1921 Way to Grow

“I look like an alligator!” Declares Daya, striking a pose for the camera, donning her green dress and green eyeshadow. It’s a reflective statement of Daya’s personality: creative, energetic, and outgoing. As we spoke with Way to Grow’s latest Scholar, we saw that vibrant personality in action for this superstar student.

Sonia, Daya’s mother, joined the Way to Grow program nearly six years ago, when her eldest, Jaylah, was six. Sonia is grateful for the support that Way to Grow has continuously provided her family throughout these years, offering the tools to provide an opportunity for her children to succeed in school and life.

When Daya faced difficulties with reading, her Way to Grow Family Educator, Amanda, created customized and engaging tactile activities for Daya that best suited her learning style. The combination of specialized home visits and attending after-school reading support put her on a path to success. 

Today, Daya’s a stellar bilingual student naturally inclined to help others. Sonia proudly shares that Daya was a huge help to her teachers in 1st grade by offering to translate instructions to other classmates who speak Spanish! Daya is proud of her accomplishments and continues to grow as a reader. 

From struggling to know her letters to reading books and becoming a pillar of support for her classmates—all it took was a little extra support from Way to Grow to bring out Daya’s full potential.

Go Daya! We cannot wait to see what your future holds!

Way to Grow Book Drive in honor of MLK Day

Way to Grow Book Drive in honor of MLK Day 2548 1442 Way to Grow

Thanks to our friends at KARE11 for sharing this book drive as a way to give back during the month of January! Special thanks to HandsOn Twin Cities and General Mills for helping us collect books for our kiddos—we love seeing the deliveries roll in. You can read the article here!

Check out the book drive and donate your favorite to a Way to Grow family now through January 31!

UCare Foundation awards grants to ensure a healthier new year for youth across Minnesota

UCare Foundation awards grants to ensure a healthier new year for youth across Minnesota 2500 1407 Way to Grow

Way to Grow is thrilled to be one of 12 organizations to receive a UCare Foundation grant to support our work with infants and expecting parents in 2024! With this funding, we will be able to help even more families navigate their new lives as parents, and support the health and development of our youngest community members. Thank you, UCare Foundation!

More than $400,000 provided to initiatives addressing mental health, infant health and dental care

MINNEAPOLIS, Jan. 11, 2024 ─ The UCare Foundation is improving health outcomes for newborns and youth of all ages through grants to 12 community organizations serving diverse populations in urban and rural regions of the state. Individual grants range from $6,500 to $50,000.

UCare always steps up where need is greatest. The 2022 Minnesota Student Survey shows unprecedented numbers of young people struggling with their mental health. In 2021, Children’s Minnesota reported a 30% rise in children contemplating suicide. In response, a significant number of the Foundation grants are directed to improve access to mental health services for young people including neurodiverse, LGBTQIA+ and youth with complex needs.

Other grants support the health and safety of vulnerable newborns and access to dental care for youth and families. “Many young Minnesotans suffered mental health setbacks during the pandemic, and through these UCare Foundation grants, we are giving them a fresh start and better outlook in 2024,” says Tenbit Emiru, MD, MBA, PhD, UCare Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer. “The range of infant and youth programs funded by UCare have strong potential to address health disparities for Minnesota’s diverse populations – starting at birth.”

Snapshot of UCare-sponsored programs across Minnesota

Mental health

Change the Outcome, an opioid impact awareness initiative for young people in middle schools and high schools throughout Minnesota. UCare’s grant supports educational content to increase understanding of substance use disorder, fentanyl, xylazine and pressed pills – while counteracting stigma, shame and judgment.

Connection to Independence Circle of Support individual and group therapy for foster youth who need additional support for mental health challenges and multiple diagnoses – a partnership with Kente Circle.

CornerHouse Rapid Response to Trauma project providing mental health care to children who have experienced abuse. Funding will support the use of a trauma screening tool to identify the severity of trauma and Accelerated Resolution Therapy, an evidence-based therapy that can be effective in just a few sessions.

Franklin Center Open the Door – a culturally responsive initiative aimed at providing behavior therapy to neurodiverse children in the Somali community.

Nexus Family Healing resources for a new Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility that will address unmet mental health needs of youth in Minnesota. UCare funding enables the purchase of sensory items, recreational equipment, games and art supplies in addition to covering the costs of trauma-informed training and resources.

RECLAIM mental health care for queer and trans youth in Greater Minnesota. This pilot project will fund the hiring of local therapists to expand access to affirming mental health care where resources do not currently exist.

Infant health

Life Connections Community Connections: Safe from the Start, a partnership with public health staff and other community agencies to provide families in Central Minnesota with formula, safe sleep and travel equipment/education. Some of these counties rank among the poorest in the state.

New Beginnings Safe Sleep Program to help reduce the number of infant deaths due to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Parents or primary caregivers participate in free education, and receive a safe crib and sleep sacks, as well as personal support and follow up.

Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) support of 1,079 first-time birthing individuals/families experiencing significant economic and racial inequality across 32 counties and two Tribal Nations in Minnesota. The funding benefits nursing quality, education and practice for 50 NFP nurses providing preventive health care for infants to age 2.

Proof Alliance Our Children are Sacred program to reduce the impact of prenatal exposure to alcohol in Indian Country. Funds go to leveraging the wisdom of tribal leaders and elders and building on the success of current and past programs.

Way to Grow Great by Eight program supporting children ages 0-8 from 600 of the most disadvantaged families in Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs. Great by Eight includes home visits, health screenings and health education to improve birth weights and vaccination rates.

Dental care

Children’s Dental Services expanding culturally targeted, comprehensive oral health care and education to 1,500 Native American and Asian community members across Minnesota, specifically for children, young adults, pregnant women and family members.

About UCare

UCare is an independent, nonprofit health plan providing health care and administrative services to more than 640,000 members throughout Minnesota and parts of western Wisconsin. UCare partners with health care providers, counties, and community organizations to create and deliver Medicare, Medicaid and Individual & Family health plans. The health plan addresses health care disparities and care access issues through a broad array of community initiatives. UCare has received Top Workplaces honors from the Star Tribune for 14 consecutive years since the rankings began in 2010.

About the UCare Foundation

Since 1998, the UCare Foundation has improved the lives of UCare members and their communities through grants that address urgent community health needs. We focus grant-making on initiatives that improve the health of underserved individuals across Minnesota. The UCare Foundation funds high-impact services, education, community outreach and research addressing health equity, social drivers and access barriers.

A Look Back at 2023

A Look Back at 2023 2560 2560 Way to Grow

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.

You can read about the project and its progress in the Star Tribune.

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!

Read more of Destiny’s story on our blog!


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!


Meet Ricardo

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.

You can read Ricardo’s whole story on our blog!


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!

Read more about the achievements of our 2023 graduates on our blog!

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.

Way to Grow receives $2 million surprise grant from MacKenzie Scott

Way to Grow receives $2 million surprise grant from MacKenzie Scott 2400 1254 Way to Grow

Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott surprises six more Twin Cities nonprofits with $26.1M in gifts

Scott’s foundation announced her latest round of surprise donations to nonprofits nationwide. 

By  Kelly Smith Star Tribune

DECEMBER 6, 2023 — 4:26PM

Six Twin Cities nonprofits are the latest local organizations to be surprised by unexpected gifts from billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott.

Scott, an author and the ex-wife of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, announcedWednesday that she’s donating $26.1 million to six metro area organizations — part of some $2.2 billion in grants she has given to 360 organizations nationwide this year.

“I about fell out of my chair,” said Ann Cazaban, executive director of Southside Community Health Services, of the $2.6 million gift to her small clinic, which serves low-income residents in south Minneapolis. “We don’t get a lot of good surprises like this.”

The largest of the latest local grants is $10 million for City of Lakes Community Land Trust in Minneapolis, which helps provide affordable home ownership opportunities.

The other local grantees and their awards are Project for Pride in Living (PPL), an affordable housing developer in Minneapolis, $7 million; Battered Women’s Justice Project, a St. Paul-based nonprofit that provides national training and resources, $2.5 million; Hmong American Partnership in St. Paul, $2 million; and Way to Grow, a Minneapolis-based organization that provides early childhood education, $2 million.

That’s on top of a $2 million grant that Think Small, a Little Canada-based nonprofit that administers early-learning scholarships, received from Scott in September.

Since 2020, Scott has given more than $109 million to 24 Minnesota-based nonprofits, a number taken from her database of grants and the recipients’ own statements.

Six Twin Cities nonprofits are the latest local organizations to be surprised by unexpected gifts from billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott.

Scott, an author and the ex-wife of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, announcedWednesday that she’s donating $26.1 million to six metro area organizations — part of some $2.2 billion in grants she has given to 360 organizations nationwide this year.

“I about fell out of my chair,” said Ann Cazaban, executive director of Southside Community Health Services, of the $2.6 million gift to her small clinic, which serves low-income residents in south Minneapolis. “We don’t get a lot of good surprises like this.”

The largest of the latest local grants is $10 million for City of Lakes Community Land Trust in Minneapolis, which helps provide affordable home ownership opportunities.

The other local grantees and their awards are Project for Pride in Living (PPL), an affordable housing developer in Minneapolis, $7 million; Battered Women’s Justice Project, a St. Paul-based nonprofit that provides national training and resources, $2.5 million; Hmong American Partnership in St. Paul, $2 million; and Way to Grow, a Minneapolis-based organization that provides early childhood education, $2 million.

That’s on top of a $2 million grant that Think Small, a Little Canada-based nonprofit that administers early-learning scholarships, received from Scott in September.

Since 2020, Scott has given more than $109 million to 24 Minnesota-based nonprofits, a number taken from her database of grants and the recipients’ own statements.

Unlike most major philanthropists, Scott surprises nonprofits with unsolicited donations that often add up to record-setting gifts for them. The gifts are unrestricted, meaning that nonprofits can spend the money any way they want. They don’t have to navigate lengthy applications or reporting requirements, as with most grants.

Scott, 53, has an estimated net worth of about $39 billion (according to Forbes magazine) and has pledged to give away most of it in her lifetime. But her generosity is shrouded in secrecy; she hasn’t spoken publicly about her philanthropy, and the public usually only finds out about the grants when nonprofits disclose the news.

Last fall, Andriana Abariotes, Project for Pride in Living’s vice president of development, received an e-mail from a consultant asking to set up a meeting to discuss an unnamed private donor’s possible donation.

“It almost seemed like a phishing thing,” she said.

PPL had a $6 million deficit last year and was on track to end this year with a deficit as well, possibly forcing layoffs. But after sharing some financials with the consultant, Abariotes said they were notified they’d get $7 million from Scott — a record amount for a one-time donation to the nonprofit.

That will help close the budget gaps and prevent layoffs while also paying down some debt, supporting employees’ pay and training, and helping close the final funding gaps on development projects as construction costs and interest rates rise.

“It’s transformative for us at a really critical time,” said Paul Williams, CEO of Project for Pride in Living. “I particularly appreciate philanthropy that thinks big.”

In September, Cazaban got a similarly cryptic email out of the blue. In a brief meeting, she was informed of the $2.6 million gift, also a record amount for the Southside clinic — equaling about 40% of the donations it gets in an entire year.

“Little Southside in south Minneapolis, how would they even find us?” she said. “They didn’t ask any questions about anything. They had already done all their due diligence.”

Cazaban said it’s a mystery why Scott’s foundation selected her organization. In past blog posts, Scott has said she’s focused on organizations dedicated to equity and the needs of underrepresented people.

“Inspired by all the ways people work together to offer each other goodwill and support,” Scott wrote online in a short three-sentence announcement Wednesday about the grants.

Southside, which provides dental, medical and vision care for low-income residents, will use Scott’s donation to help fund construction of a new 30,000-square-foot affordable community health center off E. Lake Street. The clinic will break ground in 2024 and open the center by mid-2025 on the site of a former Family Dollar store that burned down in the civil unrest following George Floyd’s murder in 2020.

The nearly $30 million project will allow Southside to expand services and serve more people, helping 18,000 a year. More than a third of its clients are children.

For small nonprofits, a Scott donation is a big boost for supporting staff and programs, said Carolyn Smallwood, CEO of Way to Grow.

“It’s a game-changer in how organizations can serve more folks,” she said, adding that the $2 million Way to Grow received from Scott last spring will help it serve 300 more families a year with early childhood education via home visits.

The Battered Women’s Justice Project will use its gift to beef up its reserves and boost its programming, possibly by adding more staffing, CEO Amy Sanchez said.

Getting such a significant gift from Scott is a vote of confidence for Twin Cities nonprofits, Abariotes said, and may possibly inspire other philanthropists. Cazaban said she hopes Scott’s philanthropy will help change how other foundations give out money, perhaps reducing the typically rigorous process of applying for grants and reporting results.

Scott’s foundation “said, ‘We trust you will use this money toward the mission and help as many people as you can,’ ” Cazaban said. “It’s a very unusual way.”

Minnesota nonprofits receiving surprise grants from MacKenzie Scott 

According to Scott’s website,, and individual nonprofits’ announcements, she’s given more than $95 million in the last three years to these Minnesota nonprofits:

  • Southside Community Health Services, $2.6 million (2023)
  • Project for Pride in Living, $7 million (2023)
  • City of Lakes Community Land Trust, $10 million (2023)
  • Hmong American Partnership, $2 million (2023)
  • Way to Grow, $2 million (2023) 
  • Think Small, $2 million (2023)
  • Battered Women’s Justice Project, $2.5 million (2023)
  • Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin River Valleys, $4.2 million (2022)
  • Boys and Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities, $4.8 million (2022)
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters Twin Cities, $6 million (2022)
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Minnesota, $1.5 million (2022)
  • Red Lake Nation Boys & Girls Club, $875,000 (2022)
  • Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, $13.5 million (2022)
  • Dakota Medical Foundation, $10 million (2022)
  • Boys and Girls Club of White Earth, $1.25 million (2022)
  • Junior Achievement North, $1.9 million (2022)
  • YMCA of the North, $18 million (2021)
  • Penumbra Theatre, $5 million (2021)
  • Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, $7 million (2021)
  • YWCA St. Paul, $3 million (2021)
  • Duluth Area Family YMCA, undisclosed amount (2020)
  • YMCA of Cass and Clay Counties, $10 million (2020)
  • Esperanza United, undisclosed amount (2020)
  • YWCA Cass Clay, $2 million (2020)

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