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Way to Grow

Introducing Jearlyn + Jevetta Steele!

Introducing Jearlyn + Jevetta Steele! 1200 600 Way to Grow

Jearlyn Steele

Jearlyn is a member of the internationally acclaimed family, The Steeles, who have performed from Carnegie Hall to Brazil and to the Super Bowl Live Verizon stage in 2018. Recently, Jearlyn and The Steeles were a part of the 2022 (Prince) Celebration at Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minnesota. For more than a decade, she has been the Entertainment Reporter for Twin Cities Public Television’s award-winning political show Almanac interviewing local, national and international acts.

As a keynote speaker, facilitator and emcee, Jearlyn has inspired audiences around the country and the Caribbean.  Maintaining her four-hour Sunday night radio show called Steele Talkn’ on WCCO Radio 830AM, has been a joy for more than two decades.  Developing and delivering her TedX Talk in 2016 offered a revisit of her Personal Values Statement, which has emboldened her as a woman, mother, entertainer, and student.

Musically, she has performed with the Minnesota Orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Prince, Mavis Staples and more.  She was a frequent special guest on the national radio broadcast A Prairie Home Companion performing duets with music greats Carole King and Elvis Costello. Her vocal talents landed her a feature in the Robert Altman film, A Prairie Home Companion starring Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones and Garrison Keillor.

Jearlyn has served on Boards for Chrysalis—a women’s resource center and the Ordway Circle of Stars, who unite children with the world of art. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in Leadership and Innovation in Ministry at Luther Seminary St. Paul, MN.

In 2016, an Honorary Doctorate degree was conferred upon her by the University of Indianapolis and in October 2019, she received an Emmy for narrator of the TPT documentary, Flour Power. Jearlyn is a mother of two and a grandmother of three.

Jevetta Steele

Jevetta Steele s a member of the internationally acclaimed musical family, The Steeles.

She is most noted for her Academy Award nominated performance of Calling You from the motion picture Bagdad Café, which is certified GOLD in several European countries. Miss Steele is an original cast member of the Broadway, national and international touring hit “The Gospel at Colonus”, a featured artist on 2 operas (“Dear Mrs. Parks” & “African Portraits”), a recipient of 4 Gold records and an author of 2 plays- “2 Queens-1 Castle…an autobiographical music” and contributor with Don Cheadle on “Point of Revue”.

Ms. Steele has recorded 4 albums, performed on many major theatrical stages while lending her voice to national artist the likes of Prince, The Sounds of Blackness, Natalie Merchant and more. Her voice can also be found on local/regional radio and television commercials.

Meet Aubrey!

Meet Aubrey! 2560 1707 Way to Grow

In a year and half, the confident, go-getter Aubrey went from being a cautious, nervous reader to loving books of every kind. Most importantly, she is now reading at grade level with an infectious smile!

Aubrey’s family educator, Alison, first met Aubrey and her family seven years ago. Through her many accomplishments made alongside Way to Grow, Alison saw Aubrey grow into a bright, happy girl who radiated confidence. But when 2nd grade brought literacy struggles, it was concerning to see how something as simple as a book transformed Aubrey from confident to cautious. 

As Aubrey exits Way to Grow after seven years, her smile—and confidence—is bigger than ever.

Culture to Culture Connections

In addition to the usual tools Alison uses to support literacy, including worksheets, writing, games, and “Reading A to Z,” connecting with Aubrey about their Native American heritage also supported Aubrey’s progress. Megan, Aubrey’s mother, truly appreciated connecting through their heritage, sharing, “Aubrey and I really liked it when Alison would bring books about our culture.” 

Aubrey attends Anishinabe Academy and was thrilled to bring home projects to show Alison what she had created and learned at school. Connecting Aubrey with her culture was important to Alison, and Alison was happy to help her learn.

Aubrey didn’t say “Goodbye” to Alison when she left. Instead, she said, “Gigawabamin,” which translates to “See you later” in Ojibwe. 

As Aubrey finished up 3rd grade, she asked why Alison only visited once a month. The answer was simple: because of the incredible progress she’s made! Monthly visits were enough for Alison to work, connect, and know that Aubrey was ready to move onto the 4th grade, at grade level. These days, Aubrey is working hard on practicing her cursive. 

At Way to Grow, we understand that language and cultural connections play a major role in helping children develop reading skills. Alison knows that Aubrey’s excitement and curiosity about reading, education, and her Native American culture, will take her far. While it’s bittersweet to see Aubrey graduate from our program, we won’t say goodbye. It’s a Gigawabamin to Aubrey and her family!

Family Fun: Cheerio Bird Feeders

Family Fun: Cheerio Bird Feeders 3334 1459 Way to Grow

It can be hard to find fun activities to keep kids busy indoors during the cold winter months. Tap into their creativity and watch some local wildlife together with these bird feeders! 

You will need: 
Cheerios, floral wire or pipe cleaners, ribbon or string for hanging

Step 1:
Shape your wire first – our example uses hearts, but you can twist it into other fun shapes, too!
Step 2: 
Thread the Cheerios on the wire.  
Step 3:
Twist the ends of the wire together to close the shape and keep the Cheerios in place.
Step 4:
Hang it up outside near a window and enjoy watching the birds that come for a snack, or make it educational by helping your children identify the birds and learning about them together!

Meeting Challenges this Season: Nimo’s Story

Meeting Challenges this Season: Nimo’s Story 3334 1459 Way to Grow

Nimo and her family have been working with Way to Grow for over 10 years, with the help of their dedicated and enthusiastic Family Educator, Shamsa. Three of Nimo’s six children have been enrolled in Way to Grow, and Nimo can see the difference between their performance in school and the older children, who were not enrolled in Way to Grow. Her youngest child, who is now seven years old and had previously attended the Way to Grow preschool, impressed his teachers right away. “He surprised the school everywhere – the way he behaves, discipline, sharing, how he gives his opinions when they ask questions, everything.”  Her second youngest child, who enrolled with Way to Grow at four years old, also excelled. “I tell the test center to test him, to see if he’s ready for kindergarten. They did every test and he passed everything, and they told me he absolutely does not need second language learning.”

Nimo credits Way to Grow and Shamsa for her children’s progress. This included not only the work that Shamsa does with the children, but also helping Nimo navigate the school system and be a partner in her children’s learning. “I know how to help my children now,” Nina shared, “before I never knew it, how to work with schools.” Nimo is proud that she has been able to gain these skills, and she’s paying it forward within her community. When she sees other parents struggling, she steps in to help. “I know a lot of families that don’t have the experience I have, and I try my best to help them.”

This is especially important within the Somali community in Minneapolis, where some parents face language and cultural barriers that make it difficult to participate in their children’s education. “It’s not all mothers like me and my background [with Way to Grow] – the mothers from Somalia and East Africa, they don’t know how to speak English. They have difficulties when they receive letters from school, that they cannot even read it or fill out the forms.” Having a family educator like Shamsa, who can translate the communications from the school and help the family fill out paperwork, is invaluable for these parents. Now, Nimo is able to extend the same assistance to others.

Nimo and her family’s growth are a testament to what can be accomplished through hard work and community efforts. Thanks to Shamsa’s guidance, Nimo continues to actively participate and encourage her children as they progress through school, and uses her knowledge to help her fellow parents and caregivers. Way to go, Nimo!

State of Way to Grow: 2019 Annual Report & 2020 Update

State of Way to Grow: 2019 Annual Report & 2020 Update 800 350 Way to Grow

A letter from our CEO, Carolyn Smallwood

2019 was a big year for Way to Grow. Not only did we celebrate our 30th anniversary, we built a solid foundation for our programming by implementing the Parents as Teachers curriculum, integrating three internal database systems, maintaining our metrics, and expanding the number of schools reached by our services. As part of Way to Grow’s growth strategy, we opened our new office in the Harrison neighborhood and celebrated the three-decade journey that brought us back to where we began.

The strategies we implemented in 2019 paid off when our world shifted as a result of a global pandemic. In response to the needs of our families and the realities of the impact of COVID-19, Way to Grow pivoted to virtual home visiting, conducted groups online, created an online preschool, provided academic support to families learning at home, and made more connections to services than ever before.

None of us could have predicted the events that followed, yet even before the pandemic, Minnesota had one of the largest racial disparities in housing, health, employment, and education in the country. Our work was vital then, and it is even more critical today. The pandemic has exacerbated those inequities, and for months we have been hearing from families about the challenges they face and how Way to Grow is a lifeline for them when the world is so unstable and the future ever uncertain.

I am so grateful to the community partners, foundations, government agencies, corporations, and individuals that have supported Way to Grow during the past two years. Thank you for placing your trust in us and in the work that we do. I also want to thank our amazing Way to Grow staff and our board of directors. We came together to face unprecedented challenges—from expanding our program to supporting a community in a crisis. We’ve shown that we can weather any storm when we do it together.

Today we are at a crossroads. As we wrestle with the hard truths of racial inequality and watch as the disparities throughout our community are magnified, we cannot simply conduct business as usual. These times of great struggle must galvanize us toward action. Now is the time for us to come together as a community to push for equality and social justice for those who have been left behind. The founders of Way to Grow believed in that vision—that all children and their families deserve to live in a just and equal society. Over 30 years ago, we embarked on a mission to do just that.

Let us continue to work together, reaching for the possibilities of the future together.

Carolyn Smallwood

Meeting Challenges This Season

Meeting Challenges This Season 8000 3960 Way to Grow

With the holidays approaching, we are reminded that many families are still in need. In addition to the challenges they face with virtual learning, many families are also dealing with unemployment, food insecurity, and social isolation, all of which have an impact on children’s mental health. A recent study by Save the Children has shown that almost 50% of students in the United States have reported feeling anxious or fearful due to current events. 

Way to Grow understands these challenges and we are working hard to address them. Our Family Educators have successfully adopted virtual home visits and creative activities for the families they support, both to continue their education and to provide socialization. This is crucial during a time when children are unable to visit with friends and extended family. In this way, the Family Educator plays several roles – tutor, mentor, and friend!

Our annual Adopt-A-Family gift card drive also looks a little different this year, and we are finding new ways to provide hope and joy to our families this holiday season. In lieu of gifts, our supporters have provided gift cards, allowing the families to purchase winter clothes, books, toys, groceries, and more. Even the smallest gesture can mean the world to a struggling family, and we are so grateful to those who generously contributed to spreading some holiday cheer! 

Give the gift of a bright future by donating in honor of someone special!

Family Fun: Wax Crayon Resist Art

Family Fun: Wax Crayon Resist Art 3334 1459 Way to Grow

It can be hard to find fun activities to keep kids busy indoors during the cold winter months. Tap into their creativity with this fun snowflake art! 

You will need: 
white wax crayon, white paper, watercolor paint, paint brush, cup of water, salt

Step 1:
Draw a design on a white piece of paper with a white crayon. (This is perfect for snowflakes or a snowman!)
Step 2: 
Choose a color (or several!) to paint on your drawing. Be sure to paint over all your crayon designs. They will pop against the colorful background! 
Step 3:
For extra pizzazz, sprinkle some salt over your painting while it’s still wet. This creates a beautiful and unique effect when mixed with the watercolor paint.
Step 4:
Let your painting dry and enjoy!

A New Face at Preschool Pals

A New Face at Preschool Pals 2500 1459 Way to Grow

Meet our new Preschool Teacher, Melissa!

Tell us a little bit about you!

I have worked in the Early Childhood field for 27 years. I have my Bachelor’s Degree in Early childhood Education.

What brings you to Way to Grow?

What attracted me to Way to Grow is the organization’s value of connecting the parents and the community in their child’s learning and growth. 

Where did you work before Way to Grow?

My last position was a Preschool Teacher at an Intergenerational Program. This program allowed memory care residents and the children in the child care center to learn together through activities as well as help one another through art and problem solving. 

What excites you most about working at Way to Grow?

I am excited to get to know the families and their children. I am also excited to help the children in the program be successful and ready for their first day of Kindergarten, and meeting all of the people that have a part in making this organization so successful. 

What do you do for fun?

In my spare time I enjoy spending time with my family, walking my dog, gardening, reading books, and enjoying the outdoors. 

Welcome, Melissa!

Way to Grow in the News

Way to Grow in the News 1080 400 Way to Grow

School enrollment has felt the impact of the current pandemic. Way to Grow was recently in the news as part of a larger discussion on school enrollment and the drastic choices families face. In a Star Tribune article from October 19, our CEO Carolyn Smallwood outlines the challenges families face: “Pandemic pushes down Minnesota kindergarten enrollment.”


“Carolyn Smallwood, CEO of Way to Grow, a Minneapolis-based early learning nonprofit that aims to address achievement gaps and support families in Minneapolis, Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center, said some families have struggled to find spots in scaled-down kindergarten programs. Others, especially those with parents juggling multiple jobs to keep the family afloat, realized they couldn’t balance work with supervising their kindergartner’s distance learning and decided to keep them out of school for the year. 

Smallwood said vastly different kindergarten experiences this year are likely to exacerbate the state’s already significant achievement gaps, particularly because the first years of school set the course for future studies. 

‘Now we have a situation where they’re not in kindergarten, not receiving the quality of services that is needed at that particular time, and our kids are probably going to be further behind,’ she said.”

Thanks for shining with us!

Thanks for shining with us! 2500 1309 Way to Grow

On Friday, September 25 Way to Grow hosted its first virtual Gala – “Let’s Connect” Shine Celebration. Together, we raised over $305,000 to fund our Great by Eight program, stabilizing families and providing education to those who need it most. If you would still like to help us meet our goal, please consider a gift now.  

A special shout out to T. Mychael Rambo, Jearlyn and Jevetta Steele, Doug Baker Ecolab CEO and Chairman of the Board and Megan Newquist, KSTP for shining with us during this special event.  Our event sponsors, table ambassadors and virtual guests allowed us to make the most of a virtual celebration and raise much needed dollars. Thank you!

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