In The News

 Articles/news items written about or containing mentions of Way to Grow, or your events, employees, etc.

Social Innovation Fund

Social Innovation Fund 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Last year, Twin Cities Strive in partnership with Greater Twin Cities United Way rolled out their Social Innovation Fund grant, dedicated to  focus on improving kindergarten readiness, 3rd-grade reading proficiency, 9th-grade readiness for upper-level math, four-year high school graduation, and post-secondary enrollment among low-income students in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area.

Twin Cities Strive in partnership with Greater Twin Cities United Way has begun to transform the landscape of strategies aimed at improving educational outcomes for low-income Twin Cities children and youth at risk for academic failure through their local STRIVE Alliance collective impact initiative. With their Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant they have developed a strong portfolio of replicable, evidence-based programs designed to improve kindergarten readiness, third grade reading proficiency, ninth grade readiness for upper-level math, four-year graduation rates, and college enrollment rates for between 1,500 and 2,000 low-income youth each year.

Way to Grow has been honored to be included as one of six 2013 grantees committed to closing the achievement gap throughout the Twin Cities.  We’re incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have expanded our reach to over 150 additional low-income families with children ages 3 to grade 3!  We’ll receive our program evaluation this fall, where we expect to see improved school readiness and increased academic proficiency of participating children.

Carolyn Smallwood to co-chair Mayor Hodges’ Cradle to K Cabinet

Carolyn Smallwood to co-chair Mayor Hodges’ Cradle to K Cabinet 150 150 Way to Grow

Photo by David Joles of the Star Tribune.

Mayor Betsy Hodges’ understands the value and importance of high-quality early education, as we learned from one of her major campaign themes of giving more attention to children from birth to kindergarten. In her State of the City address at the American Indian Center on April 24, Hodges revealed that Way to Grow’s own Executive Director Carolyn Smallwood will co-chair the Cradle to K Cabinet with Children’s Defense Fund Executive Director Peggy Flanagan.

In a blog post outlining the cabinet’s importance on her Betsy for Minneapolis website, Hodges says, “While there is a great deal of good work happening, the status quo is not acceptable. I want everyone to be a part of giving the best opportunities to all Minneapolis children, and the only price for admission is to be able, willing, and ready: able to approach this issue with urgency, willing to be challenged, and ready to take action for Minneapolis children.”

Carolyn Smallwood and Peggy Flanagan

We could not agree more, Mayor! And we’re thrilled that our Executive Director will play a key role in this crucial initiative.

For a full overview of the issues Mayor Hodges touched on in her State of the City address, check out this MinnPost article.

This press release outlines more about the cabinet and lists all members to date.

For parents and providers, MinneMinds pre-K scholarships are working

For parents and providers, MinneMinds pre-K scholarships are working 150 150 Way to Grow

By: Nicholas Banovetz, Deputy Director, MinnCAN

In just shy of two years, more than 80 organizations across Minnesota have convened and formed the MinneMinds campaign to increase access to high-quality early education for Minnesota kids. Following is a brief recap of the campaign’s work and how you can get involved!

The building blocks

In 2013, the Minnesota Legislature passed–and Gov. Dayton signed into law–historic funding of $40 million to provide low-income children pre-K scholarships so they can attend high-quality early learning programs. Way to Grow is a recipient of such scholarships, helping the top-rated Parent-Aware program reach more kids. But unfortunately this funding reaches approximately 9 percent of the need, which is why the MinneMinds campaign is back at the Capitol this session asking for two things:

  1. Additional funding to increase the number of children served; and
  2. Adjustments to the current scholarship cap of $5,o00 so these scholarships are more flexible and work better for families.

The evidence is clear

Every year approximately 15,400 low-income children arrive at kindergarten not fully prepared to succeed–about half of all kindergartners, costing Minnesota $56,000 over the lifetime of each unprepared child and approximately $860 million for every year this trend continues, according to Wilder Research. And according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, well-focused investments in early childhood development yield high public returns, as much as $16 to $1.

Learn more about the landscape of early education in Minnesota–and the opportunities within reaching distance.

In short, an abundance of local research tells us that when we connect children to high-quality pre-K programs, these students are far more likely to succeed across the K-12 continuum. They’re more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to enroll in post-secondary opportunities and more likely to avoid arrest for a violent crime.

MinneMinds investments are much needed for underserved Minnesota kids. They also hold promise for us all–helping sustain Minnesota as a thriving place to live and work.

And now that scholarships are rolling out…

MinneMinds scholarships are flowing out the door, from the Twin Cities metro to outstate Minnesota. And families and providers are responding. Here’s one story from a provider in Greater Minnesota, who’s witnessed firsthand a mother and father who have been hit hard by the economy:

With the father out of work, the mother became the sole income provider for their family. By the time the parents had paid for their three children to attend an early learning program at a local family childcare provider, they had absolutely nothing left of their monthly income. With no other choice, the family was forced to consider pulling all three children out of the early learning program.

Their family childcare provider was going through the Parent Aware program and was able to provide the mother and father with information about the early learning scholarships program. She even helped the mother and father apply.

News came later that their application had been accepted and all three children are currently receiving an early learning scholarship. The children were able to remain in the licensed family childcare provider’s early learning program, eliminating the possibility of a gap in their education.  Both the mother and father are so grateful for the early learning scholarships their children are receiving.

Lastly, take action!

The legislative session ends on May 19–please take two minutes before then and contact your legislators. Urge them to support MinneMinds and continue the momentum.

Learn more about MinneMinds at


Farewell, Lily!

Farewell, Lily! 150 150 Way to Grow

Yesterday, we bid farewell to one of our wonderful Family Educators. Lily Romero recently graduated from MCTC with her RN degree and has already accepted a position at the HCMC clinic in Richfield.

Lily, you will be missed. Richfield, you’re in good hands!

Happy Anniversary, Carrie Johnson!

Happy Anniversary, Carrie Johnson! 150 150 Way to Grow

Carrie Zelin Johnson believes strongly in the mission and vision of Way to Grow and for very special reasons. Not only is she a former Family Educator, but she also received direct support as a Way to Grow family earlier in life. In fact, 3 of her children are Way to Grow graduates!

“By the time I was 26 years old I was responsible for 5 children,” said Johnson. “Our blended family presented a significant challenge as we negotiated child rearing beliefs, addressed developmental delays & learning difficulties, and navigated the resources to move out of poverty. We attended events and activities that Way to Grow offered and connected with a Family Educator who knew health and education resources that were just right for our family’s needs.”

Carrie is now the Director of Early Education at Way to Grow, a position she has held since June of last year. In that role, she supports our Family Educators’ home visiting practices and leads Way to Grow’s preschool programs.

read more

Foundations Inc. Presentation Now Online

Foundations Inc. Presentation Now Online 150 150 Way to Grow

Way to Grow presented a summary of our in-home educational work at the national Beyond School Hours Conference in February 2013 in Jacksonville, Florida.  The presentation titled, Innovative Strategies in Home Visiting, is now available online!

Click here to view the presentation.  Click here to view the handouts from the presentation.

Way to Grow to Share Innovative Home Visiting Model with National Audience

Way to Grow to Share Innovative Home Visiting Model with National Audience 150 150 Way to Grow

Way to Grow Executive Director Carolyn Smallwood and Way to Grow Director of Early Childhood Education, Carrie Johnson will share the presentation, Innovative Strategies in Home Visiting, at the 16th annual Beyond School Hours Conference on February 20-23, 2013 in Jacksonville, Florida. The Beyond School Hours Conference is the nation’s premier gathering of education practitioners and thought leaders from across the country, which offers the latest tools and insights to address the national grade level reading and literacy crisis to improve the outcomes of young people after the school day ends.

The presentation, Innovative Strategies in Home Visiting, will focus on Way to Grow’s statistically proven home visiting model, which provides culturally appropriate educational services for over 2,000 families in Minneapolis. Way to Grow Family Educators, collectively fluent in seven languages, engage parents in their children’s education, demonstrating how to teach through everyday interaction. Through over 10,000 home visits annually, Way to Grow Family Educators impact the culture of learning at home by encouraging parent involvement, and model the skills parents need to help support their children beyond school hours.

“We are honored to share our work with our esteemed colleagues at the Beyond School Hours Conference,” Way to Grow Executive Director, Carolyn Smallwood said. “Our work in the Minneapolis community echoes the ongoing research and trends we’re seeing around the country, which shows that extended learning time for families in need can significantly increase the outcomes of students and help close the achievement gap.”

Extended learning time has be in the spotlight in Minnesota recently as Governor Dayton’s proposed 2012-2014 budget includes $40 million for all-day kindergarten and $44 million in scholarships for low to middle-income parents to enroll their kids in quality child care centers and preschools.

“Way to Grow is delighted to see early education and extended learning become a priority for the state of Minnesota,” said Carolyn Smallwood. “We look forward to representing Minnesota’s commitment to educating all students and are excited to share with a national audience the tremendous impact it has on our community.”

Great by Eight: Another Great Year Making a Difference for Families

Great by Eight: Another Great Year Making a Difference for Families 150 150 Way to Grow

Your support made 2012 a banner year for Way to Grow as we were able to extend our in-home education services to more families and prepare more kids to be ready for school.  Check out some of our great achievements below.


Way to Grow completed a record-breaking 10,725 home visits in 2012.  Every home visit we undertake strengthens our relationship within the family, helps us identify strengths and risks, and allows us to develop and achieve goals so the children can thrive.


In 2012, Way to Grow made 2,362 referrals.  Each referral connected a family in need to a partnering agency to access food, clothing, medical assistance, affordable housing, and other support services.  These necessities are vital to foster a safe, healthy environment for children to learn and grow.


As we reported in the fall, 80% of Way to Grow children achieved school-readiness when they entered kindergarten last year.  The majority of these children were from backgrounds where English is not the primary language spoken in the home and who consistently have trouble passing literacy benchmarks.  92% of these students were screened by Minneapolis Public Schools for developmentally appropriate indicators as they entered school.   These screenings help assess where the child is at developmentally, so additional instruction can be focused on areas requiring special attention.

Of the 124 elementary children we served throughout the 2011-2012 school year, we are proud to report that 77% are reading at, or above grade level.

Additionally, 92% of parents participated in BOTH of their child’s parent-teacher conferences and 89% of families attended a school event, often for the first time.

We are proud to report that 94% of full-term Way to Grow newborns were born at a normal birth weight or above.   A normal or above-average birth weight helps ensure a more healthy life and  leads to a reduction in learning problems or problems with development.  We are also proud to report that 89% of our teen mothers did not have a repeat pregnancy.


Way to Grow Family Featured in Pioneer Press

Way to Grow Family Featured in Pioneer Press 150 150 Way to Grow

Below is a great feature about one of Way to Grow’s families published in the Pioneer Press.

Jyakima is a single father whose holiday wish is full-time employment. In the meantime, he’s a full-time volunteer. What a guy!

Thanks to the Greater Twin Cities United Way for helping Jyakima’s wish come true!

[excerpted from the Pioneer Press]

Jyakima Cration is a volunteer the students and staff at the Little Earth Youth Development Center can count on.

As the kids flowed into the after-school program at the Minneapolis center on a recent afternoon, Cration was there — as usual — to help with homework.

“I have a lot of volunteers, but only two who are consistent, and one of those is Jyakima,” says Frank Downwind, the center’s youth services director. “With cutbacks and shortages in funding, consistent volunteers who can help with the kids are more important than ever.”

Cration, 37, a single father, was nominated for Holiday Wishes — the newspaper’s annual giving program with Greater Twin Cities United Way — by Way to Grow, an early-learning program.

“Jyakima was referred to Way to Grow through the Father Project,” wrote Jill Johnson, a Way to Grow spokeswoman. “He and his son, Saint, have been working with one of our family educators since February 2011.

“Throughout the past two years, Jyakima has many accomplishments under his belt. He graduated from the Father Project, a job-training program, now works with a temp agency, received full custody of his son and began mentoring teen boys at Little Earth. He has made huge strides in working toward financial stability.”

**To read the full article visit the Pioneer Press.

Stay informed. Stay connected.

Stay informed. Stay connected. 150 150 Way to Grow

Things are always exciting around the Way to Grow offices. And now you have a chance to follow them all. Check out our calendar of events. Sign up with our e-newsletter. Or be a Way to Grow volunteer. Just email us to learn more about our available opportunities.

Congratulations to our Kindergarten Class of 2012!

On Saturday, August 25th over 120 Way to Grow youngsters assembled at South High School for a Kindergarten Graduation. Now complete with the early learning portion of their education, many of graduating children will stay on with Way to Grow’s Great by Eight program, which continues to offer home visits and curriculum-based educational support outside of the classroom.
Check out a video synopsis of graduation day by clicking below and join us in congratulating Way to Grow’s Kindergarten Class of 2012

On Saturday, August 25th over 120 Way to Grow youngsters assembled at South High School for a Kindergarten Graduation. Now complete with the early learning portion of their education, many of graduating children will stay on with Way to Grow’s Great by Eight program, which continues to offer home visits and curriculum-based educational support outside of the classroom.

Check out the video synopsis of graduation day by clicking above and join us in congratulating Way to Grow’s Kindergarten Class of 2012!

Thanks to Target

TargetBullseye®We were just selected to receive a portion of the $50 million the company is giving to schools, nonprofits & educators this fall. Their generous $200,000 donation will help us continue supporting Minneapolis children to succeed in school. Learn about Target’s commitment to education and reading:


Thank you to everyone who joined Way to Grow for our Shine Celebration Gala on June 11.


Way to Grow supporters gather to celebrate the successes of Way to Grow in the last year, and to learn about what the future holds for our great organization. Thank you to all sponsors, table sponsors, auction item donors, volunteers, staff, and The Depot for making our event not only a great success, but wonderful evening for all.

See more event photos on our Way To Grow Facebook page.

Minneapolis Public Schools and Way to Grow Announce “Great by 8”

Way to Grow, in collaboration with the Minneapolis Public Schools, is proud to announce the “Great by 8” initiative, which will expand our services to include public school students from kindergarten to the third-grade, or age 8. The “Great by 8” initiative will take our proven pre-K programming and carry it forward with the leadership of the Minneapolis Public Schools.

Way to Grow makes healthy cooking accessible to families through Cooking Matters.

ofl_spring2010Way to Grow is collaborating with the University of Minnesota’s Extension Services to bring our families access to Cooking Matters and its specialized nutrition course, Eating Right. The course teaches hands-on meal preparation, practical nutrition information and budgeting skills. Since all WTG Families involved in the program have preschool-aged children, the course has an added emphasis on teaching parents how to ensure that their children get the healthy food they need to grow and thrive. Currently, fifteen families are attending the six-week course, which covers a variety of cooking and food budgeting topics. Each two-hour session allows participants to watch a nutrition educator prepare a healthy meal and the opportunity to cook the same meal themselves. At the end of the session, each family brings home a free bag of groceries so they can prepare the meal at home. What a great way to make eating healthy meaningful, fun, and accessible to all!

Funding, in part, for Cooking Matters was made possible through a grant from the Mount Sinai Community Foundation, a designated endowment of the Minneapolis Jewish Foundation.

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