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Way to Grow announces its participation in the USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program

Way to Grow announces its participation in the USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program 667 553 Lisa Bryant

MINNEAPOLIS—July 26, 2017—Way to Grow, the Twin Cities’ preeminent leader for early childhood and K-3rd grade education has announced today that it is participating in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), and has begun to serve meals at no separate charge to children enrolled at Way to Grow Preschool Pals (Center for Families), 3333 4th Street North, Minneapolis, Minn. 55412.

CACFP is designed to improve the diets of young children and increase the opportunity for children to eat a variety of nutritious foods.  The program is operated by the Minnesota Department of Education, and meals meet nutrition standards established by the United States Department of Agriculture.

In the operation of USDA Child Nutrition programs, no participant will be discriminated against because of race, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity.

For more information about Way to Grow’s participation in the Child and Adult Care Food Program, please contact: Craig Allen, Education Coordinator at 612-874-4740, or

To learn how you can help us do more, visit, or call (612) 874-4740. Way to Grow is headquartered at 125 West Broadway Avenue, Suite 110, Minneapolis, Minn. 55411.


Way to Grow Celebrates the Achievement of Early Learners enrolled in ‘Great by Eight’

Way to Grow Celebrates the Achievement of Early Learners enrolled in ‘Great by Eight’ 150 150 Lisa Bryant

Rallying for Minnesota’s Children – Advocacy for Children Day 2017

Rallying for Minnesota’s Children – Advocacy for Children Day 2017 960 638 Ivy Marsnik

Advocacy for Children Day celebrates early learning and gives parents, teachers, early care and education professionals, and communities from across the state an opportunity to stand up and be a voice for children. Led by the MinneMinds coalition, which Way to Grow is actively involved in, our staff and several families we serve are gathering at the capitol in support of equitable, child-centered, parent-directed, mixed delivery approaches to state policies affecting families and children. The 2017 policy agenda MinneMinds leads includes:

Ensuring Quality Care Through Parent Aware
  • Fully fund Parent Aware to continue the expansion of high‐quality early learning programs throughout Minnesota.
  • Support existing rated providers and grow from 3,000 programs to 4,400.
  • Ongoing support for rated providers and implementation of improvement strategies, with a priority on stronger recognition and incorporation of cultural competency.
Increasing Access to Quality Early Learning Through Scholarships
  • Increase funding and access of State Early Learning Scholarships for in need children birth‐to five to attend high quality early childhood development programs (Prioritize children with highest needs, including those facing homelessness and in foster care).
  • Complete efforts to fully‐fund scholarships for low‐income 3‐ and 4‐year‐olds to serve 7,000 new, at risk preschoolers.
  • Add funding for high priority groups for 0 to 2‐year‐olds (siblings, homeless, foster care, child protection) to serve 3,400 new, at risk babies and toddlers.
Assisting More Families In Need Through Home Visiting Programs
  • Increase access and funding for targeted home visiting programs to include 7,000 children in high poverty.
  • Provide community‐led solutions to high‐risk families to help stabilize them and give them a strong start.

What You Can Do

Attend the Rally

Join over 500 fellow early learning advocates as we fill the rotunda at the Minnesota State Capitol on Thursday, March 2, 2017. Activities for children begin at 9 am with the rally beginning at 9:30 am. From 11 am – 4 pm legislators will be available for visits.

Register Here

Submit a Letter and Children’s Art

Whether or not you are able to attend the rally, we encourage you to submit a letter to your senators and representatives and tell them why our state’s youngest learners matter to you. Greater Twin Cities United Way  will collect children’s artwork to accompany the letters submitted.

Mail your artwork to:
Lulete Mola
Greater Twin Cities United Way
404 S 8th Street
Minneapolis, MN 55404

Download Letter Template

Meet with Legislators

Meeting with legislators can be easier than you think. Follow these simple steps:
1) Find out who your legislators are
2) Set up a time to meet
3) Identify your main message and a personal story supporting that message
4) Follow these tips for holding a successful meeting

Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi Foundation for Children Awards More Than $1.3 Million in Grants

Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi Foundation for Children Awards More Than $1.3 Million in Grants 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Minnesota Students’ Scores Mixed on Nation’s Report Card

Minnesota Students’ Scores Mixed on Nation’s Report Card 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Social Impact Project Launches in Minneapolis

Social Impact Project Launches in Minneapolis 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

A group of next generation philanthropists has come together to launch The New Impact Fund, a social impact project. We are excited to announce that Way to Grow is one of four family and childhood-focused programs included in the first round of social investments.

“At Way to Grow, we’ve seen the lasting impact of developing a foundation of learning in the home for families in poverty. From a single parent sharing her excitement that her daughter has earned a full scholarship to college because of a strong start with Way to Grow, to a preschool-age boy who formerly lagged far behind his peers now entering school scoring 75 points higher in literacy. A strong start has a strong return for individual families and our communities,” said Carolyn Smallwood, Way to Grow Executive Director.

The New Impact Fund support will help support the programming that empowers our next generation of leaders and fuels the promise of stronger, healthier communities for us all.


Minneapolis – The next generation of Minnesota philanthropists is coming together around a new social impact project called The New Impact Fund. The New Impact Fund, which is just completing its first cohort, is rallying next generation leaders to leverage their philanthropy to take action. The New Impact Fund announces over $410,000 in investment for their first effort. Alicia Phillips of Redwood Philanthropic Advisors and Jason Blumenthal of the Fulcrum Group are launching the effort.

The first cohort of investments is focused on family and childhood programs in Minneapolis. The Fund uses all the tools of capitalism: business investments, loans, and grants to drive change in Minneapolis. We believe that ending cycles of poverty in Minneapolis is possible by training the next generation of philanthropic leaders and innovators to apply analytics and new points of leverage to pervasive social problems.

“This is only possible through the development of new critical leaders, new ways of thinking, and new ways of using capital,” Phillips said. “The New Impact Fund provides the members of the cohort with the skills to effectively evaluate opportunities in terms of innovation, results, and effectiveness in addressing the issues of poverty. We believe the four

programs in which we are investing will create strong, positive change in the lives of Minneapolis families and children in poverty,” said Susan Shank, CFA and Chair of the first co-hort.

The investments were selected for the following programs:

Way To Grow

Way to Grow provides evidence-based programming, delivered primarily through home visits, that measurably improves the lives of families by stabilizing the home and setting a foundation for a culture of learning in the households of at-risk families in Minneapolis.

Baby Space

Baby Space works to strengthen, deepen, and broaden its family engagement program in order to achieve even better academic and social emotional outcomes for the American Indian families and children they serve.

Northside Achievement Zone

Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) uses evidence-based strategies to support North Minneapolis parents–the vast majority of whom are people of color living at or below the poverty line–in building the skills, knowledge, and confidence they need to support their children’s growth, development and school success from birth to graduation and beyond.

Joyce Preschool

Joyce Preschool is supported for programming that empowers low-income families to support the social-emotional and cognitive development of their children. The school’s comprehensive and responsive parent support programming is a major factor in Joyce Preschool’s success in achieving a100% kindergarten readiness rate for its graduates.

About The New Impact Fund

The New Impact Fund is a group of next generation philanthropic investors committed to creating wealth through business investments, loans and grants that can add jobs to the economy, increase employment and bring upward mobility to the poorest neighborhoods within Minneapolis.


Cradle to K Cabinet Releases Final Plan to Address Early Learning Disparities in Minneapolis

Cradle to K Cabinet Releases Final Plan to Address Early Learning Disparities in Minneapolis 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Mayor Hodges and the Cradle to K Cabinet released the final Cradle to K report outlining policy, legislative and collaborative recommendations for 2015 and beyond.

“As much as possible, these recommendations are based on research and the prevailing best practices in the field and in our community.  We want to focus on what works.”
-Mayor Betsy Hodges

The Cabinet, focused on eliminating disparities for children in the City of Minneapolis from prenatal to age three, released the draft report earlier this year.  “I want to thank the community for the serious and heartfelt response we received to the draft report.  I think you will find we took many comments to heart and incorporated your feedback into the final report,” says Mayor Betsy Hodges, “These recommendations are grounded in our three goals and have been labored on not just by our 28 Cabinet members but also by our subcommittees and additional community members.”

The Cabinet is recommending systems alignment, leveraging existing resources, and increased investments in children in the areas of targeted home visiting, housing for very-low income families, child care assistance and early learning scholarships, and service funding for our most vulnerable children such as homeless children and children with special needs.  “The Cabinet’s work is not done,” states Cabinet Co-Chair, Peggy Flanagan, calling Cradle to K a labor of love. “We are ready to get to work.”

Carolyn Smallwood, Cabinet Co-Chair and Executive Director of Way to Grow, adds that the Cabinet is now putting together its implementation plan.  Carolyn outlined a few of the things the Cabinet will be working on right away:

  • Improving the mental health services for children zero to three
  • Combining efforts with Generation Next and others to continue to increase early childhood screening efforts
  • Working on ways to increase the availability of housing for the most low-income families
  • Looking at ways to increase early learning scholarship opportunities for families in Minneapolis and
  • Trying to connect with family, friend and neighbor care providers who provide the majority of care to very young children.

Of these, Carolyn highlights, “It is critical for family, friend and neighbor care providers to have the correct information on getting kids ready for school.”  The Cabinet’s vision for the future, as told by Mayor Hodges, is for every parent and child to have the same access to resources beginning with prenatal care, continuing to empower parents to create a nurturing environment for their children, having stable housing that can provide a safe place to learn, and not having that access be determined or affected by income or race.

The Mayor has said Cradle to K is one of her main priorities this year.  The full report is available on the Mayor’s website.

Check out Way to Grow’s feature on KARE 11.

Mayor Hodges, Cradle to K Cabinet to Release Final Plan to Eliminate Disparities for Minneapolis Children

Mayor Hodges, Cradle to K Cabinet to Release Final Plan to Eliminate Disparities for Minneapolis Children 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

On Monday, May 18th at 1:30 p.m., Mayor Betsy Hodges and the Cradle to K Cabinet will release their final report which finalizes a plan to eliminate disparities for children in Minneapolis from birth to three years old. Prior to Monday’s release the Mayor and her cabinet met with over 200 community members in March and received considerable feedback over the internet to gather input on the recommendations and strategies for the final report.  The final report outlines policy, legislative and collaboration recommendations for 2015 and beyond.

The Cradle to K Cabinet is one of Mayor Hodges’ major initiatives, with a goal of eliminating disparities for children in the City of Minneapolis from birth to three years old. The Cabinet has been meeting since spring of 2014 and began accepting community feedback this past January. You can see a full list of cabinet members here.

WHAT:                 Mayor Hodges and Cradle to K Cabinet release final Cradle to K plan

WHEN:                Monday, May 18, 2015, 1:30-2:30 p.m.

WHO:                   Mayor Betsy Hodges, Co-Chair Cradle to K Cabinet Carolyn Smallwood,
Co-Chair Cradle to K Cabinet Peggy Flanagan, Members of the Cradle to K Cabinet

WHERE:             Way to Grow, 125 West Broadway, Suite 110, Minneapolis, MN 55411

RSVP:                   By 10:00 a.m., Monday morning, May 18, 2015 to:
Alexandra Fetissoff 673-3825

Prioritize Preparing Children in Deep Poverty to be Ready for Kindergarten

Prioritize Preparing Children in Deep Poverty to be Ready for Kindergarten 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

There has been considerable talk about early learning lately. We have heard for so long the alarming fact that Minnesota’s children in poverty are not prepared for kindergarten. It is encouraging to see the growing consensus about the end goal, even as the means are subject of spirited debate. We, as providers of early care and education serving some of the poorest children in our state, are now asking that you open your minds and hearts to hear our point of view.

There are 78,000 children ages 0-5 in Minnesota living in deep poverty. Deep poverty is defined as a family whose income is less than 50 percent of the federal poverty guideline. Children in every county and of every color live in deep poverty. However, children of color are disproportionately impacted by poverty, are uniformly at the highest risk of failing school, and are susceptible to repeating this cycle of poverty.

What does it mean to be a young child living in deep poverty in Minnesota? For preschoolers, this life comes with many challenges, starting with parents who likely also grew up in similar conditions and face, along with their children, their own daily challenges.

These children move frequently with their parents, living short term with friends or family or in shelters – a very unstable and chaotic life for young children who benefit so greatly from consistency and certainty. It is heartbreaking for us to have a child leave our preschools, knowing that the warm and healthy environment we provide during the day is not easily replaced under their family’s precarious circumstances. These children are being read to less often, have few or no books, and rarely enjoy the treasure of our parks.

Too often, these children have family situations that include mental illness and/or substance abuse, often leading to child neglect or violence. For them, the present is joyless and grim, and the future will almost certainly be tragic … UNLESS we collectively do something big and different NOW.

Provide flexible funding

What do these children need to set them on a better path? While no single solution exists, we propose one thing our state government can do this year: prioritize helping each one of these children to be ready for kindergarten. We believe that one of the smartest investments of state dollars is to provide flexible funding for early education and care that stays with each child until they turn 5 or enter kindergarten.

Flexibility will let funding follow each child so that when families move, they can maintain their opportunity to find a new early care and education provider, whether it be school-based, center-based or home-based. With fully flexible funding each child can get the amount of time they need to be successful. In contrast, funding based on arbitrary caps set by the state, or as a “reward” for parent’s working is a flawed system that places consequences on children for the performance of their parents.

We already have proof that flexibility funding for children works. The federal government provided $45 million over four years supporting comprehensive strategies and interventions in Minnesota, including two urban and two rural communities. Flexible scholarships were provided to hundreds of children in poverty. The results are profound in the White Earth, Northside Achievement Zone, St. Paul Promise Neighborhood, and Itasca communities.

Records of success

The Family Partnership, Way to Grow and Phyllis Wheatley Community Center combined have 252 years of serving children, youth and families, and the child development centers are four-star rated by Parent Aware, the highest rating possible in Minnesota, and have served over 16,380 children, youth and families in 2013.

Eighty-nine percent of the children graduating from preschool into kindergarten met school readiness standards and were cognitively, socially/emotionally, language/literacy and physically prepared for success in school.

When we do what is right for our children, we see the benefit it brings. We also know firsthand the damage that results when we don’t. Please find the way to get this right this year. We will help these children get ready for kindergarten and bring great promise into their lives.

Greenman, Smallwood, Milon

Molly Greenman is the CEO of the Family Partnership; Carolyn Smallwood is the CEO of Way to Grow; Barbara Milon is the executive director of the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center.


If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at

This article, written by Molly Greenman, Carolyn Smallwood, and Barbara Milon, originally appeared in MinnPost.

Our Executive Director in Action

Our Executive Director in Action 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

The Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi (RKMC) Foundation for Children has announced the appointment of Carolyn Smallwood to its board of directors.

Carolyn Smallwood is entering her 10th year as executive director of Way to Grow, Inc., an early education and elementary organization that serves over 2,000 people each year. Prior to Way to Grow, she served as vice president for sales and marketing at Twin Cities RISE! She also served as the executive director of the Minnesota Minority Supplier Development Council.

Before entering the nonprofit field, Smallwood was the director of supplier diversity with ADC, The Broadband Company, and held a variety of senior positions with U.S. Bancorp.

She earned her BA degree in marketing and finance from the University of St. Thomas and completed Harvard’s Executive Programs for Nonprofits. Smallwood has a passion for work in diverse communities, a solid background in marketing, strong executive experience, an inclusive leadership style and a dynamic presence.

Smallwood currently sits on Governor Mark Dayton’s Early Learning Council and on the board of trustees for the College of Saint Benedict and the MacPhail Center for Music. Most recently, she was selected by Mayor Betsy Hodges to co-chair the Cradle to K Cabinet, designed to eliminate disparities for children from prenatal to three years old in the City of Minneapolis.

She also serves on the African American Leadership Forum, MinneMinds Advisory Committee, Promise Neighborhood Solution Action Group, and the FATHER Project Committee.

“Carolyn understands the critical importance of education in building a strong future for our children, and she has developed an array of skills in a career spent advocating for women and the underserved,” said Michael Ciresi, board chair of the RKMC Foundation for Children. “We’re honored to welcome her to the Foundation’s board.”

Information provided by the Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi Foundation for Children. To learn more, visit

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