Success Stories

 Profile Way to Grow families/children and their accomplishments

Congrats, Third Graders!

Congrats, Third Graders! 1366 2048 Way to Grow

Congrats, Third Graders!

This summer, we gathered together at North Mississippi Regional Park to celebrate our 3rd grade graduates!

At Way to Grow, we work with families from before birth to third grade. Graduation isn’t a goodbye, but a “see ya later!” to our fantastic 8-year-olds.  We celebrated with a picnic lunch, plenty of sweet treats, jumbo yard games, and heartwarming words from our Family Educators.  

Celebrating together with our families is always a reminder of the hope, joy, and laughter that lives in our community every single day. To our third grade graduates… we can’t wait to see all of the amazing things you achieve! 

Meet Destiny!

Meet Destiny! 1707 2560 Kate Kinkade

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

Destiny’s journey with Way to Grow began when she was just two years old, pointing out the Way to Grow Preschool Pals bus each time it drove past her Minneapolis home. After a bit of research, Sharla and Destiny began attending Play to Grow groups with other Way to Grow families.

“Both Destiny and Sharla would attend nearly every week,” remembers Mr. Tony, Destiny and Sharla’s Family Educator. “Over time, Destiny became more confident in herself and started to join in small group activities.”

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

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

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

The Present and Future of Way to Grow’s Impact

The Present and Future of Way to Grow’s Impact 3415 3293 Chelsea DeLong

Fadumo and Emmanuel’s Story

For over 30 years, Way to Grow has worked with families in the Twin Cities, providing high-impact, early childhood and elementary education to help children and families succeed in school and life. Way to Grow provides parents and caregivers the tools they need to be their child’s #1 teacher, encouraging parents and children to advocate for themselves throughout their educational journey.

Way to Grow’s uniquely customized home visiting program addresses education inequity in the Twin Cities and surrounding communities by supporting early learners in the present and putting families on the path to success—from third grade graduation and beyond.

On Friday, October 14th at our Shine Celebration Gala, we heard about the longevity of Way to Grow’s impact from our two special guests, Emmanuel and Fadumo.

Emmanuel, a current Way to Grow first grader, has been working hard with his Family Educator Amina since 2020. When they first met, Emmanuel hid under the table! But with persistence and hard work, Emmanuel grew to trust Anima and learned the alphabet one letter at a time. After completing his kindergarten-readiness assessment, he tested perfectly… and skipped kindergarten, going right into the first grade!

Taking the stage in a room of a crowd of over 360 people, Emmanuel read the following poignant verses from Amanda Gorman’s children’s book, “Change Sings”:

I can hear change humming

In its loudest, proudest song

I don’t fear change coming,

And so I sing along.

Change sings where? There! Inside of me.

Because I am the change I want to see.

As I grow, it grows like seeds.

I am just what the world needs

Emmanuel’s story and progress shows what we know: Way to Grow’s program works on children and has immediate benefits to the family, child, and the community.

Next to the stage was Fadumo, Way to Grow alum and recent Hamline University graduate. Shany, her Family Educator, knew Fadumo since before she was born! Graduating from our program in 2005, Fadumo told an enraptured audience how Shany’s presence in her life at such a young age has impacted her to this very day.

Though her time with Way to Grow was nearly two decades ago, the impact on her education has remained through the present. Benefiting from one-on-one learning with Shany, Fadumo excelled all throughout her entire academic career—from elementary school all the way to Hamline University— and credits her time with Shany as a reminder of how she can succeed.

In her own words: “Today, I aspire to become a Physician Associate that specializes in pediatric care. And I’m PROUD to say that I have been accepted into the Augsburg University Physician Associate graduate program! Someday I hope to have the opportunity to work with kids and have an impact on their life like Shany did with me.”

Emmanuel and Fadumo are just two of MANY individuals that Way to Grow impacts year after year. Through hard work from our families, staff, and supporters, we have seen Way to Grow families succeed: in 2022, we’ve currently worked with over 600 families—and we’re looking forward to connecting with even more children and families before the end of the year!

Once more, another round of applause for Emmanuel, Fadumo, and their continued accomplishments!

Meet Maya and Maki!

Meet Maya and Maki! 2560 1707 Chelsea DeLong

Way to Grow’s Family Educators know that every family and child is unique, so they customize literacy lessons and tailor academic curriculum to fit each child’s strengths. 

When Eureka heard about Way to Grow, she thought it would be a great fit for her twins, Maya and Maki. Eureka reached out after her twins completed 2nd grade, but had struggled throughout 2020 with distance learning. Maya was reading at a beginning 1st grade level, and Maki, while reading at grade level, lacked reading comprehension. 

After working intensively with Amanda, their Family Educator, the twins finished 3rd grade at grade level!

Watch Them Grow

Amanda met Maya and Maki and began spending time getting to know their strengths, interests, and subjects they needed to work on to catch up. It was evident that Maya was very creative: she loved to draw, and often created beautiful pictures. When working with Maki, Amanda could see that when he was determined to learn something, he worked very hard to master it.

As twins, it came as no surprise that Maya and Maki were competitive and loved games. Amanda incorporated their individual strengths into literacy games to help improve their skills. Together, they would play “Sight Word Freeze” and “Rhyming Bingo,” and compete to win small, donated prizes as an encouragement for their hard work. 

As their reading improved, Amanda worked on having them take turns reading—Maya and Maki were able to complete their first chapter book in the spring.

Amanda also worked with the twins on activities such as counting money, telling time, and reading maps—all to further develop their skills before graduating from Way to Grow.

While both twins were showing noteable improvement, Amanda and Eureka agreed that Maya could use additional support at school while participating in Way to Grow’s tutoring program. Eureka was able to advocate for those services, and Maya finished 3rd grade at grade level with her twin. 

Maya and Maki’s success story would not have been possible without the support of their Family Educator, the recognition of their unique tutoring needs, their mother’s tireless advocacy, and the twins’ hard work. Maya and Maki are the real heroes of their story. We know their unique strengths and confidence borne of success will guide them through any challenges they face in life!

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!

Meet Brian!

Meet Brian! 7971 6000 Kate Kinkade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abubakar: a reading superstar!

Abubakar: a reading superstar! 3986 3000 Payton Gresczyk

Maryan and her four children have been enrolled in Way to Grow programming for over seven years! They have worked closely with their warmhearted and dedicated Family Educator, Shany, since 2014. The youngest of the four children, five year old Abubkar, has been excelling in school and Shany has been very impressed with his desire to learn and engage in educational activities.

Abubakar was set to start kindergarten in the fall of 2021, but his pre-k assessments indicated he had surpassed kindergarten levels and was moved up to first grade! Throughout his visits with Shany, he has soared through his A-Z leveled readers and has is now reading at second grade level. On top of his exceptional reading skills, Abubakar stays very active, playing football and baseball. “He is a very lively little boy, always happy!” says Shany.

Abubakar is supported by his mom and three older sisters, but especially his sister Ameera. She takes time to read with her little brother and play with him. They are best buddies! Ameera is very nurturing and patient with Abubakar, listening to him practice his reading skills and helping him understand the new vocabulary.

We are so proud of Abubakar for his superstar accomplishments! We look forward to watching him continue excelling and succeeding in school and life.

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!

Deborah & Patty

Deborah & Patty 600 600 Maren Nelson

Our unique home visit model allows us to work directly with our community’s most isolated children and their families. Over time we see changes not only in children but also in their parents, with greater parent engagement and self-sufficiency. Through education, we tackle the impact of poverty and help families move forward with lasting results.

As families grow, they change the dynamics in our community. One such example is Deborah who joined Way to Grow when her daughter Patty was three years old. We’ve shared before how Deborah saw her life and Patty’s change for the better because of Way to Grow. One of our strongest Parent Champions, Deborah found her voice in the six years she was with us. This past spring, Deborah and Patty graduated our program and they are now determined to give back.

Deborah recently sent a message asking if Way to Grow needed school supplies for families. Shortly after, she stopped by and dropped off a bag full of new and gently used backpacks. Our Family Educators quickly distributed the needed supplies. In the spirit of families learning together, one of those donated backpacks was given to another mom who is headed back to school and who was truly grateful for her “school supply.”

The support kept coming as Deborah again dropped off school supplies—five bags of notebooks, crayons, pencils, and scissors! It turns out, Deborah was doing her own donation drive to give back to Way to Grow for the years she and Patty benefitted from the program. We were blown away by her generous spirit. Deborah now talks about Way to Grow with other families she meets and shares the impact of our early education program on her family. She is a true Parent Champion and valued community leader.

Dear Third Grade Graduate…

Dear Third Grade Graduate… 3334 1459 Way to Grow

Dear Third Grad Graduate,

You did it! You graduated from Way to Grow!

We are so proud of you. You have worked hard in school, even when school closed and class was on the computer. You worked hard to stay healthy, eat good food, and get exercise. You worked really hard to get better at reading so you could learn new things. We want you to continue to work hard and be successful!

Even though you will not have a Family Educator to check in with you, we hope you continue to read for school and for fun. Reading can take you a lot of places that you cannot go in real life. Reading can take you under the oceans, to outer space, or to a different time. Reading can help you feel what it would be like to be a different person or from a different place. Reading can even make you laugh out loud!

Congratulations on your success! We are proud of you and your family!


Deedee Stevens-Neal
Director of Education, Way to Grow

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