Success Stories

 Profile Way to Grow families/children and their accomplishments

Strengthening Families: Hassan and Asha’s Story

Strengthening Families: Hassan and Asha’s Story 1200 800 Ivy Marsnik

“From the moment we met Shany in 2005, she was very respectful,” Hassan says thinking back to 12 years ago to the day when a neighbor introduced his family to Shany, a Way to Grow Family Educator. “The fact that Shany was a part of our culture and spoke our language made it very comfortable for my wife, Asha, who was often home alone with our children.”

Shany enrolled the family and began working with Hassan and Asha’s oldest son, Hamza, who was four years old at the time. Shany brought learning materials over each week to help Hamza with his reading and writing, and helped Asha find and enroll Hamza in a preschool program.

Hassan spent the next few years studying at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul to become a high school math teacher. Over the course of his studies, he and Asha had three more children. As the children grew, their reading and vocabulary skills improved with Shany’s guidance. Shany always explained how the children were doing, and helped Hassan and Asha understand where each child was developmentally.  Hassan was very pleased to see the improvements. He knew Shany was teaching his children the skills they would need to be successful in the classroom.

Over time, Shany became the family’s friend. “She served as an educator and mentor not only to our children, but to our entire family,” Hassan says. “Shany provided guidance and help to all of us. Whenever she made a home visit, she brought books, school supplies, learning materials and toys, and even bikes for our children. She also provided Asha and me with important community resources such as housing, library, and school choice information. Shany even went as far as to help my wife, whose English language is limited, translate documents, enroll in English Language Learning (ELL) classes, and complete a Child Development Associate (CDA) certificate program.”

“We began telling others in our community about Way to Grow the same way our neighbor had shared the word about the organization with us. It is such a great program, and our community needs it. It is so important especially in the inner city where schools are challenging for English language learners who don’t understand the system, how it works, or that our children need supplemental learning because what they learn in the classroom isn’t enough. Way to Grow helps families and immigrant communities new to the school system and brings them up. Having Shany in our home was a huge plus.”

In January 2017, Hassan and Asha moved from Minneapolis to a home in Bloomington, outside of Way to Grow’s current service area. According to Hassan, the family had two main criteria when finding a new home: having a high quality school district, and the overall safety of the community. Though Hassan and Asha miss the connections they made at Way to Grow, they could not be happier to have a place for their children to call their own.

New Graduate, Restored Hope

New Graduate, Restored Hope 2560 1441 Ivy Marsnik

One year ago, Alicia came to us seeking help for herself and her 7 month old daughter. Struggling with the recent loss of her sister, Alicia had dropped out of school and lacked the confidence she needed to persevere. Knowing that she needed to finish high school, Alicia was as confused by the process as she was terrified of failure.

Alicia enrolled in Way to Grow and began attending our monthly Dream Tracks program. She blossomed. After getting a job at a local grocery store and finding a child care program for her young daughter, Carmen, Alicia’s Way to Grow Family Educator, encouraged Alicia to find out how many credits she needed in order to graduate. “I left that responsibility up to her,” Carmen says. “She was elated when she found out she only needed one or two credits. Once we knew that, we got to work setting up a plan.”

With Carmen’s help, Alicia enrolled in MNIC Unity’s diploma program. A few months later, before her family, friends, and support system, Alicia walked across the stage to accept her high school diploma. Acknowledging the life-changing experience, Alicia explains, “When my sister passed, I didn’t think I could graduate. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m not making it.’ Then, people encouraged me like David [my teacher at MNIC] and my [Way to Grow] advocate.”

Her new diploma carries new hope. Alicia plans to go on to technical college for administrative assistance, continuing to set goals for herself and her family. “It has been a metamorphosis,” Carmen explains. “Over the last year, Alicia has grown more confident, open, motivated, positive, and best of all, happy again. We are both very excited for what’s next.”

The Gift of Hope

The Gift of Hope 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Way to Grow Alumna Receives Full Ride Scholarship

Way to Grow Alumna Receives Full Ride Scholarship 2560 2048 Ivy Marsnik

Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!

Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come! 1200 798 Ivy Marsnik

Last fall, Waabomiimii began attending Way to Grow Preschool P.A.L.S. after her mom met Miriam, one of our Family Educators, at a recruitment event. At four years old, Waabomiimii did not know her ABCs or how to count, but over the last year she has grown tremendously. Making leaps and bounds, Waabomiimii now knows all letter sounds, is counting up to 20, and has passed the nationally recognized IGDI early literacy assessments indicating that she is ready for kindergarten!

Itzel, Waabomiimii’s mom, is very happy with Waabomiimii’s progress and has enjoyed watching her daughter grow. “In just one year,” Itzel tells us, “Waabomiimii has learned the alphabet, how to write numbers, and count. She has learned rhyming words and is now learning how to read!”

Combined with our preschool parent-child classes and home visiting program, Itzel’s engagement has been instrumental in Waabomiimii’s success. “Mom always works very hard between home visits,” Miriam says. “She has done a great job with Waabomiimii over the past year on everything from counting and reading, to following through on rules. When she gets home from work, she now sets aside time each night to practice learning with Waabomiimii.”

During home visits, Miriam continues to work with Waabomiimii and Itzel on reading. “Waabomiimii is working on continuing to build her sight-word recognition – a critical first-step in early literacy,” Miriam says. “When I visit, we do a lot of shared reading, a technique we commonly use in our curriculum.” Shared reading, a strategy where students and adults read aloud together, provides guidance and support to the child as they learn new words. “I usually start by reading a sentence, then engage mom by having her read next. Mom then reads while pausing on the sight-words Waabomiimii knows to allow her to read the sight-words aloud,” Miriam describes. “Now they like it so much that mom is reading with Waabomiimii 10-20 minutes each day! They also visit the library regularly so they can continue to enjoy new books together.”

This month, Waabomiimii walked across the stage at the Way to Grow Early Learner Graduation and in a few short weeks, she will begin her next journey as she starts kindergarten. Thanks to mom’s hard work, and the help of Miriam and the Way to Grow preschool teachers, we are happy to report she is ready to succeed!

Jessica & La’rissa

Jessica & La’rissa 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

If you are lucky enough to find yourself in a room with Jessica and her 18 month-old daughter, La’rissa, you know what pure pride and joy looks like. But, 21 year-old Jessica wasn’t always so full of life. Jessica enrolled in Way to Grow during one of the most challenging times in her young life; a time when she found herself pregnant, alone, and bouncing around from shelter to shelter without any hope she could provide for herself and her unborn child.

“Within a few months, I had lost my apartment, found out I was pregnant, and lost all my friends. I was very depressed and struggled with suicidal thoughts,” Jessica admits. Angie, Jessica’s first Way to Grow Family Educator, helped her work through her emotional pain and encouraged her to find stability in her once chaotic life. “Angie was there for me at a time I didn’t have anybody else to talk to. She helped me through some tough stuff and to realize I could do this.”

When La’rissa was born, Jessica says, “It was really like something in me switched. I saw how much joy she brought out of me – it was like the world stopped. My problems didn’t matter, because she was right there,” Jessica says. This precious little human was the inspiration Jessica needed.

“I realized I didn’t want to raise my daughter on collecting checks,” Jessica states frankly. “And Ashley [my new Family Educator] has helped me work on my resume, look for jobs, and prepare for interviews during our time at Dream Tracks [Way to Grow’s teen parenting program]. Ashley has also helped me with La’rissa as she has grown. Ashley helps her practice talking more by reading books with her and asking her questions about the book. She found out that La’rissa really likes saying the different colors, playing games, and doing counting activities, so we do a lot of that at home visits. Watching her work with La’rissa helps me know what to do, like to know that building with blocks is good for her development, and she helps me find little books with questions I can ask La’rissa in the back.”

When you are a young parent, life holds a lot of ups and downs. Jessica’s path will not be easy, but with Way to Grow in her corner she looks forward to a brighter future for her and her daughter.


In 2015, we worked with over 2,300 parents and children like Jessica and La’rissa. See what else together, we accomplished in our current annual report.

Second Grade Success

Second Grade Success 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Way To Grow1230Since Kindergarten, Shamsa, Asma’s Way to Grow Family Educator, has been working with Asma on picture naming and vocabulary. A native Somali speaker, Asma was also enrolled in an Arabic program which initially, made English Language Learning even more challenging. Shamsa persisted, encouraging mom to attend ELL classes, to read daily with her children, and to set aside time to complete homework each night. Now a second grader at Pillsbury Elementary School, Asma scored 100% on both picture naming and spelling sight words this fall!

Asma’s family as a whole places a prominent value on education. With hopes of obtaining a degree in the field of Child Development, Asma’s mother is now taking college English classes at MCTC. These classes are helping mom learn to read and write at a collegiate level. In the meantime, Mom recognizes what an asset her increased English language skills are to teaching her children. With her own English Language Learning, mom has become more deeply engaged and involved with Asma’s education. She has become a powerful advocate for her children, and perhaps more importantly, a role model.

Best in Class

Best in Class 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

April of 2013, then four-year-old Davion knew just two colors and the first letter of his name. Recognizing Davion was slightly behind, Tonia, Davion’s Family Educator got right to work. Tonia referred the family to Way to Grow Preschool Pals and began increasing home visits to get Davion caught up before he started school. After lots of hard work, Davion started kindergarten this fall recognizing all nine colors and counting up to 50 orally. He was also able to recognize all of his upper case letters except for “Q”. Davion recognized all lower case letters except “q” and “d” — because after all, Davion starts with a capital “D”!

Because of your support, Davion was able to enter kindergarten with the knowledge necessary to start off strong academically and socially. Now, he can spend more time enjoying the fun stuff. Davion’s favorite parts of kindergarten are story time and playing with toys. He also enjoys playing and talking with his best friend, Sammie.

Mom and Dad continue to be very supportive of their family and of each other. Their co-parenting skills have greatly improved and they are working more as a team advocating for the education of their children. Both parents attended fall conferences which went especially well. They were both very proud to hear that Davion is now ahead of his peers and is getting more challenging work during class time. Davion’s teacher has been helping him start to work on writing complete words and short sentences instead of simply practicing writing his ABCs.

Way to go, Davion!

Emril’s “E”

Emril’s “E” 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Emril is a very energetic three-year-old who came to Way to Grow just seven months ago. Marie, Emril’s Way to Grow Family Educator, noticed he was having trouble sitting still and focusing on tasks.  He wasn’t responding to questions and wasn’t sure how to hold a pencil. In an effort to get Emril ready for preschool this fall, Marie got straight to work on teaching Emril to write his name.

In September, Emril began attending Way to Grow Preschool P.A.L.S. The talented teachers there build on the skills Emril learns at home. The preschool experience has been beneficial for Emril’s Mom as well.  While Emril is at school, she attends ESL classes to continue her education in hopes of earning her GED. During the preschool’s parent-child days, Emril’s mom enjoys the opportunity to play and learn with her son. “I am learning so much new stuff [from the home visits and preschool lessons],” Mom says, “Things I never knew before!”

Thanks to parent, classroom and home visiting support, Emril is now able to sit for longer periods of time and concentrate more on his learning. He also comes home cheerfully singing the songs he learns at school and enjoys telling Mom and Marie all about what he did that day. Between home visits, Mom practices writing lessons with Emril. In fact, when Marie returned two weeks later, Emril was eagerly writing the letter E!

“Preschool P.A.L.S. has definitely had a tremendous impact on Emril’s social-emotional skills,” Marie says. “Emril is already more engaged at visits and is responding to questions more readily.  When I would ask who his friends were at school, it was initially very difficult to get a response. Now he’ll happily tell me, ‘Sanja..  Josephina.. Mohammed..’ His progress over such a short amount of time has just been a lot of fun to watch. I am excited to see both Mom and Emril continue to grow.”

Guest Blog: Books to Grow – My Volunteer Story

Guest Blog: Books to Grow – My Volunteer Story 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

It is easy for all of us to talk about how we love children – those cute little faces are irresistible. But it is also easy to forget that so many children do not live the carefree, happy lives they deserve because their parents are stressed or struggling. I support Way to Grow because it is dedicated to the well being of the entire family, as well as the child. I believe that a supported and educated child grows up to become a productive, self sufficient adult.

IMG_4292

My name is Jeanne Ravich and I have been a Way to Grow supporter since my first meeting with Carolyn Smallwood, Executive Director of Way to Grow, several years ago. My husband Paul and I direct our efforts, both financially and as volunteers, to organizations in the education arena. We believe that education begins at birth and that parents are always a child’s most important teachers. The more I learned about Way to Grow and the successful programs it offers to children and their families, the more I committed my wholehearted support.

My relationship with Way To Grow has itself continued to grow over the years as I had a chance to meet the staff and get a closer look at the programs. I am especially impressed with the quality of the home visiting program, tailored to the culture and individuality of each family. I was impressed with the fact that the Family Educators come from the communities they serve, and collectively speak 8 different languages. They visit each family regularly, often beginning prenatally, and in 2014, they completed over 12,000 home visits.

Raising children is challenging for us all, and is especially difficult without a safe environment and when basic needs are not met. Way to Grow Family Educators and Resource Advocates help parents meet those needs, then teach child care and parenting skills. I wish I had that kind of support when I was a young parent!

The support continues through Way to Grow preschools and the Great by Eight program, fostering academic success through the third grade. I loved hearing that the Family Educators are there every step of the way. They often accompany parents to parent/teacher conferences and events, encouraging parents to embrace their role as their child’s number one teacher.

I have heard many personal and inspiring stories about parents and children whose lives changed for the better because of Way to Grow. I see pictures of proud parents and smiling children at preschool graduation. The statistics support the stories – more healthy babies, less teen pregnancy, and most importantly nearly 90% of children enrolled in the program were deemed prepared to succeed in school.

IMG_4291 - CopyInspired by the work the Family Educators do, I asked Carolyn if they had any specific needs. Without hesitation she said, “Books in the home.” It was hard for me to imagine a child without books, so important to verbal and cognitive development. I couldn’t imagine a home with nothing for parents to read to a child in their lap, no sturdy board books with colorful words or pictures, no Dr. Seuss rhymes or Goodnight Moon. I began to collect new books, for distribution through the Family Educators. I am currently working on setting up a network of generous moms who also cannot imagine a child without books. We have a mission. Family Educators on all home visits will give all children a book of their very own. Both inspired by and as a partner to Way to Grow, I call this project Books to Grow.

 

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