Meet Maurice!

Meet Maurice! 1707 2560 Way to Grow

On a chilly Saturday in March, Maurice’s laughter fills Way to Grow’s playroom. Wearing a dragon onesie, Maurice (7) is eager to show off his reading skills to his sister, Lizzy (10), and his mom, Mary. When asked about Maurice’s progress, Mary smiles and says:

“It’s a complete 180. Way to Grow gave him confidence.” 

Last year, Maurice was struggling to stay focused in kindergarten. Big emotions led to classroom outbursts and frustrating suspensions, and Mary found herself often leaving work to pick Maurice up from school early. With the right tools and support, Mary knew Maurice had the potential to succeed.

Mary reached out to Way to Grow and met Roxy, who became her family’s Way to Grow Family Educator. Roxy quickly got to work, researching ways to customize the Way to Grow curriculum to capture Maurice’s trust and attention.

According to Mary, working with Roxy has been transformative. Through listening games like “Roxy says” and plenty of space to focus, Maurice became familiar with Roxy and quickly began having more positive reactions during home visits. 

Mary has learned a lot this year, too. Her most important lesson? “Patience,” she says. “How to be more patient as a parent and knowing when to get help.” 

Mary is a vocal parent advocate for Lizzy and Maurice, and her hard work has paid off. In just one year, Maurice’s reading speed has tripled!

Now, Maurice is proud to be a leader and a helper in his first grade classroom. When he learns something new in school, he’s eager to tell Roxy. Mary laughs: “He’s always asking when Roxy will visit so he can show off.” 

It’s no doubt that Maurice has a bright future ahead. We can’t wait to see how far he goes! 

Preschool Pals Update: A Summer Summary!

Preschool Pals Update: A Summer Summary! 600 800 Way to Grow

An update from Ms. Gwen, Way to Grow’s Lead Preschool Teacher.

In mid-June, our class started the summer with a games unit. The kids learned how to play kick ball, Connect 4, Candy Land, Busytown, and Go Fish. Many of these games involved winning and losing. The big emotions that came with losing created a beautiful opportunity to problem solve and cope with one of life’s biggest obstacles.

Throughout the summer our class continued to read and study author and illustrator Mo Willems. The kids learned to identify characters, settings, problems and solutions. Their favorite book was “Watch Me Throw the Ball!”

By the end of June, Ms. Gwen had many requests to bake cookies. Each class worked together to bake chocolate chip banana bread. Their favorite parts were smashing the bananas and sitting down to eat the finished product.

During the third week of July, the class took a trip to the Como Zoo! The kids spent time with their families looking at some of their favorite animals and watching a Sparky the Seal show. ​

To end the month of July the kids played with shaving cream, made sandcastles, watered the garden and had a surprise visit from the ice cream man.

To start the month of August, our class took some time to talk about big transitions. The morning class learned about what it would be like moving up to the afternoon. And the afternoon class talked about graduating and going to a new school for kindergarten! We watched Inside Out, which talked all about the emotions that come with a big move. 

We wrapped up our summer with our end of the school year celebration at the park. On our last day of school we had a water balloon fight, made ice cream, handed out awards and said goodbye to many of our kids. It was a whirlwind of a summer that ended in a sweet way. All the best to our little graduates!

​See you next year!

Congratulations, Class of 2023!

Congratulations, Class of 2023! 2560 1707 Kate Kinkade

This August, Way to Grow had the opportunity to celebrate our Early Learner Class of 2023. The achievements of our families shine bright: this school year, 89% of our preschoolers were evaluated as ready to enter kindergarten on track!

Beginning kindergarten is a major milestone, and each of our Early Learners have been working hard alongside their families to prepare for their next big adventure. Way to Grow’s assessments indicated that 89% of our pre-k students are beginning the school year on track to succeed, determined by the results of our Individual Growth and Development Indicator (IGDI) assessments. Developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota, these assessments are administered to our Early Learners three times annually.

Starting school—at any level—is a big step worth celebrating. Way to Grow is here to help families navigate questions, new systems, and major changes at home. Our Early Learners will continue to be enrolled in Way to Grow for the next four years, learning and growing alongside their Way to Grow Family Educator all the way until they’re ready to begin fourth grade.

Way to Grow’s Early Learner graduation was supported by many of our dedicated volunteers, funders, and partner organizations. Our friends at the Ciresi Walburn Foundation funded a book fair for the celebration, filling the Metropolitan Ballroom with tables of over 600 books for each child to hand-pick for their home libraries. Graduates were also supported by our dedicated partners at the Books to Grow project, which has been partnering with Way to Grow for over a decade. Each family received a hand-crafted gift bag, filled with art supplies and a brand new copy of “The Crayons Go Back to School.”

When it was time to receive their diplomas, our brave graduates walked across the stage with their heads held high!

Way to Grow would like to extend heartfelt thanks to all who made this celebration possible. Thank you to all the Way to Grow parents and caregivers for your work and commitment to your child’s education. To our Way to Grow Family Educators and staff, thank you for all your hard work, enthusiasm, and dedication. Finally, thank you to our event volunteers from PNC, the Way to Grow Board of Directors, and our network of funders for your continued support.

To all of our Way to Grow families: you are going to do amazing things this year. We’ll be there for you every step of the way!

Photos by Alden Content

Meet Ricardo!

Meet Ricardo! 1971 1971 Kate Kinkade

Since moving to Minnesota from his home country of El Salvador, Ricardo has dedicated his life to being a role model for his two sons, Ezequiel (6) and Alexis (10). “He’s a very good dad,” says their Family Educator, Maria. Ricardo remembers meeting Maria for the first time: “Necesitaba mucho apoyo,” shares Ricardo. “I needed a lot of support.”

Seeking new ways to increase the family’s access to Spanish language resources, Maria introduced Ricardo, Ezequiel, and Alexis to their local public library last fall. Ricardo remembers watching Ezequiel and Alexis run through the library shelves for the first time, laughing together amidst a seemingly endless collection of books, computers, and games.

“Eso no tiene precio,” says Ricardo. “That’s priceless.”

Maria’s language-to-language connection has allowed her to build a strong foundation of trust with Ricardo and his boys. When water began creeping into the basement of their family home, Ricardo called Maria for support during a Brooklyn Center city inspection: “She advocated for us and practically demanded that the problem be resolved.”

Through resource connections and engagement with community services, Way to Grow Family Educators create a unique network of support that reflects the needs of each individual family. As Ricardo dedicates each day to building a bright future for Alexis and Ezequiel, Maria will be there to offer support, resources, and trusted advice along every step of their journey.

Preschool Pals Update: Cultivating Minds!

Preschool Pals Update: Cultivating Minds! 600 800 Way to Grow

An update from Ms. Gwen, Way to Grow’s Lead Preschool Teacher.

Last week, we finished up our forest animal unit. To the kids’ surprise, zebras, tigers and cheetahs do not live in Minnesota! Our focus was learning about what animals we see outside like squirrels, deer, birds, chipmunks, beavers, etc. We categorized these animals into the habitats they live in: tree, ground and water. The kids spent plenty of time playing with flashlights in the bear den and protecting their castles from evil snakes.

After coming back from summer break, the class finally started to build our garden! We learned about what types of fruits and vegetables we are growing and how to plant them. The kids took the time to paint plant labels and decorate the garden bed. Finally, it was time to plant! The kids learned to cultivate the soil using their rakes, dig holes to put the seeds in and water them.

Wow, so much hard work! We took a much-needed break with some ice pops in the shade. Every day the kids have looked forward to watering our garden and watching the little sprouts grow.

For the summer, our AM and PM classes will start a small unit on games. The goal is to help with following directions, listening to others and being okay with winning and losing. The PM class’s main focus will be our author study for the summer. The kids decided they wanted to learn about and read books by author and illustrator, Mo Willems! 

Keep up the great work, Preschool Pals!

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!

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!

Magers & Quinn Spotlight

Magers & Quinn Spotlight 3334 1459 Kate Kinkade

We are so thankful for our Community Partner, Magers and Quinn Booksellers! Thanks to their talented Outside Sales and Outreach team members, Christine and Charlie, Way to Grow is able to put unique and culturally relevant books in the hands of children and families. Christine and Charlie spend time working directly with booksellers and publishers to find books that reflect the needs and requests of our Family Educators. They enjoy listening to feedback from families who have purchased books from Magers and Quinn and love to pass this information on to others. 

Because they handle a wide range of books, they’re able to suggest stories for all scenarios like read-alongs, school lessons, bedtime stories, and more! Christine says that working with nonprofits and schools is one of her favorite parts of the job. She loves to find books that kids are genuinely excited to read, stories that speak to them and have characters of different races and ethnicities that mirror the child reading them. With the help of Magers and Quinn staff, our Family Educators are more successful in their roles and provide educational and fun reading materials to their families. 

Thank you, Magers and Quinn, for helping to fill the bookshelves of Way to Grow families!

Welcome to the Team!

Welcome to the Team! 3334 1459 Kate Kinkade

We are excited to welcome four new team members at Way to Grow! Learn a bit more about Mariana, Sheena, Tomi, and Jeanetta.

Mariana Villegas Ramírez

Family Educator

Tell us a little bit about yourself! 

I moved to the Twin Cities from Mexico in 2011 to continue my undergraduate program in Human Resources Development from the University of Minnesota. In 2015, I pursued a path in education, working and supporting non-profit organizations around Minnesota, including the United Nations Association of MN. In 2016, I discovered the Montessori philosophy and joined the Montessori Center of Minnesota – where my graduate education continued. In 2020, I received her master’s degree in Montessori Education from St. Catherine University, and now I am hoping to pursue a doctoral program in Educational Psychology. 

What excites you most about working for Way to Grow? 

I believe that life is about helping each other, especially children and vulnerable communities. As a Family Educator, I have the opportunity to guide those children and families through the system so that they can also experience a dignified life. 

What do you like to do in your spare time? 

I am passionate about nature spaces, traveling, reading, cooking, running, yoga, and spending time with loved ones. 

Sheena Moss

Assistant Preschool Teacher

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

My name is Sheena, and I am a Minnesota native, born and raised in south Minneapolis. I’m currently a student studying Early Childhood Education.

What excites you about working at Way to Grow?

I’ve had a dream of teaching since the first grade! It’s an honor to live out this dream of mine with Way To Grow and I’m excited to share my passion in this company with others and with students.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

In my spare time, I like to cook, draw pictures, and FaceTime my older brother and his two-year-old daughter.

Tomi Bali

Family Educator

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I’m called Tomi,  recently graduated from Minnesota State University, Mankato with a Bachelor’s in Public Health. I love interacting with people, traveling and tying out new foods. I’m excited about the work I get to do at Way To Grow.

What excites you most about working for Way to Grow?

Way to Grow gives me the opportunity to make an impact in the community through my passion for working with children and families. The work environment has also been a positive place so far, I’m excited to work with everyone!

What do you like to do in your spare time?  

I like to spend time with loved ones, trying new restaurants, cooking, traveling and watching TV shows

Jeanetta Searcy-Cooper

Director of Education

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

Fun Facts: 

-We have lived in Minnesota for almost 4 years from Texas. 

-We moved here for the ministry, my husband is a Pastor in Minneapolis. 

-I have worked in the Early Childhood Education field for 24 years. 

-I have a BA, MBA, MA and working toward my Ph.D. in Education Leadership at Concordia University in St. Paul. 

-I love all things peppermint/mocha including my coffee and coffee creamer. 

-I love WWE Smackdown (yes that is wrestling). 

-My favorite color is pink, but for some reason I don’t wear it much. LOL 

-Lastly, I love Minnesota winters, the snow, and the cold, all of it.  And the Fall! 

What excites you about working at Way to Grow?

What excites me most about working for Way to Grow is the diversity in families and students served. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy being outside in nature and spending time with loved ones.

Living Generously

Living Generously 3334 1459 Kate Kinkade

Way to Grow is deeply thankful for the financial support we receive that allows us to serve the most isolated families in Minneapolis, and ensure that children are born healthy, stay healthy, and are prepared for school.  Last year, we served 1,720 children and parents through 11,139 home visits.  With your great support, we can reach even more families whose futures will be brighter because of your generosity. 

Want to join our family of supporters?  It’s easy!   You can choose from several ways to give that will fuel our mission.  Four ways to support Way to Grow:

Go online:   You can find our website here (link).  With a few keystrokes, you can make a one-time gift, or set in motion an automatic monthly gift.  Either way, we are grateful for your support which helps us serve families and children. 

Mail us a check:  We love receiving checks!  Simply send your gift to Way to Grow, 201 Irving Avenue North, Suite 100, Minneapolis, MN 55405.  Your envelope will put a song in our hearts. 

Shares of stock:  If you own stock that has grown in value – and that you’ve held for one year or longer – it may be tax-wise to transfer the shares directly to Way to Grow (rather than selling them).  Here’s why.  First, you’ll avoid paying capital gains tax on the shares’ growth, and so will Way to Grow, which receives 100% of the proceeds tax-free as a charitable organization.  Second, you’ll enjoy a tax deduction for the increased full fair market value of the shares.  Third, you can make a meaningful gift without draining your checkbook.  For details, call us at (612) 874-4740. 

Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) from your IRA:  If you are age 70-1/2 or older, you can send a gift to Way to Grow directly from your IRA.  This bypasses your federal tax return, so it is not counted as income, nor deducted as a gift.  Even better, you are using pre-tax dollars to make a gift, so the gift costs you less.  Individuals can give up to $100,000 each year to qualified charities through this method, putting already saved up dollars into action now to serve neighbors in need.   Way to Grow would be pleased to receive your IRA gift!  For assistance, check with your tax advisor or call us at (612) 874-4740. 

Way to Grow cherishes gifts of all types and sizes.  You have our heartfelt thanks for generously supporting our vision to ensure that every child has an opportunity to succeed in school and in life. 

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