Stories from the field: Way to Grow

The North Minneapolis early education program provider and advocacy hub Way to Grow leveraged a MN Comeback grant last year to build ‘My Voice Matters.’ The parent engagement and advocacy training program empowers families to engage in the policy-making process and, to make well-informed choices on picking schools.

Since its creation, 478 parents have participated (more than quadruple the number of parents Way to Grow set out to engage!). What’s more, 95 percent of parents felt they had increased their knowledge of education advocacy and 80 percent expressed their interest in continuing on in the work of being an advocate. And many parents have continued on – 50 families engaged with legislators during 2018 session and another 25 attended Minneapolis Public Schools board meetings.

From client to champion and advocate, learn about Deborah’s journey – a mother impacted by Way to Grow’s dedicated presence in Minneapolis. A message from Way to Grow…


Creating a better life

A relatively new team member at Way to Grow, Ken, attended a number of education events at the state Capitol during the 2018 legislative session. Still learning all of his new coworkers, he assumed Deborah was on staff and just doing her job as she participated like a veteran advocate: listening to speakers, talking to legislators and engaging with other attendees. She was doing it all.

It wasn’t until later that Ken learned that this amazing champion was not one of his colleagues, but instead one of the parents participating in our support programs. Deborah may not work at Way to Grow, but she has become one of our most-active parents and strongest voices for parent advocacy. 

Referred to us by Healthy Families, Deborah brought her then five-year-old daughter Patty to Way to Grow in early 2015. Deborah herself had struggled in school and was a victim of bullying. Looking back, she realizes this deeply affected her confidence. As a mother, she was adamant about a creating a better life for her daughter and knew she needed resources to help make that happen, especially considering Patty’s specific needs – a genetic abnormality that affects her ability to communicate and concentrate.

Following two years or regular home visits from their Way to Grow liaison, the family has seen exponential growth in Patty. Moved by her daughter’s progress and what it has done for her family, Deborah realized she could help other children and families just like hers. That’s why she decided to become an advocate not only her own child but for other vulnerable children as well.

Increasing advocacy capacity

This past fall, Way to Grow hosted our ‘Parent Champion Workshop Series’ that included four listening sessions and trainings entitled “Advocacy 101” and “Ready for Elementary.” Along with more than 100 other parents, Deborah attended each session, learning how to be an advocate in Patty’s school, her community and in public policy.

Empowered by her growing advocacy skills, it wasn’t long until Deborah got involved at the policy level. In February, Deborah attended the ‘2018 Children and Youth Issues Briefing’ in St. Paul. “I had to text a friend,” she said, reflecting on the morning. “It is so easy to shut down when in a place like that. I’ve been there, but I know we need more parents involved; I told myself ‘We need more of this.’”

A few short weeks later, she joined our contingency at the ‘2nd Annual Voices and Choices for Children Day’ at the Capitol. Not missing a beat, she immediately started meeting people, sharing her stories and experiences, and became a part of conversations. “I knew there were some important people in that room,” Deborah explained.

Deborah’s hopes for the future are that people with influence and ability in education will listen to parents and do what is best for children. For any other parent thinking about getting involved, Deborah had some advice: “You have to do it. Things will not happen for your child, and they will fall through the cracks. I want others to know there is help. There are people that will help, but you have to show up and be consistent.


We’re proud that our grants are helping build the agency and capacity of families across our city to demand an education system that serves all students – and serves them well.

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