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Oct 20, 2022 |
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Excitement is in the air as we gear up to host the virtual portion of our hybrid 2022 Families Learning Conference on October 25-26! In my blog post this month, I highlight conference sessions that tell the story of our deep partnerships in communities working alongside parents, families, and community stakeholders. The conference theme this year is “Families Learning, Families Leading, Equitable Communities.” Our vision for 60X30—and the conference presentations—reflect NCFL's commitment to weaving equity, diversity, and inclusion into our efforts to co-design with communities to reach more equitable outcomes for children and families.

Graphic with Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith's headshot and a red ribbon in the shape of a heart. The text reads At the Heart of Family Learning with Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith

In “Grit, Grace, and Gratitude,” NCFL’s Founder Sharon Darling writes, “Listening to what parents want and need, to realize their dreams for their future and their children’s future, should be the essence of a great education system and community development strategy” (Jacobs, p. 170). Challenges within communities are best solved by those nearest to the challenges, and every family has expertise, assets, and strengths to contribute.

Co-designing programming with and alongside families means fostering community leadership, building capacity, and working towards systems change. Parent Nation’s parent leadership programming, Parent Village, is a strong example of these principles in action. Tune in to Elevating Parent Power to Build a Parent Nation during the Families Learning Conference on Oct. 25 to learn how to host a Parent Village in your community.

Libraries are fundamental institutions in family learning systems. NCFL recently partnered with the Public Library Association and three public libraries in regions of the U.S. on a project granted by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The project, titled “Exploring a Program Co-design Approach to Better Serve and Engage Low-income, Latinx Communities,” set out to identify the existing barriers for Latinx families’ use of public libraries and potentially reveal community-driven solutions to the issues. The libraries facilitated investigative community conversations that centered people with lived experiences. To practice inclusivity, the libraries incorporated ways of helping participants feel welcomed and valued. Through these meaningful conversations, the libraries now have actions they can take to make their spaces more inclusive and inviting for Latinx patrons. Learn more about this work during the Conference session Listening to the Latinx Community–Lessons Learned and Recommendations on Oct. 26.

Lastly, co-design is showing up in virtual reality spaces as well! For the last few years, NCFL has partnered with schools, education agencies, and parenting adults in Florida and Kentucky to pilot learning experiences in VR. While we may not know what new jobs will be created in the years to come, we can bank on the knowledge that 21st century jobs will demand a high level of digital literacy. Therefore, family learning systems need to support digital skill development and capacity building. Last month, parenting adults at AMPED in Louisville, Kentucky, began a weekly class with NCFL to co-design a VR experience to accompany learning modules of our newly published Equity in Family Engagement Toolkit. We’re excited to share more about this experience in a future blog post—but for now, plan to learn about using VR in educational settings during the panel session Digital Innovation in Education on Oct. 26 during the Conference. 

The Families Learning Conference is our signature event in which we amplify and embrace storytelling of high-quality, multigenerational programming happening across the country. If you’re planning to attend the conference, you’ll hear directly from our team, partners, and parenting adults engaging in co-design to strengthen learning opportunities and build equitable communities. It’s not too late to register! Secure your spot at


Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith

A lifelong educator and national thought leader for teaching and learning, Dr. Felicia C. Smith brings decades of valuable experience to advance NCFL’s mission of working to eradicate poverty through education solutions for families. Having served in a variety of leadership roles in P-12, higher education, nonprofit, and philanthropy, her career has allowed her to experience leading systems and develop a unique vantage point of a learner’s educational trajectory from preschool to adulthood. Smith holds an Ed.D. in education leadership and administration from the University of Kentucky, and an M.A. in elementary education with an emphasis on K-12 literacy development and B.S. in elementary education from the University of Louisville. 

Follow Dr. Felicia C. Smith on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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NCFL Partners

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Toyota, one of the nation's most successful corporations, began a partnership with NCFL in 1991. In addition to a commitment of more than $50 million, Toyota has also contributed a wealth of in-kind support — including advertising, planning and management expertise — to form one of the most progressive corporate/nonprofit partnerships in the nation.

Three major programs have been developed through the Toyota partnership based on the family literacy model of parents and children learning together. These models have influenced federal and state legislation, leveraged local dollars to support family literacy and led to successful programs being replicated across the country.

Read more about Toyota's commitment to communities

William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

NCFL received its very first donation in 1989 from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust to promote and implement family literacy programming, first in Kentucky and North Carolina and later nationwide. The Kenan Family Literacy Model in part laid the groundwork for 30 years of subsequent family literacy and family learning programming developed by NCFL.

Kenan has continued to support NCFL’s place-based family literacy programs since our inception. Most recently, it has invested in our organization’s Sharon Darling Innovation Fund, which will launch emerging ideas and programmatic evolutions in the multigenerational learning space.

Learn more about the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

Dollar General Literacy Foundation

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation began partnering with NCFL in 2006. A signature effort of this partnership is the National Literacy Directory, a resource that launched in 2010 and strives to guide potential students and volunteers to literacy services, community education programs, and testing centers in their communities.

The National Literacy Directory contains over 10,000 educational agencies located across the United States and has a dedicated toll-free number to help support those wanting to pursue educational opportunities in their communities.

Dollar General also provides support for development of NCFL’s innovative family learning resources centered on financial literacy and Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time®.

Learn more about the Dollar General Literacy Foundation

PNC Grow Up Great

PNC Grow Up Great believes deeply in the power of high-quality early childhood education and provides innovative opportunities that assist families, educators and community organizations to enhance children's learning and development.

PNC Grow Up Great has partnered with NCFL since 1994, most recently in Louisville, Kentucky, to support Say & Play with Words, our pre-Kindergarten vocabulary-building initiative.

NCFL's work is also featured on the PNC Grow Up Great Lesson Center website. The Lesson Center includes over 100 free, high-quality preschool lesson plans and research-based instructional techniques and strategies. All lesson plans contain Home/School Connections printouts, in English and Spanish, to help families extend and reinforce the learning at home.

Learn more about PNC Grow Up Great

U.S. Department of Education

Initiated through the U.S. Department of Education in 2018, the Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFEC) program provides 12 grantees and 13 states with five-year, $5 million grants to promote and implement systemic evidenced-based family engagement strategies. NCFL was selected to lead SFECs in two states, Arizona and Nebraska, and is a primary partner for two other SFECs in Kentucky and Maryland/Pennsylvania. 

The SFECs work to support family engagement through state- and local-level agencies while providing both professional development to school districts and direct services to families related to children’s academic outcomes and overall well-being.

Learn more about the U.S. Department of Education

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

NCFL was named a recipient of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s "Voices for Economic Opportunity Grand Challenge," which seeks to elevate diverse voices in order to broaden the conversation about the issues inhibiting economic mobility and generate deeper awareness along with actionable understanding. NCFL will develop and launch a podcast series that will highlight the remarkable stories of low-income, diverse families across the U.S. who have improved their communities through Family Service Learning.

Foundation Website