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Feb 20, 2020 |
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"Grit, Grace, and Gratitude: A 30-Year Journey" shares how one woman’s desire to teach adults to read turned into a nationwide movement to lift families out of poverty. Published in November 2019, the book shares the important and inspiring story of the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL).

Throughout this month, NCFL is sharing excerpts from "Grit, Grace, and Gratitude." In this passage, NCFL’s president and founder, Sharon Darling, recounts some of the challenges both her organization and the families it fosters have faced over the course of three decades. Through it all, the mission of NCFL has remained the same.


"While I always strived to find new and better ways to support families—and families were my motivation—I was frequently uncertain of the right steps to take, which ideas to nurture and research, and which to let go.

It takes courage to try something new—something you are not even sure you can do. It takes grit and determination, and I had to muster that up. There were times we accomplished tasks and I’m not quite sure how we did it—perhaps by the grace of some higher power.

The same is true for families—families who do the work, who draw on their own unique talents and experiences and move forward. The same for the parents who find the courage to overcome fear every day and step one foot in front of another into a family literacy adult classroom; and also for those who gain self-confidence with every milestone and move up to the next rung of the ladder.

It takes grit for them too.

While NCFL has had generous funders, the path forward was not always certain. And through it all, NCFL has not necessarily been lucky, either; but we have been authentic. We’ve stayed true to the mission and we’ve not chased the shiny new penny. Whether it’s the education program du jour, the next wave of reform, or funders shifting priorities—we at NCFL have embraced the real mission of the organization. We know what has made a difference and will continue to make a difference in the trajectory of millions of families’ lives.

While at times I may have been uncertain about the right path to take, I always knew this—I was certain of the mission."


For 30 years, NCFL’s mission has remained steadfast—to eradicate poverty through education solutions for families. Engaging multiple generations from the same family has always been a fundamental and distinguishing aspect of our work; we know this holistic approach creates a stronger impact and greater success for families.

To order your printed copy of "Grit, Grace, and Gratitude: A 30-Year Journey", click here. To purchase the ebook edition, click here.

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NCFL Partners

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Toyota Family Learning Program

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

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 reach the 35.7 million adults ages 18-64 who do not have a high school diploma by guiding them to better-paying, more stable jobs.

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®.

Go to Dollar General Literacy Foundation's website

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 to advance early literacy and learning resources for vulnerable families. Current efforts supported by PNC include a collaborative initiative in two at-risk Detroit communities that engages families to support vocabulary development for children under age 5.

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.

PNC Grow Up Great

W.K. Kellogg Foundation

NCFL has partnered with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation since January 2016. The Foundation is currently supporting a dynamic two-generation family engagement initiative that expands NCFL's Family Learning model into select Head Start programs nationwide. NCFL's model presents an innovative way to support Head Start programs in meeting outcomes aligned with the Parent, Family, and Community Engagement Framework.

Visit the Foundation website

Better World Books

Better World Books selected NCFL as its domestic literacy partner in 2005 and has raised more than $1 million to support NCFL’s work and donated more than $15 million to support literacy and education efforts worldwide. Better World Books is a triple-bottom-line online bookstore, working equally for people, planet and profit. Each book purchased powers literacy across the world.

Better World Books’ support of NCFL has provided books and workshops to families after Hurricane Katrina, donated large book donations to literacy programs and families nationwide and fueled innovative family literacy and learning programs and resources in libraries, schools and community-based organizations. In addition to their work for literacy and education, Better World Books diverts books from landfills and offers carbon-balanced shipping.

Better World Books

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

In 2013, NCFL began a partnership with the Gates Foundation to ensure that our network of students, teachers, and families thrive among recent shifts in standards-based education. NCFL will leverage the unique strengths of our award-winning Wonderopolis® platform to build upon the growing teacher network that uses the resource for core daily instruction and as a basis for professional growth.

Foundation Website

Goodling Institute

NCFL has partnered with the Goodling Institute for Research and Family Literacy at Penn State University since 2001, working collaboratively to further research, professional development, and policy efforts for family literacy and intergenerational learning.

The work of this partnership includes, but is not limited to, a strong research strand at NCFL's national annual convening, the Families Learning Summit; advocacy for family literacy and learning to further support for and inclusion of family-focused education in new and ongoing legislation; and dissemination of the latest research, resources, information, and professional development opportunities for literacy and learning practitioners and advocates, including the Certificate in Family Literacy provided by the Goodling Institute.

Goodling Institute for Research and Family Literacy at Penn State University