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Feb 11, 2020 |
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"Grit, Grace, and Gratitude: A 30-Year Journeyshares 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).

Over the course of the next month, NCFL will share select passages from "Grit, Grace, and Gratitude." The first passage describes the origins of family literacy, recounting how NCFL’s president and founder, Sharon Darling, created the Parent and Child Education (PACE) program in Kentucky in 1986. Within just three years, PACE became a national model, earning the Innovations in American Government Award from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. NCFL was established the same year.

"But one of the challenges is that people don’t acknowledge the parents’ needs first." Sharon equates the idea with the use of an oxygen mask on an airplane. "If you’re on an airplane and seated next to a child, when those oxygen masks drop from the ceiling, the instructions are to put the mask on your face first, before you help your child. Likewise, parents need support first to help their children. In the past it had always been early childhood programs trying to lure the parents into programs—when in fact, recruiting parents into programs first, and bringing the children in alongside them, has made the difference."

There were numerous research studies at the time to attribute children’s academic success to the education level of the mother; given the 70% dropout rate in regions of Kentucky, it made even more sense to focus on parents, knowing that the impact on children would come naturally. Eastern Kentucky’s Appalachian counties with the highest incidence of adult undereducation and unemployment became the priority. PACE worked to bring these families to school together to learn, to have positive school experiences, and to discover that education is important.

"The only way I knew to do that, because transportation was such an issue," Sharon shared in a 2018 interview, "was to bring parents and children to school together on the school bus. Kentucky legislature funded six programs, and I was able to demonstrate how this might work. So, the three- and four-year-old children came, the parents were right next door, and then we really started to understand that this concept was very powerful, and that it was making a huge difference for both the parents and the children. Families started to learn what they could do at home, and they started to bond together—even within their isolated rural communities, they started to see themselves as a group and helped each other along."

"Grit, Grace, and Gratitude" tells powerful stories of families who gained knowledge, courage, and confidence to pursue educational and career goals—often against all odds—and through their own perseverance not only survived but thrived. 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, 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