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Oct 24, 2021 |
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Following an inspirational keynote address from our nation’s First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, Sharon Darling, founder of the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL), was given the distinction of being named a recipient of The Dyer Pearl Literacy Award. The award was presented at the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy’s biennial National Summit on Adult Literacy at the Reach Center at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts. The Summit marked the launch of the first-ever National Action Plan for Adult Literacy, a welcomed next phase in the continued efforts to combat low literacy and improve economic well-being for millions of struggling adults.

Starting in a small Kentucky church basement in the 1970s helping adults learn to read, Darling went on to become the nation’s pioneer of family literacy—which brings parenting adults and their children together to learn. Since she founded NCFL in 1989 in Louisville, the organization has piloted, evaluated, and scaled the family literacy model under Sharon’s leadership. One major accomplishment, among many across Darling’s career, was successfully aligning an approved federal definition of family literacy with the philosophy of family literacy created by NCFL. 

Today, NCFL remains headquartered in Louisville, with statewide offices in Arizona and Nebraska and partnerships with local cities and communities throughout the nation. A 30-year partnership with the Bureau of Indian Education has extended the organization’s footprint to dozens of American Indian communities. Its policy work continues to reverberate across the country with a federally recognized annual National Family Literacy Day®, Family Service Learning Week, and ever-growing family engagement support.

Darling has received scores of awards for her groundbreaking work including the National Humanities Award and the international Albert Schweitzer award for Humanitarianism. This award is particularly meaningful to her as she transitions into retirement. Darling says, “I am deeply honored and grateful for this recognition. The field of adult literacy is near to my heart having worked with so many families and partners to implement and scale family literacy nationwide. To be recognized for this work by the Foundation is a full circle moment for me as I reflect on my close partnership with the late Barbara Bush, who was a dear friend and fierce advocate for this issue.” 

Darling announced her retirement earlier this year and Dr. Felicia Cumings Smith has been named as her successor to carry on her decades-long legacy. Dr. Smith says “The field of literacy and family engagement in education has deep gratitude and respect for the work Sharon Darling has done to establish family literacy as a proven model for the nation. I am thrilled to be leading NCFL into future. We will build upon the strong foundation Sharon has created as we evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of families and communities, today.” Darling will continue to impact the organization’s mission as a member of its board of directors. 


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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