Blog categories
Oct 24, 2018 |
  No Comments

Half of Jefferson County, Kentucky, children lack the basic skills and knowledge to begin kindergarten. The PNC Foundation, Lift A Life Foundation, National Center for Families Learning (NCFL), Metro United Way’s Ready for K Alliance, and Louisville Metro recently announced a more than $250,000 collaboration to support Say & Play with Words, a new pre-Kindergarten vocabulary-building initiative. Say & Play with Words will target at-risk children in Louisville neighborhoods, with a goal of shrinking the word gap and increasing kindergarten readiness.

“Words unlock success for children,” said Chuck Denny, PNC regional president for Louisville.  “The more words they hear before kindergarten, the more success they often achieve. The link between ‘words’ and learning motivated PNC to begin emphasizing developing children’s vocabularies as part of PNC Grow Up Great®, our signature early childhood education initiative.”

The research is clear; preparing children for kindergarten starts from birth:

  • By age 4, low-income children are exposed to 30 million fewer words than children from high-income families.
  • Testing showed a child’s vocabulary use at age 3 predicted their vocabulary and reading skills in third grade.
  • First grade vocabulary measurement predicts about a third of reading comprehension in 11th grade.

“Say & Play with Words Louisville is a comprehensive strategy to better prepare our children for academic and life success,” said Sharon Darling, president and founder, NCFL. “Parents are their children’s first and most important teachers. By arming them with the right tools, families are strengthened, and we are able to break the generational cycle of poverty.”

During the initiative announcement on October 23, 2018, NCFL President and Founder Sharon Darling explains the importance of parents speaking with their children from birth.

Say & Play with Words will equip parents with free vocabulary-building tips and activities – found on – to use at home or on the go; build upon NCFL’s existing Family Learning efforts underway in Louisville; and, will provide training for professionals working with children and families.

PNC's Senior Vice President, Director of Client and Community Relations Mike Moll talks with a family participating in an NCFL Family Learning program. Say & Play with Words will build upon NCFL’s existing Family Learning efforts underway in Louisville.

“Half of the children in this community are at an academic disadvantage before they even step foot in kindergarten,” said Theresa Reno-Weber, president and chief executive officer, Metro United Way. “And unfortunately, once they start behind, they often stay behind. However, parents and family members can change the course their children are on. Say & Play with Words will provide the resources to do just that.”

A Community Effort 

“Kids’ Spaces” will launch in area businesses later this year as a way to meet families where they gather. Local businesses can volunteer to host a “Kids’ Space,” which will provide easy access to resources for their customers. Examples of potential locations include the waiting room of a doctor’s office, nail salon, tire shop, barber shop, etc. – anywhere parents and children may spend time.  Businesses will be given Say & Play with Words signage and activity sheets that encourage young children and families to explore new words together. In addition, parents in NCFL Family Learning programs will be empowered as leaders in their communities by serving as Say & Play ambassadors.

Say & Play with Words materials

“We are proud to partner on this program, which sets the stage at the earliest level for better academic outcomes for our next generation,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said. “It’s critical for the future of our city that we make sure our babies are equipped for success in their academic career and eventually, to move on to a high-quality job.”

Development and outreach for Say & Play with Words Louisville is supported by Louisville Metro Government, Lift a Life Foundation and Ready for K Alliance. The PNC Foundation’s $250,000 grant supports development and outreach, as well as implementation at existing NCFL Family Learning sites. 

Say & Play with Words Louisville will replicate the success of a similar program in Detroit, also supported by PNC. Since 2014, more than 3,000 Detroit caregivers have received vocabulary-building resources each week in English and Spanish and their children heard 6,000 more words per week, on average. Say & Play with Words Detroit engaged nearly 100 businesses and trained staff at nearly 400 child care providers.

Follow Say & Play with Words Louisville on Facebook or visit for more information.


Leave A Comment

NCFL Partners

NCFL Image
NCFL Image
NCFL Image
NCFL Image
NCFL Image
NCFL Image


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