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Jan 12, 2022 |

Greetings to NCFL’s national community of families, practitioners, and supporters. As NCFL embarks on a new era of leadership, I am excited to launch my monthly blog series, At the Heart of Family Learning. Each month, I’ll explore ways in which NCFL is working alongside families and practitioners to provide quality, rich, and meaningful learning experiences that focus on the needs of adults and their children. Through family literacy, family engagement, and family leadership, adults and children can achieve family success, community impact, and workforce prosperity.

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"

Following is the fireside chat that I participated in with NCFL’s founder Sharon Darling at the 2021 Families Learning Conference, where we discussed a variety of topics from books I’m reading to my vision for NCFL. I hope you can sense my excitement about leading the amazing team at NCFL alongside the children, families, and communities with whom we partner.

As I mentioned in my conversation with Sharon, the future of learning is with families in communities. As the pandemic has shown us, learning must extend beyond school walls. It must be a collaboration with and alongside families, community organizations, government, libraries, and other organizations, in addition to and in partnership with schools. Families and communities across the nation are still grappling with the devastating impact of the pandemic on learning, health and well-being, and economic prosperity. I know firsthand that district and school leaders need assistance from community partners during this critical time. NCFL is committed to creating innovative ways to bring together families and community partners to develop equitable family learning systems, grounded in education solutions, designed to meet the learning goals and needs of individual children and the family, as a unit. NCFL’s mission to eradicate poverty through education solutions is more relevant today than ever before. 

Thirty-two years of advancing this mission alongside families in diverse communities supporting multiple generations has allowed the organization to share insights and lessons learned that may be important learning for every community. Our work in equity is not new; it is who we are as an organization and has evolved over time to meet the changing needs of families.

I am deeply committed to expanding NCFL’s role by building on our legacy work and charting a new course for our future. This means NCFL will engage in work designed to support establishing equitable family learning systems in communities. Family learning systems are dependent upon building coalitions of community members and families who engage in deep, comprehensive work bringing together a continuum of programs and resources—spanning preschool through adulthood—in family literacy, family engagement, and family leadership. These intentional efforts will create learning opportunities, build capacity, strengthen partnerships, and activate family leadership across our nation for children and families who are furthest from opportunity. Efforts to solve challenges within communities related to education and economic disparities must begin by uplifting the strengths and assets already in communities, implementing the coordination of family learning systems of support, spurring equitable and innovative practices, and focusing on shared learning and accountability. 

My vision for NCFL is to support these efforts so that by 2030, we will have established aligned and coordinated family learning systems in 60 communities. I believe this bold vision brings us closer to achieving equitable communities where children and families feel valued, gain social capital, and thrive in a just and fair society. 

My hope is to create a new movement—one to bring together community resources to support family literacy, family engagement, and family leadership. Join us on our 60X30 campaign for advancing family learning systems to support equitable communities for generations to come. Please comment here to share your thoughts and join me on our journey forward, 2022 and beyond. 


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