Wallace-Reader's Digest Funds Launches Initiative to Help Parents Help Kids Succeed as Learners

January 28, 2002

Wallace-Reader's Digest Funds Launches Initiative to Help Parents Help Kids Succeed As Learners

Parents and Communities for Kids (PACK) Launches In Boston, Detroit, New Haven and St. Paul


NEW YORK, NY, January 28, 2002 – Families play a crucial part in determining children’s success as learners, but remarkably little is known or understood about how communities can best support parents and other caregivers in those efforts. The Wallace-Reader’s Digest Funds are investing in four communities that have shown a willingness to develop new practices and knowledge aimed at helping families make the most of out-of-school community learning opportunities.

The new initiative, Parents and Communities for Kids (PACK), will provide grants of $1.5 million each over the next four years to four organizations to pioneer this work in their communities: United Way of Massachusetts Bay, Boston, MA; Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan, Detroit, MI; the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, New Haven, CT; the Hubert Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs’ Center for Democracy and Citizenship: St. Paul, MN (see attached list for details of each program).

PACK seeks to improve learning for children between ages 6 to 10, through effective parent engagement and quality out-of-school activities. These “middle-childhood” years are critical, according to leading researchers. They are the years when basic literacy skills are established and many of the habits of lifelong learning are formed. They are also when parents have a particularly strong influence, as well as responsibility, for reinforcing children's school and non-school experiences.

“Schools are essential to children's learning, but they are not the only resource,” said M. Christine DeVita, president of the Wallace Funds. “For more than a decade, the Funds have supported numerous community-based learning opportunities across the country – including adult literacy programs, urban parks, public libraries and after-school programs. Building on that legacy, PACK is designed to provide new lessons and knowledge to help communities everywhere meet a difficult but extremely important challenge: how to create a climate of learning so that families have the support they need to help children be successful.”

Specifically, the goals of PACK are to:

  • Improve the supply of quality out-of-school learning opportunities for children and families;
  • Increase the demand for and participation in such opportunities;
  • Use this participation to help children learn and prepare for successful adulthood;
  • Create new knowledge on how to engage parents and communities in their children's learning.

The four organizations receiving PACK grants were selected by the Funds from among several dozen across the country in a highly competitive review process. Those chosen demonstrated a readiness to mobilize their community around the goals of PACK, and developed well-designed plans that mapped out strategies to realize PACK’s objectives by using the resources of existing organizations willing to improve children's learning.

PACK represents the first major investment in a new focus by the Wallace Funds to enhance learning opportunities in communities. The initiative is being launched under the direction of the Funds’ newly named Communities Program director Nancy Devine. With 21 years of experience in community development, she was previously Senior Vice President of Program and Nonprofit Investment with the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, an economic development corporation. Devine received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Arizona State University, and was a Fannie Mae Fellow in the Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

“Creating meaningful parent engagement will be key to PACK’s success,” said Devine. “While the immediate goal is to create real change in the PACK communities, the larger objectives are to have these communities pioneer and share lessons in an area where very little is known about parent engagement.”


Highlights of Program Plans

  • Boston, MA -- United Way of Massachusetts Bay: will support black and Latino parents' active involvement in achieving academic success for their children through "Keeping Kids on Track: Engaging Parents in their Children’s Success." The project will provide community-based after-school programs in the Black Ministerial Alliance (BMA) and Latino After-School Initiative (LASI) networks with new tools to engage and assist parents, and will mobilize other community resources to encourage and assist families. Five Minute Connections public service media messages may be developed to help busy families with tips for learning at home.
  • New Haven, CT -- The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven: is seeking to improve learning in three Greater New Haven neighborhoods and the Lower Naugatuck Valley. It will help families initiate and participate in learning activities through toolkits containing information, discount coupons, and ideas for learning at home; family workshops; and an outreach campaign that uses both local leaders and traditional marketing methods to deliver messages encouraging participation. It will help form a league of organizations that will share best practices, provide grants, training and technical assistance.
  • Detroit, MI -- The Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan: will tap nonprofit and community leaders in seven counties to improve the educational and social development of children ages 6-10 by increasing parent and adult involvement. Through its “Learning Together” initiative, the foundation will develop a regional leadership group for promoting increased involvement, engage 8-10 institutions in demonstrating such strategies, and encourage others to adopt successful approaches.
  • St. Paul, MN -- The Hubert Humphrey Institute's Center for Democracy and Citizenship: will work with the Hmong and Latino families in St. Paul's West Side neighborhood, to increase and improve community learning programs, including English-as-a-Second-Language activities. Through its “Neighborhood Learning Community” it will strengthen and expand existing learning programs; create a network of community institutions and leaders that support participation; and implement grass-roots marketing strategies that make resources visible and encourage people to be engaged in them.