Sharon Darling, president and founder, NCFL, joins Al Smith, group vice president, Toyota Social Innovation to celebrate the opening of three new Toyota Family Learning Centers.

Toyota and National Center for Families Learning strive to make big impact on Dallas’ underserved parents and kids

by Gefen Kusin-Kline, Special Contributor | May 29, 2019

For 30 years, the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL) has been working to break generational poverty by bringing parents together with their children to learn. Over this period, NCFL has achieved success by partnering with educators, policymakers and advocates to creatively address the systemic problems faced by at-risk children and their families.

However, of NCFL’s partnerships, none has been more enduring — or more successful — than the one they’ve forged with Toyota.

The beginnings

The partnership between NCFL and Toyota began in 1991 with the enthusiastic support of then-chairman of Toyota Motor Company, Dr. Shoichiro Toyoda. Dr. Toyoda and his wife shared a passion for family literacy and traveled to the United States to witness the program’s early successes firsthand. They saw how learning together as a family can lift up both children and their parents, and Toyota has been a steadfast NCFL partner ever since. Today, the partnership is making an impact in more than 100 communities in 38 states for over four million individuals.

NCFL and Toyota have created multiple successful family literacy programs, and their latest collaboration is no different. Toyota Family Learning is a results-oriented, two-generation solution that aims to break the cycle of generational poverty through educational challenges and changes. It meets families where they are, builds upon family strengths and engages parents and children in authentic problem-solving.

Erica Blanco, a single mother of four children, participates at one of three new Toyota Family Learning sites in Dallas. She attends the Jubilee Park & Community Center and has already seen a difference in her life. In the past, Blanco struggled to communicate with her children, manage her finances and help her family live a healthy, physically active lifestyle.

Now, thanks to the tools she’s gained from Toyota Family Learning, Blanco is focused, goal-oriented and determined to set a good example for her children and provide them with the best education possible. With the tools she’s gained, she’s now well-equipped to reach her financial and family health goals.

“[The Toyota Family Learning program] helped me engage with my kids while they are still young,” Blanco says. “I’m learning how to speak to them a lot better.”

This kind of open communication is crucial for healthy family relationships, and Blanco has even seen these benefits extend beyond her children.

“One of the goals I’ve committed to myself was to build up my credit, so by the end of the year, I’m hoping to have fair, pretty decent credit. For a family goal, we’re working on becoming a little bit healthier. So, we’re engaging in more physical activities.”

A two-generation solution

This dual-generational strategy is rooted in the educational philosophy of family literacy, which posits that the parent is a child’s first teacher. The better equipped a parent is to think critically and creatively solve problems, the more likely it is that their child will develop the same skills.

The Toyota Family Learning model includes Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time ®, Parent Time classes and family-to-family mentoring. It also includes Family Service Learning, which takes families through a systematic approach to solving community problems. This solution empowers families to learn and address critical social issues such as safety and security, environmental stewardship, financial education, effective educational systems, transportation and health.

The mission

As an employer of 36,000 people in the U.S., Toyota knows the importance of maintaining an educated workforce. That’s why they’ve invested close to $50 million to help inspire change and improvement. Mike Goss, general manager, Toyota Social Innovation, is a big believer in the program and has witnessed its results firsthand.

“Literacy plays a key role in education to prepare kids for potential jobs — especially in STEM fields,” he says.

But it doesn’t stop there. A key component of Toyota and NCFL’s collaboration is knowledge sharing. Nationwide, organizations have leveraged the initial investment and key findings by Toyota and NCFL to sustain their own family literacy and learning programs. To date, more than $300 million has been redirected to continue these programs, primarily because of the proven results this collaborative model produces.

Dallas has been a key setting for NCFL’s collaborative, innovative efforts. NCFL has partnered with D-FW organizations and community leaders to create a comprehensive family learning system that benefits both parents and children.

“Working with Toyota and community partners, we’re building a comprehensive system in Dallas for family learning,” says Sharon Darling, president and founder, NCFL. “When parents and children come together, we know that we can sustain the gains that both generations make when parents begin that climb out of poverty and children start on the path for success in school.”

Over the next year, NCFL will roll out three distinct strategies to develop holistic solutions that address not only family learning, but also the systemic issues that cause cyclical, generational illiteracy and poverty in the first place.

First, three NCFL-funded Toyota Family Learning sites will be created in Dallas expressly for the implementation of hands-on family learning strategies. NCFL will provide ongoing professional development and assistance for all three new Toyota Family sites, which are located at Literacy Achieves, Voice of Hope and Jubilee Park & Community Center.

Second, The Parent Leadership Institute provides parent and family leaders with the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of systems across Dallas and how to access power brokers in their communities. The Institute ultimately serves as a pipeline for parent leaders to eventually become members of the citywide coalition or to become community connectors in local organizations.

Third, The Dallas Coalition is tasked with writing a strategic literacy plan for the city, informing local policy, securing funding opportunities and developing a shared vision centered around racial equity and meaningful resident and family leadership. The coalition is comprised of over 30 Dallas-based organizations that address adult education, family literacy, family engagement, early childhood and education advocacy.

The results

The Toyota Family learning programs have had a demonstrable and significant impact on underserved communities affected by generational poverty. A 2017 report from Penn State University found that 96 percent of the program participants said they became better parents, 49 percent got better jobs, 74 percent improved their English skills and 53 percent earned a GED or high school equivalency.

Improvements in the lives of these parents directly correlate to better lives for their children and go a long way toward breaking the generational poverty cycle. As Erica Blanco puts it, “Nothing’s impossible if you set your mind to it.”

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