Northfield Area United Way

The tutor and the first grader sat side-by-side, working on a reading exercise together.

“Miss Rachel, you have a lot to teach me!” the student suddenly exclaimed.

The tutor, Rachel Miessler, remembers this moment vividly. “I have many great memories from my time as a Minnesota Reading Corps tutor,” she says.

Minnesota Reading Corps is an initiative of ServeMinnesota, an organization funded in part by Northfield Area United Way to meet critical needs and create positive change in Minnesota. Reading Corps is designed to address the state’s high rate of early literacy failure by training AmeriCorps members to serve as tutors. These tutors work with students age three through grade three who need supplemental support in order to reach reading proficiency.

Long-term success

Until third grade, students learn to read — but after third grade, they read to learn, explains Reading Corps’ Rachel Garaghty. If children are unable to develop strong reading skills by third grade, they won’t become the successful learners that they might otherwise. Nationally, schools are focused on reading in third grade, which is an essential benchmark indicating whether students will succeed in the long term. Research shows that students without strong reading skills in third grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school than those who read proficiently as third-graders.

Reading Corps, with support from Northfield Area United Way, has been implemented at Bridgewater Elementary and Sibley Elementary schools, where 38 percent of third-graders did not demonstrate reading proficiency in 2015. Contributions to the Northfield Area United Way this year will help at least 50 struggling readers get on target to read proficiently.

“We’re thrilled to add Minnesota Reading Corps as one of our partner agencies for the first time this year,” says Elizabeth Child, executive director of Northfield Area United Way.

During the five years that Reading Corps has worked in Northfield Public Schools, 22 tutors have been placed in the school district and more than 400 students have been served, including the first grader whom Miessler was tutoring.

By the end of the year, this student went from “not knowing letter sounds and being unable to focus for more than two minutes to reading short stories, pronouncing all the words correctly, comprehending the stories, and focusing well for 20 minutes at a time,” says Miessler.


Former Minnesota Reading Corps tutor Rachel Miessler working with a student in Northfield Public Schools.

One-on-one support

Tutors work one-on-one with students every day, individualizing their interventions and complementing the core instruction that students already receive in the classroom. They help with specific skills such as “letter and sound recognition, phonemic awareness, comprehension, and fluency,” Miessler explains. And by consistently collecting data on their students’ progress, tutors ensure that students are always moving closer to their targets.

Shari Sneary’s son participated in Reading Corps in Northfield. She explains that “he needed one-on-one support in order to meet the standards set before him. That type of attention would not have been possible without a program like Reading Corps.

“The sense of accomplishment as our son met various goals and grade-level standards was immeasurable.”

From a tutor’s perspective, Reading Corps benefits students in ways beyond strengthening their reading skills. Miessler says that “they also gain confidence and learn to focus, which are skills that stick with them for the rest of their lives.”

Another aspect of Reading Corps that sets it apart from other early literacy programs is its integrative design — it is delivered during the regular school day and involves regular school personnel. This design encourages strong relationships between the program and the school in which it is implemented.

“Northfield is a community that is committed to its children and their education,” Sneary says. “Reading Corps is a wonderful program that further enhances the existing initiatives and goals of the Northfield School District and the community.”

Miessler agrees, “Northfield has wonderful elementary schools, which are made even stronger with the addition of Reading Corps!”

The Local History of JonnyPops

We are excited to announce that JonnyPops is gifting pops at a severely reduced rate to Northfield Area United Way for our upcoming truck pull! Upper Lakes Foods is also donating ice cream treats for the event.

JonnyPops has its own local history. The origins of the company can be traced back to a dorm room at St. Olaf College, where a student named Erik shared a story with his friends.

Erik told his friends about a business idea that he and his cousin, Jonathan, had explored. The two of them wanted to create an all-natural, fruit-forward frozen treat with simple, wholesome ingredients.

But before they could embark on their new business, Jonathan passed away due to a drug overdose. It was this piece of the story that inspired Erik and his friends to take up where Jonathan had left off.

jonny-pops-creatorsJonnyPops creators Erik Brust, Jamie Marshall, and Connor Wray. 

JonnyPops were named in honor of Jonathan, and a portion of the company’s proceeds are donated to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation — a national leader in addiction treatment and recovery.

The company’s motto is “A Better Pop for a Better World,” and their belief is that every act of kindness — no matter how big or small — goes a long way.

Come to our truck pull on September 22nd at 5pm in Bridge Square to taste JonnyPops for yourself. All ice cream treats are free — and a great way to spoil your kid’s dinner!

Truck Pull in Bridge Square Sept. 22 – You’re Invited!

Could you pull a 6,000-pound truck filled with Northfield area leaders? Probably not. But if we pull together with a clear goal in mind, Northfield Area United Way believes we can move just about anything – or anyone – forward, no matter how weighty.

Northfield  Area United Way is asking locals to demonstrate the power of pulling together during its fall campaign launch. Teams will attempt to pull a giant Ford truck filled with area leaders representing the Northfield area from just inside Fifth St. to Bridge Square along Water St. from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22. The team pulling the truck the distance the fastest will win. The United Way Truck Pull is sponsored by Dokmo Ford-Chrysler, which also is providing the truck.

Leaders in the truck will include Northfield Mayor Dana Graham; City Administrator Ben Martig; Police Chief Monte Nelson; City of Northfield’s Director of Library and IT Services Teresa Jenson; and Northfield City Council Members Jennifer Peterson White, Rhonda Pownell and Erica Zweifel.

Leaders from all areas served by the Northfield Area United Way have been invited to participate, including officials from Dundas, Dennison, Lonsdale, Kilkenny, Lonsdale, Montgomery and Webster.

KYMN’s Jeff Johnson will emcee the event.

Teams that want to compete to pull the truck are forming now. If you would like to field a team, contact the Northfield Area United Way, 507-664-3510 or The number of teams is limited, so register your team as soon as possible.

The public is encouraged to cheer on teams and join in an ice cream social. Ice cream and Jonny Pops are free, complements of Upper Lakes Foods and Jonny Pops.

About the Northfield Area United Way

The Northfield Area United Way has been funding human service organizations in our area for more than 40 years. Through the generous contributions of individuals and organizations, the Northfield Area United Way granted more than $265,000 last year for education, health and financial stability.

Tried Farming? Volunteer to Plant or Pick.

picking tomato

The Northfield Area United Way is asking for volunteers to help down on the farm – Seeds Farm, that is. Volunteers will help cultivate crops that are offered to low-income residents at a minimal cost — or free.

Last year the volunteer effort helped Seeds Farm, located at the southern edge of Northfield, deliver fresh produce to the Community Action Center’s food shelf and local neighborhoods at Martes en el Parque (Tuesdays in the Park) family events, put on by Growing Up Healthy throughout the summer.

Rebecca Carlson, manager of Seeds Farm, asks for a minimum time commitment of three days for three hours between the end of May and the end of September so volunteers develop the skills necessary to contribute. She trains volunteers to help with tasks from planting and weeding to harvesting and delivering food – all of which is grown sustainably. Last year about 20 volunteers helped at the farm through the United Way effort.

To sign up or learn more about this volunteer opportunity, please contact the Northfield Area United Way, 507-664-3510 or

‘MyFreeTaxes’ Offers Free Tax Prep


United Way site helps tax filers with free online tax prep and filing

NORTHFIELD, Minn. (January 29, 2016)  Seventy percent of American tax filers are eligible for free tax filing, and some don’t know they can save $200 in tax preparation fees every year by using MyFreeTaxes, the first free national, online tax filing platform.

MyFreeTaxes, sponsored by United Way, provides free federal and state tax preparation and filing assistance to individuals and families who had household incomes of $62,000 or less in 2015. MyFreeTaxes can be used to file federal and state taxes in Minnesota.

Last year, more than 200,000 tax returns were filed on, a 2,400% increase since the platform launched in 2009.

Offering free English and Spanish tax support, MyFreeTaxes allows taxpayers to self-file for free using a simple step-by-step process that includes free telephone, email and online chat support from IRS-certified specialists. Those who prefer in-person tax preparation help can contact the Northfield Senior Center, a Northfield Area United Way partner organization, at 507-664-3700. 

MyFreeTaxes is an interactive resource for information regarding tax preparation, valuable credits including the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, and personal finance. It’s funded by a $1.3 million grant from the Walmart Foundation, and made possible through the collaboration of 1,000 partners, including the IRS, colleges and universities, nonprofit organizations, and state and local government agencies.

About United Way Worldwide: With 2.6 million volunteers and 9.6 million donors worldwide, and more than $5 billion raised every year, United Way is the world’s largest privately-funded nonprofit. We’re engaged in nearly 1,800 communities across more than 40 countries and territories worldwide to create community solutions that improve life for everyone. United Way partners include global, national and local businesses, nonprofits, government, civic and faith organizations, along with educators, labor leaders, health providers, senior citizens, students and more. For information about the local Northfield Area United Way, see

About Philanthropy at Walmart
Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are committed to helping people live better through philanthropic efforts that draw on the strengths of Walmart in the arenas of sustainability, economic opportunity, and community. To learn more about Walmart’s giving, visit