Victoria Karpeh poses for a photo in the Anderson Student Center during the ThreeSixty Journalism 20th Anniversary gala.
Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas

Expanding Literacy Access Through Youth Empowerment

Getting children to start reading can be a challenge. At the Legacy Family Center, a Brooklyn Park-based nonprofit founded in 2013, organizers are working to equip families to cultivate literacy at home. 

Victoria Karpeh '03 MA, a St. Thomas alumna, founded the Legacy Family Center in 2013 to promote access to education and social services in underserved communities. Through her work with the organization, she has discovered the importance of starting literacy initiatives early. 

“You want to start really, really early,” Karpeh said. “I think being proactive is more important than just waiting for things to happen.” 

Karpeh’s work is informed by her experience. She remembers spending hours reading at the library with her son, now 16 years old. Learning to read with a family member, she said, helped her son develop his literacy skills and strengthened the bond her family shares. 

“It wasn’t just the reading time,” Karpeh said. “When things were going on with him, he was able to talk to me because he felt comfortable.” 

Victoria Karpeh (ThreeSixty Journalism/Aaliyah Demry) 

Today, Karpeh strives to open up this transformative experience for others. She observed that many families face obstacles to finding educational resources and hopes to overcome those barriers to reach families across her community. 

“We bring the resources to the families instead of the families going to go find the resources,” Karpeh said. “The goal was always to make sure obstacles were not in the way.” 

Over the past four months, Legacy Family Center has offered a literacy program that awards older kids a stipend for reading with younger children at home. This program is unique because it gives young children a comfortable and immersive environment to pick up literacy skills. Not only does the program help children develop their reading ability, but it also provides older siblings a productive source of work. 

The hard work and motivation of Karpeh and her fellow organizers have made Legacy Family Center a well-known part of the Brooklyn Park community. The organization continues to bring families together in pursuit of shared values and goals.  

“We see ourselves as being part of an ecosystem so we’re not separate from the community,” Karpeh said.  

Karpeh credited her education from the University of St. Thomas’ master’s program in Leadership in Student Affairs for giving her the skills to engage with her community. She is grateful for the intellectual and personal foundation St. Thomas provided, which she said enabled her to create meaningful change. 

“St. Thomas really prepared me when I did my master’s program to think (not only) on the global level, but to think down to the community level,” Karpeh said. 

As her organization grows, Karpeh hopes to build a community center in Brooklyn Park to house early childhood education, programming and family networking services. She envisions a much wider reach for her organization. Besides students and their older siblings, Karpeh aims to bring in adults from the broader community to mentor and support youth. 

Going forward, Karpeh hopes to continue expanding Legacy Family Center and reaching more families in need. Through youth programs, she is committed to bringing her community together. 

A note about the author: Evan Odegard, a student at Nova Classical Academy, is a participant in the ThreeSixty Journalism program. A version of this article was first published by ThreeSixty Journalism, a nonprofit of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of St. Thomas that uses the principles of strong writing and reporting to help diverse Minnesota youth tell the stories of their lives and communities.