Industry Highlight (Sponsored)

Giving A to Z


“Give a child the gift of reading, and they will have a lifetime of learning.” 


George Peterson and his daughter, Kristin Cain, are lifelong Mankato residents who are passionate about reading. Although publishing and selling books has supported the livelihoods of four generations of Petersons, their mission is what drives them: achieving 100% literacy. 


One day, the duo discussed the alarmingly high rates of illiteracy in the United States while drinking espresso at Neutral Groundz in North Mankato. They both knew they had to do more. “We know the solution to this crisis in America. The answer is My First Steps to Reading. This set of books has stood the test of time, teaching children how to read since the 1970s,” said Peterson.  


My First Steps to Reading is a 26-volume set of phonics books that includes a noteworthy Parent Guide, encouraging parents to be active participants in their children’s learning. Both Peterson and Cain knew that the books could be a game-changer, but they didn’t know how to get them into all homes and into the hands of all children. 


“We felt helpless about solving the illiteracy crisis and wanted to take action,” said Cain, “We knew we could not eradicate the scourge of illiteracy for the entire country at once, but if we focused on one community at a time — starting with the Mankato Area — we could make a difference. We could make a difference by givingMy First Steps to Reading to all families in Mankato.” 


The idea would eventually become imagineOne — a nonprofit organization with a mission to unite a community around the common goal of increasing literacy. Generous donors financially support the mission, and the award-winning books and parent guide are given to families in the community. imagineOne was poised in all respects, but the question of how to get the products into homes remained. That’s when Rod Meyer, a family friend and advisor, introduced Peterson and Cain to the Mankato Area Foundation (MAF).  


“We needed a knowledgeable community partner to connect us to organizations and families. MAF understood our mission and knew how to keep the initiative moving forward,” said Cain. MAF established a designated fund for imagineOne and found the best distribution channels to achieve the organization’s goal. 


After testing various options, imagineOne found success delivering books through Mankato Area Public Schools and Mankato Head Start. Through these organizations, and now other schools in Mankato, families receive a set of My First Steps to Reading and a detailed parent guide with instructions for teaching children to read. 


“I loved the concept. We know how vital it is to the success of our students that caregivers be included and engaged with learning. Our teachers reviewed the materials and were thrilled to offer them,” said ISD 77 Superintendent Paul Peterson. The school district provides books to children in preschool classrooms to strengthen early reading skills.  

“It’s a simple and effective model. Teachers and parents work together to teach children foundational reading skills. When done correctly, children are much better prepared for kindergarten. Parents are a key component to combatting illiteracy,” said George Peterson. 


In just three years, imagineOne has given over 300,000 books and the gift of reading to 17,000 families in Minnesota, California, and Florida. Living up to its guiding principle, imagineOne is making a difference one child, one book, one community at a time.  


Nancy Zallek

President and CEO of Mankato Area Foundation