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By Degrees Foundation announces the Middleton Award for Children’s Advocacy


Des Moines, Iowa (November 3, 2022) – The By Degrees Foundation announced the creation of the Middleton Award for Children’s Advocacy, named after longtime Des Moines residents and children’s advocates, Joan and the late Lyle Middleton. The award was announced on November 2 at a dinner celebrating the Middleton family’s impact and legacy. Over several decades, Joan and her late husband, Lyle, changed the trajectories of countless Des Moines students and families through their mentoring, support, and sponsorship at the Des Moines “I Have a Dream” Foundation, now called By Degrees Foundation.

“Joan exemplifies the very best there is in a caring human being, placing her energies where her heart is,” Emily Westergaard, CEO of By Degrees Foundation, said at the dinner. “She has remained committed to our organization for over thirty years, supporting our entrepreneurial efforts as we scaled our programing to serve whole schools and helping us navigate our transition from a small nonprofit supporting 100 students to now over 2,500.”

Founded in 1990 as an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit organization under the Des Moines “I Have a Dream” Foundation, By Degrees originally operated as an affiliate of the National “I Have a Dream” Network. The organization was launched to support a cohort of students at Moulton Elementary from fifth grade through high school graduation. Joan Middleton was a teacher at Moulton in 1990 and saw the incredible potential of the program. In 1996, she and Lyle sponsored the second cohort of students, first and second graders living at the Homes of Oakridge. “Joan and Lyle didn’t just invest and step back,” Emily Westergaard said. “They poured their hearts into the students of the Oakridge class and provided mentorship, programing, and community.”

In addition to their work with By Degrees Foundation, Joan and Lyle established the Joan and Lyle Middleton Center for Children’s Rights at Drake University School of Law and endowed the School of Education’s Urban Education Program. Through both programs, Drake education and law students work together to provide representation for children and raise awareness of children’s issues.

The Middleton Award for Children’s Advocacy will be an annual award presented by the By Degrees Foundation to a member of the community who personifies Joan Middleton’s tenacity and commitment to improving children’s lives. By Degrees Foundation will announce the nomination process this winter and seek nominees who have positively changed the trajectory of children’s lives through education, advocacy, mentoring, or other means.

About By Degrees Foundation
We believe education is a community effort and recognize the transformational impact incremental changes can make on a student’s life. Partnering with entire schools, we work to increase high school graduation and postsecondary readiness rates through an expansive, K-12 culture of future-focused exploration, planning, and saving. To meet our goals, we engage community partnerships that address barriers and incorporate postsecondary and career readiness activities, financial education, and asset building for whole neighborhoods of students.

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