Author: Jene Shepherd

Looking Back to Look Forward: The 1928 Master Plan

United Way for Greater Austin recognizes that our fight against poverty is also a fight against racial inequity. Systemic racism and poverty are intrinsically connected, and one cannot be eradicated without the other. This is why United with our community, we are working to reimagine systems that are rooted in equity and racial justice.  As we work toward building a brighter and more equitable future for our great city, it’s important for us to know the past in order to understand the present and chart a path towards the future.  The Present  Just as the skyline has grown, so have the disparities in the lived experiences of those living west of IH-35, and those to the east. For all of its wonderful qualities, Austin is one of the most economically segregated cities in the country.  It truly is a tale of two cities. One in which if you happen to live on the east side of the city you have less access to hospitals and healthcare facilities, fewer public transportation options, and a lack of grocery stores with fresh produce. A study has even shown that there is a nearly 20-year difference in life expectancy between parts of east and west Austin. And the unfortunate reality is that these areas of concentrated poverty overlap with Austin’s Black and Brown communities. The current system isn’t working for so many of our neighbors.  To make Greater Austin a community that truly works for everyone, we first have to understand how these inequitable […]

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Meet Ashley Unbehagen: Making a Difference One Book at a Time

Here at United Way for Greater Austin, we know Ashley Unbehagen as a member of Women United and a volunteer at Bright Beginnings child care center. But, to the 3- and 4-year-olds she reads to each week, she’s the “Book Lady.” “It takes a community of people to be able to influence and grow these little beings, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.” – Ashley Unbehagen  Bright Beginnings is one of our partner child care centers through Pre-K Partnerships — a collaboration between Austin Independent School District and United Way for Greater Austin to support and expand access to high-quality, full-day pre-K for children ages 3 and 4 in our community. Success in life begins with a quality education, but more than 50% of children in Travis County are not ready for Kindergarten. That’s why this partnership ensures children are ready to succeed in Kindergarten and beyond. Our youngest years are the most active period for brain development, a crucial time to lay a firm foundation for all future growth. What happens in these early years has a lasting impact from Kindergarten readiness to third-grade reading scores to high school graduation and beyond.  Ashley is one of many community members working hard to ensure that our littlest Austinites get the strongest possible start in life. What draws you to United Way’s work in early childhood education?  My background is in social work. I worked as a licensed therapist in the areas of mental health and education. I […]

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Meet Jen and Jack Foster: Making Giving Back a Family Affair

As a former United Way Board member, and a current member of Tocqueville United and Women United, Jen Foster is a true United Way champion! Her commitment to helping build a stronger Austin is something that she is passing down to her 10-year-old son, Jack. They have turned philanthropy into a family activity and jointly make decisions on how to best invest in the Greater Austin community.  “I know that other families need support, and it’s our number one goal as a family to make sure they get it.” – Jack Foster  Austin often tops the lists of best cities to live. A great place to raise a family, a healthy local economy, a city poised for future job growth – these are just some of the honors given to our metro area. And we agree… we love it too! But not everyone in our community is sharing in the promise of Austin. Yet. United Way for Greater Austin brings people, ideas, and resources together to fight poverty in our community. Because when one of us suffers, we all suffer, and when everyone reaches their full potential, our entire community benefits and thrives. But it’s not something that can be done alone – it takes a community of kind-hearted, generous people. People like Jen and Jack Foster.  Why does your family Live United?  Jen: [United Way’s mission to fight poverty] really resonates with our family because we are really fortunate to be able to send Jack to good schools and […]

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United Way Partners are Proving Family-Friendly is Business-Friendly with Early Matters Greater Austin

Powered by United Way for Greater Austin and E3 Alliance, Early Matters Greater Austin (EMGA) is an alliance of Austin business leaders focused on the critical relationship between access to high-quality early education and our State’s long-term economic success. EMGA’s work is part of the collective impact initiative led by United Way, the Austin/Travis County Success By 6 Coalition. Founded in 2018, Early Matters Greater Austin mobilizes and unites the business community around the goal that children in Greater Austin enter Kindergarten prepared for school success. EMGA also encourages Austin-area employers to adopt family-friendly policies because supportive workplace policies increase organization productivity and support the physical and emotional health of employees and their families. This pillar of the coalition’s work — known as Best Place for Working Parents™ — just concluded its 2021 open enrollment period in which 98 local businesses have been recognized as a 2021 Best Place for Working Parents™. Businesses qualified for the designation by taking a first-of-its-kind self-assessment highlighting the 10 family-friendly policies that have research-proven benefits to businesses’ bottom line, and scoring high enough to qualify. Each question in the self-assessment ties to one of the below policies, which positively impact employee attraction, retention, satisfaction, and productivity. You can find a full list of the 98 2021 Best Place for Working Parents™  businesses here. We are thrilled to see so many of our corporate partners on this list. Not only do they Live United, but are proving that family-friendly policies are business-friendly! Thank you for […]

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A First Look at Our Newest Initiative: K-12 Education

The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation recently approached United Way for Greater Austin with an opportunity to expand our work beyond early childhood education and into the K-12 space. The Foundation offered funding because they’ve seen proof of our impact as a convening organization with both the Success By 6 and 2-Gen Coalitions.  We’re honored to serve as a convener within the K-12 space, partnering with dozens of organizations to amplify our collective impact and create greater equity for students in our community.  This year, our K-12 work will focus on bringing together a diverse coalition of literacy advocates, including nonprofit leaders, librarians, teachers, and parents, to work towards a shared vision of supporting children to ensure they are reading on grade level by the 4th grade. We’re excited to give you a behind the scenes look at what goes into building a coalition to create equitable systems changes in our community.  We all know that a good story highlights the who, what, where, when, why, and how. But, these are also critical questions and factors that we engage with in our systems change work. Today we’re going to look at “the why”. Why is United Way for Greater Austin expanding into the K-12 space?  Currently, our focus on education is centered around ensuring that ALL children in our community are Kindergarten-ready. But we know the work doesn’t stop at age six. The increased earning potential of an individual who attains a high school diploma or goes on to attain […]

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A Night United 2021: Truly a night to remember

Wow, what a night! With moving stories, inspiring levels of generosity, and a sweet dance party,  A Night United was truly a night to remember. More than 500 Austinites attended, and despite not being together in the same room, it felt like a community-wide, intimate dinner party. All of us on the United Way team left the event feeling immensely grateful for our essential heroes and inspired to continue the fight against poverty here in Greater Austin. We hope everyone who attended did too! Missed the event? You can catch up on all the fun below!  Together, we surpassed our goal and raised $250,000 to create greater opportunity for children and families in our community! You can join us in the movement to build a better Austin from the ground up by making a gift here.  Thank you to our amazing co-chairs Nahid & Ali Khataw and Natalee & Charles Thornburgh; Board Chair Malini Rajput; Cornerstone Sponsor Texas Mutual Insurance Company; Jeremiah Bentley; and our three Austin essential heroes Patsy Harnage, Arnoldo Longoria, and Kathryn Treviño. Your investment in our community is inspiring, and the definition of what it means to Live United. Special thanks to our 38 dinner party hosts for generously hosting a virtual table, inviting their friends and colleagues to join and give. As David C. Smith, United Way for Greater Austin CEO, said at the event: “When Nelson Mandela moved from his prison cell to the Presidency of South Africa, he shared these words of hope […]

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Meet Tracy Fielder: Creating a personal legacy of moving the needle on equity

We’re excited to launch a new year with Women United. This group of incredible and passionate women are advancing equity in early childhood education through their membership and we couldn’t be more grateful.  Tracy Fielder is just one of the 210 women who are supporting our youngest Austinities. Learn more about her work in creating a personal legacy of moving the needle on equity here in Greater Austin. Learn more about Tracy and why she joined Women United. How long have you been in Austin? “My husband and I moved our young family to Austin in 1996. We feel fortunate to live in such a diverse, creative, and vibrant city.” What is your favorite thing about Austin? “I love to be outdoors, and the Lady Bird Hike-and-Bike Trail is my go-to spot. This is where I walk my dogs, connect with friends, laugh, reflect, decompress, and of course, exercise. I also enjoy live music, especially blues and old gospel, at many of our iconic venues. Throw in a yummy bite from one of our local food trucks and I’ve had an amazing day.” What is one thing you want everyone to know about you? “I’m compassionate. I care about many things, but inequities in education really matter to me. I grew up in a home where education was the key to everything. My parents set a high bar for academic achievement, but also ensured my sister and I were keenly aware of the educational divide and how fortunate we were. […]

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A Night United 2021: Building a Better Austin Together

  If 2020 showed us anything, it’s that a system with a weak foundation will break under pressure. No matter how beautiful it looks from the outside; a structure must be built with good bones from the very beginning in order to endure. It’s time to take a closer look at where we started before we can keep building. This is why the theme for our third annual A Night United event is building a better Austin together. United we can work to strengthen the solid foundation upon which better systems are built. This year, we are committed to reimagining a stronger Austin that serves everyone, built on racial justice and equity for all.  Click here to save the date for the third annual A Night United on Friday, February 26.     All proceeds will build opportunity for Austin children and families in our continued fight for equity.

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