Author: Jene Shepherd

Meet Laura Gentner: Living life with kindness, honesty, and support for the dignity of everyone

Women United is a diverse, vibrant donor network supporting United Way for Greater Austin. Members are committed to creating a powerful, female-driven philanthropic force to fight poverty in Greater Austin. As one of this year’s Women United Co-Chairs, Laura Gentner is helping to create change in our community, so that everyone can share in the promise of Austin!  “I Live United because we are living and experiencing this world together, so let’s do that with kindness, honesty, and support for the dignity of every person.”  – Laura Gentner, Women United Co-Chair Why does United Way’s mission to fight poverty resonate with you personally?  Fighting poverty is an effort to change a person’s life cycle and what the next generation will inherit. It’s getting to the root of the poverty issues in our communities and creating solutions that have longevity. Growing up, we teetered on the poverty line, and I know how easily one can fall into a sudden, difficult place in life. I love that United Way is focused on finding solutions to such a complex challenge. It’s not easy, and the success isn’t immediate, but I’m glad United Way is front and center fighting for Greater Austin.  What is your favorite part about being a member (co-chair!) of Women United? Activism! We just had our first Women United meeting for 2021-22, and it’s very obvious these are women ready to make change and impact in our work for early childhood education and the fight against poverty. It’s my privilege […]

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Announcing $21,000 to 4 Nonprofits: Supporting Children in Their First 2,000 Days of Life

This summer, United Way for Greater Austin awarded a total of $112,000 in one-time grant funding to 23 qualified community organizations delivering effective programs and services that advance the goals of the community coalitions we convene as part of our collective impact work to fight poverty.  Here at United Way for Greater Austin we’re working hard alongside our community partners to ensure that all children in Austin/Travis County enter Kindergarten happy, healthy, and prepared to succeed in school and beyond. That’s why we lead the Austin/Travis-County Success By 6 Coalition (SX6), a community-wide collaboration of child and family advocates – providers, parents, policymakers, civic leaders, and experts – with a shared goal to ensure every child born in the Austin area receives the support and care they deserve during their essential first 2,000 days. To help advance this goal, United Way put out a call for proposals to fund programs and services that are advancing SX6’s goals with a focus on efforts that build capacity to deliver prenatal and postpartum health services that are culturally responsive and support BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) women and infants, and elevate family voice as part of the planning and decision-making processes of community-based organizations serving children and families birth to age five.  We’re thrilled to announce that the following organizations were awarded mini-grants, up to $7,500, to support their programs and services that are supporting our littlest Austinites!  Culturally responsive prenatal and postpartum support  Catholic Charities of Texas: support the St. Gabriel’s […]

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Announcing $21,000 to 5 Nonprofits: Helping Improve Families’ Economic Opportunities

This summer, United Way for Greater Austin awarded a total of $112,000 in one-time grant funding to 23 qualified community organizations delivering effective programs and services that advance the goals of the community coalitions we convene as part of our collective impact work to fight poverty.  Here at United Way for Greater Austin we’re working hard alongside our community partners to ensure that all families are financially stable. That’s why we lead the 2-Gen Coalition, a coalition of service providers focused on increasing economic opportunity for whole families and ensuring that families with children in Travis County are financially stable. A 2-Gen approach to social services serves parents and children simultaneously and leads to better financial outcomes for both generations.  To help advance this goal, United Way put out a call for proposals to fund programs and services that are advancing the 2-Gen Coalition’s goals with a focus on racial justice transformation and digital equity. We’re thrilled to announce that the following organizations were awarded mini-grants, up to $7,500, to support their programs and services that are creating greater opportunity for children and families in our community!  Racial Justice Transformation  American Youthworks: engage YouthBuild participants in co-creating collaborative power-sharing structures, designed and run by youth and adults Austin Voices for Education and Youth (AVEY): as part of the St. John Equity in Education Project, AVEY will survey parents, teachers, and community partners about the strengths and challenges they see in their local schools, hold a series of community planning dinners, […]

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Parents are Powerful: Meet Sasha Salinas

Welcome to our blog series all about shining a spotlight on the ways that parents are using their voices to build a better, brighter Austin. In the first installment, we introduced you to two parent leaders who serve on the 2-Gen Leadership Council.  Today, we’re excited to introduce you to Sasha Salinas, a member of the Greater Austin Reading Coalition’s Parent Advisory Council. A mom of two girls, ages 6 and 8, Sasha uses her voice to advocate on behalf of the children and families in her community.  Check out what she had to say to parents looking for ways to support their child’s reading development!  How did you get involved with the Greater Austin’s Reading Coalition’s Parent Advisory Committee?  I am a Parent Champion through Families as Partners, a program within Austin ISD. Maria Rosas who runs the program reached out to several of us moms who are heavily involved in our community and have a passion for engaging others and advocating for children.  What are some of the barriers you see for parents in trying to access resources for their children’s reading development?  The biggest barrier is finding the information that is age appropriate and in their preferred language. That was my hardest part, especially as my kids get older. A lot of information is geared towards younger ages and, with my kids being 6 and 8, I don’t always know where to look for material that is appropriate for them.  The Greater Austin Reading Coalition’s Parent Advisory […]

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Announcing $70,000 to 14 Nonprofits: Increasing Grade-Level Reading Rates in Greater Austin

This summer, United Way for Greater Austin awarded a total of $112,000 in one-time grant funding to 23 qualified community organizations delivering effective programs and services that advance the goals of the community coalitions we convene as part of our collective impact work to fight poverty.  Here at United Way for Greater Austin we’re working hard alongside our community partners to ensure that all children are reading on grade-level by 4th grade. That’s why we lead the Greater Austin Reading Coalition, a diverse coalition of nonprofit and community leaders, librarians, teachers, and parents working to ensure that all children are reading on or above grade level by the fourth grade. To help advance this goal, United Way for Greater Austin put out a call for proposals to fund programs and services that are advancing the Greater Austin Reading Coalition’s goals, including building a community culture of reading, engaging parents and caretakers in their child’s reading development, and making quality, enriching out-of-school-time services accessible to all children.  We’re thrilled to announce that the following organizations were awarded mini-grants, up to $5,000, to support their programs and services that are improving early grade reading outcomes for local children!  Build a community culture of reading  100 Black Men of Austin, Inc.: provide culturally-relevant books to local teachers to share with their students in the classroom AKA Association For Community Development, Inc.: implement Project G.R.E.E.N. at Oak Springs Elementary School, facilitating reading programs and book distributions for Oak Spring students Capital Area Alliance of […]

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$13.5 Million (Yes, Million) invested in Greater Austin Children and Families: Big Wins from the American Rescue Plan

Here at United Way for Greater Austin, we’re on a mission to bring people, ideas, and resources together to fight poverty in our community. United with community leaders and partners, we’re leading the charge to create sustainable and lasting solutions to break the cycle of poverty.  Advocacy is critical, not just to further the impact of United Way’s work, but to create lasting systemic change. It takes all of us — using our collective voice — to advocate for a Greater Austin that works for everyone. This is why we are so excited to share and celebrate with you a few major funding wins from the American Rescue Plan.  What is the American Rescue Plan?  The American Rescue Plan (ARPA) is a $1.5 trillion federal economic package designed to address the public health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Funding is being allocated to cities, counties, and states to directly support their recovery efforts. The City of Austin received $195.8. million in funding, and Travis County received $247.1 million.  A collective investment of $13.5 million, from the City of Austin ($11MM) and Travis County ($2.5MM), will be made to specifically strengthen our local education, health, and workforce systems. These funding decisions were driven by testimony and recommendations put forth by United Way and you, our supporters and coalition partners. Thank you! This significant one-time investment of federal dollars will not only drive Greater Austin’s post COVID-19 economic recovery, but help address some of the root causes of poverty in our community. […]

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Meet Brandon Comisarenco: Giving Back to the City He Loves

Emerging Leaders is a group of tomorrow’s leaders supporting United Way for Greater Austin. Members have a passion for philanthropy, advocacy, volunteerism, and community. Through meaningful volunteer opportunities and networking events, members make connections with other local leaders who all believe that everyone deserves to enjoy the promise of Austin. Brandon Comisarenco is committed to ensuring that Greater Austin is a community that works for everyone. And as a member of the Emerging Leaders Executive Committee and a supporter of United Way for Greater Austin, he is helping to make that possible!  Learn more about why he joined United Way’s fight against poverty.  What is your favorite thing about living in Austin?  My favorite thing about living in Austin is how big of a city it’s gotten, but has still kept a small town feel. The people who live here truly make this city amazing. There’s a really strong sense of community in Austin. Everybody is so passionate about this city and are always looking for ways to improve it…It’s great to see a large portion of the population care so deeply about each other and doing everything they can to make sure this city is moving forward and progressing.  Why does United Way for Greater Austin’s mission to fight poverty resonate with you personally?  I’ve always had a passion and desire to help those around me. I think that starts with doing everything we can as a community to ensure equity and equality for as many people as possible. […]

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Meet Newton Wong: A Personal Calling to Love

Newton Wong is a true United Way champion! As a co-chair of  Tocqueville United, he is following his personal calling to make sure that everyone in our community has the opportunity to thrive.  “I Live United because I am called to love, and that means taking care and supporting my fellow brothers and sisters. While what I do may not be monumental, I believe that the collection of all of our little contributions makes a very large impact.” Why does United Way’s mission to fight poverty resonate with you personally?  I’ve had the opportunity to travel around quite a bit for work. The languages, the food, and the landscapes vary. However, poverty is a constant. Those of us who aren’t below the poverty line are fortunate. And we all have the ability to help… even if it’s a little. We may not be able to eradicate poverty in my lifetime, but we need to take steps towards changing the status quo. How can we build a better Austin that works for everyone? Austin is such a great city. Unfortunately, it’s not a great city for all. We have poverty. We have racial injustices. We have hate. To build a better Austin, we should each individually and collectively (through organizations like United Way) act to impact. How do we build a better Austin? Get all Austinites to take a step towards greatness — whether that be donating time and money, standing up for those who can’t, or hating less by loving […]

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Introducing the Greater Austin Reading Coalition

A few months ago, we announced that we would be expanding our work beyond early childhood education and into the K-12 space. This year, our K-12 work will focus on bringing together a diverse coalition of literacy advocates to work toward a shared vision of increasing the number of children who are reading on grade level by the 4th grade — a pivotal point in a child’s reading development. There has been so much work put in this past year to launch the coalition, and we’re excited to continue 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 who.” Who is in the coalition, and what role does United Way for Greater Austin play?  We are thrilled to announce that our newly formed coalition has chosen the name: Greater Austin Reading Coalition. This coalition is comprised of nonprofit and community leaders, librarians, teachers, and parents working toward a shared vision of supporting children, grades K – 3, to ensure they are reading on grade level by the fourth grade. The coalition is convened by United Way for Greater Austin as part of our collective impact work to fight poverty.  Current coalition members include:  100 Black Men of Austin […]

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Celebrate Juneteenth with your neighbors

Juneteenth (June 19) is a day of celebration and recognition of the end of chattel slavery in Texas. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston to inform enslaved Black Americans of their freedom — more than two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The following year ⁠— and every year thereafter ⁠— June 19th has been a celebration of freedom in the Black community in Texas and beyond.  At United Way for Greater Austin, we will be closing our office on Friday, June 18 in recognition of Juneteenth. We invite you to join us and your neighbors in celebrating this day of freedom. Here are 7 ways to Live United and celebrate Juneteenth this year: 1. Learn more about the history of Juneteenth (virtual) The history of Juneteenth is something that is not often taught in schools. Take some time to learn more about the significance of this day. Here’s an informative article from VOX, a list of books for people of all ages, and a short video from History.  2. Attend “Juneteenth 2021: Stay Black and Live Vol.2” (in-person and virtual) This city-wide Juneteenth festival is presented by Six Square, CarverMuseumATX, and the Black Austin Coalition, in partnership with Jump On It, the Austin Area Urban League, Austin Justice Coalition, and the Greater East Austin Youth Association. This day-long celebration kicks off with a parade at 10 am and ends at 9 pm with a fireworks display. 3. Take a self-guided tour through […]

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