Author: Jene Shepherd

$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.  We believe active participation in policy is critical, not just to further the impact of our work, but to create lasting systemic change. 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 our coalition partners. 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. We are so thankful to the City and County officials for their investment in systemic change that will create more […]

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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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Community Partner Spotlight: Austin Asian Community Health Initiative

The Austin Asian Community Health Initiative (AACHI) partners with the local Asian community to enhance public health and well-being through advocacy, language-specific education, and healthcare navigation services. Successful and equitable deployment of the COVID-19 vaccine is the most hopeful path to getting our community closer to herd immunity. However, we know that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) communities, those with low-income, or people who live in rural areas face systemic barriers to vaccine access and have higher rates of vaccine hesitancy.   That’s why United Way for Greater Austin, in partnership with St. David’s Foundation and Austin Community Foundation, recently awarded $415,000 in grants to 19 local organizations to address these inequities and increase COVID-19 vaccination rates in our community. The Austin Asian Community Health Initiative (AACHI) is one of those organizations doing incredible work in our community. Learn from AACHI Program Manager Lucy Nguyen about the specific barriers to vaccine access facing the local Asian and Asian American community, and how AACHI is helping mitigate those barriers and decreasing vaccine hesitancy.  What are some of the systemic barriers to COVID-19 vaccine access that the Austin Asian and Asian American community is facing?  Language access is the biggest barrier in Asian communities with high limited English proficiency in accessing vaccine locations, scheduling vaccination appointments, and understanding the risks of the vaccine. A majority of local vaccination locations only accommodate English speakers. What are some of the leading factors that promote vaccine hesitancy among some in this community?  Earlier this year, […]

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5 Ways to Celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month — a time to acknowledge the accomplishments and contributions of the AAPI community. Looking for opportunities to celebrate? Here are 5 ways to learn more about the richness of and diversity in AAPI culture, amplify AAPI voices, and support our AAPI neighbors.  1. View one of the many virtual galleries offered by Austin’s Asian American Resource Center  The Asian American Resource Center’s (AARC) vision is to empower Austin’s diverse communities through cultural understanding and life-enhancing opportunities. While they’re currently closed to the public, the AARC is offering digital programming including an opportunity to view numerous beautifully inspiring virtual galleries of artwork by local AAPI artists. Check it out >  2. Watch “Asian Americans” and explore 150 years of Asian American history This must-see, five-part documentary series chronicles the history and accomplishments of Asian Americans over the past 150 years, while highlighting the role the community has played in shaping America as we know it. Watch for free on PBS > 3. Support local, Asian-owned businesses The Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce is encouraging the community to support our AAPI neighbors through patronizing Asian-owned businesses. For many, these businesses serve as community gathering spaces and cultural hubs. Check out this list of local Asian-owned businesses to visit > 4. Check out Leadership Austin’s Engage Series – Asian Representation: Quality of Life in Central Texas The AAPI community is one of the fastest growing in Austin. Join Leadership Austin as they […]

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Meet Laura Hernandez Holmes: Fighting to build an Austin that works for 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. Laura Hernandez Holmes is a strong believer that Greater Austin should be a community that works for everyone. And as Women United Co-Chair and a long-time supporter of United Way for Greater Austin, she is doing just that. Learn more about why she joined United Way’s fight against poverty.  Why does United Way for Greater Austin’s mission to fight poverty resonate with you personally?  United Way’s mission to fight poverty resonates with me personally, because the rising cost of housing, child care, transportation, and all that it takes to raise a family in Austin continues to grow every day. United Way is a pivotal partner in the fight against poverty and combating these rising costs for local families. How can we build a better Austin that works for everyone? We can build a better Austin that works for everyone by ensuring everyone has a seat at the table when addressing and combating our community’s growing challenges.   What is your favorite part about being a member (and the co-chair!) of Women United? My favorite part about being a member of Women United is the opportunity to meet and work with so many diverse women from all walks of life — women who are passionate about making Austin a better place for everyone. We all have different stories and different reasons for […]

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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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