Author: Jene Shepherd

Early Matters Greater Austin advocacy win: Paid parental leave in Travis County

On May 3, the Travis County Commissioners Court unanimously voted to offer Travis County employees eight weeks of paid parental leave! The resolution was sponsored by Travis County Judge Andy Brown and Precinct 1 Travis County Commissioner Jeffrey Travillion, and advocated for by the Early Matters Greater Austin Steering Committee.  Powered by United Way for Greater Austin and E3 Alliance, Early Matters Greater Austin (EMGA) is an alliance of current and retired business professionals focused on the critical relationship between access to high-quality early education and our State’s long-term economic success. A significant aspect of the group’s work — known as Best Place for Working Parents® — is advocating for family-friendly workplace practices that are research proven to benefit families and have a positive impact on a businesses’ profitability. The EMGA Steering Committee’s advocacy for Travis County expanding family-friendly policies for their 5,000+ employees, is an example of that work.  After the unanimous vote to implement paid parental leave, EMGA Steering Committee member Tom Hedrick spoke about the positive impact family-friendly policies have on families, businesses, and our larger economy.  Travis County is proving family-friendly is business-friendly  While family-friendly policies have a direct impact on working parents, local and national research proves that there is also a serious business case to being family-friendly: 83% of millennials would leave one job for another with stronger family-friendly supports Replacing an employee costs an employer six to nine months of that employee’s salary Over 60% of working parents said child care issues have […]

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A “Rawr-some” Literacy Night with the Greater Austin Reading Coalition

On April 28, more than 200 children and families gathered for the Greater Austin Reading Coalition’s first-ever Family Literacy Night at Sanchez Elementary School with coalition member Communities in Schools. Hosting family literacy nights and distributing culturally-relevant books are critical parts of the coalition’s work to ensure that all children are reading on grade level by the fourth grade.  At the literacy night, students had a blast getting their faces painted, picking out a book to take home, listening to a monster-themed storytime, and letting out their best monster roar! At the end of the event, they received a backpack filled with school supplies courtesy of Deloitte. Additionally, parents and caretakers were provided with resources to support their child(ren)’s reading development, including our new Guilt-Free Reading Calendar. It was a “rawr-some” night!    Special thanks to Communities in Schools, Deloitte, Sanchez Elementary, and the coalition’s Parent-Caretaker Working Group for making this literacy night a huge success. We can’t wait for the next one!   The Greater Austin Reading Coalition is convened by United Way as part of our collective impact work to fight poverty. Since launching in January 2021, the coalition has gotten 50,000 books (and counting!) into the hands of young readers. You can follow the coalition’s journey here. 

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10 age-appropriate books for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (and every month!)

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage (AAPI) Month, the Greater Austin Reading Coalition and Success By Six Coalition are excited to share 10 age-appropriate, children’s books that reflect the rich diversity of AAPI culture. These coalitions — convened by United Way for Greater Austin — work hard to make sure that all local children and families have access to books, especially books that illustrate the diversity of our community and that children can see themselves, their families, and their culture depicted in.  Many of the books listed below are available to check out at your local library or in audio form on YouTube!  Five books for babies to toddlers (ages 0-4) “Hot Pot Night!” by Vincent Chen  “I am Golden” by Eva Chen, Illustrated by Sophie Diao “Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao” by Kat Zhang, Illustrated by Charlene Chua  “My First Chinese New Year” by Karen Katz “Moana” by Disney Five books for young readers (ages 5-9)  “The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family” by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K. Ali, Illustrated by Hatem Aly  “The Most Beautiful Thing” by Kao Kalia Yang, Illustrated by Khoa Le “Asian-Americans Who Inspire Us” by Analiza Quiroz Wolf with Michael Franco “Eyes that Kiss in the Corners” by Joanna Ho, Illustrated by Dung Ho “Ohana Means Family” by Ilima Loomis, Illustrated by Kenard Pak Ensuring that all kids are happy, healthy, and ready to succeed in school and beyond is critical to breaking the cycle of poverty in […]

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A Night United 2022: A celebration of our community’s collective resilience

Thank you to everyone who attended our fourth annual “A Night United” event! A sold-out crowd of over 300 people came out to advance our mission to fight poverty and make a difference in the lives of local children and families. It was a magical evening filled with community, celebration, and togetherness.   The past two years have called on our entire community to be more resilient than ever, and it was truly a pleasure to be with all of you to reflect and honor that collective resilience. Thank you for making this “A Night United” the most successful one yet! Every dollar raised will help families break the cycle of poverty and thrive.  Special thanks to our amazing co-chairs Yvette Ruiz & Ken Krumhansl and Sarah & Joseph Schick; Board Chair Malini Rajput; Mayor Steve Adler; Presenting Sponsor Texas Mutual Insurance Company; Uniting Level Sponsors ABC Home & Commercial Services, Deloitte, Independence Title, and Judy & Patrick Cantilo; Convening and Partner Sponsors; and all of our table hosts.  As CEO David C. Smith said, “Poverty is unjust, it’s cruel, and is the result of inequitable systems. Far too many of us are making hard decisions no family should have to make: ‘Do I pay my rent, or get my car fixed so I can get to work?’ Thanks to your support, together we are proving what is possible to ensure families can thrive long term!” Our collective generosity, love, and compassion will transform the inequitable systems that prevent our beloved […]

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Parents are Powerful: Meet Jennifer Dungey

Welcome to our blog series all about shining a spotlight on the incredible ways that parents are using their voices to build a better, brighter future for local kids in partnership with United Way for Greater Austin. Make sure you catch up on our previous installments to meet some truly inspiring parents! Meet Jennifer Dungey. In addition to being a working mom of two, ages 9 and 12, Jennifer is involved in numerous community-based organizations, including serving as a member of the Greater Austin Reading Coalition’s Parent Advisory Committee — a coalition convened by United Way. The thread that ties all of her work together is her passion for ensuring everyone in our community has the resources that they need to thrive, especially moms and their children!  Check out what Jennifer had to say about ways parents and caregivers can incorporate more reading time into their busy schedules!    How did you get involved with the Greater Austin Reading Coalition’s Parent Advisory Committee?  I first heard about it via social media! I help administer a Facebook Group called Black Austin Mamas, and one of the moms brought up that there was a reading coalition parents’ group that was looking for members.  Advocacy and representation are incredibly important to me! I really wanted to take a front seat in my daughter’s reading and advocate for her and other children. I’m always advocating for my daughter to read more, so I wanted to get more involved in this.  Why do you believe […]

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10 age-appropriate books for Black History Month (and every month!)

Did you know that having at least 20 age-appropriate books in the home can improve a child’s educational success? The Greater Austin Reading Coalition and Success By Six Coalition – convened by United Way for Greater Austin – work to make sure that all local children and families have access to books, especially books that illustrate the diversity of our community and that children can see themselves, their families, and their culture depicted in.  In honor of Black History Month, here are 10 age-appropriate books that reflect the Black experience, share stories about historical figures, and promote inclusivity. Many of these titles are available to check out at your local library or in audio form on YouTube. Looking for book recommendations for adults? Check out this list!  Five board books for babies to toddlers (ages 0-4) Baby Young, Gifted, and Black” by Jamia Wilson and Andrea Pippins “Dream Big, Little One” by Vashati Harrison “I Am Smart, I Am Blessed, I Can Do Anything!” by Alissa Holder and Zulekha Holder-Young; Illustrated by Nneka Myers “Please, Baby, Please” by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee; Illustrated by Kadir Nelson “B is for Baby” by Atinuke; Illustrated by Angela Brooksbank Five books for young readers (ages 5-9)  “The ABCs of Black History” by Rio Cortez; Illustrated by Lauren Semmer  “Little Leaders: Bold Black Women in History” by Vashti Harrison “Hair Love” by Matthew A. Cherry; Illustrated by Vashti Harrison “Equality’s Call: The Story of Voting Rights in America” by Deborah Diesen; Illustrated […]

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History of United Way of Williamson County

In January 2022, United Way of Williamson County joined forces with United Way for Greater Austin. The two organizations merged, to expand and deepen our impact in the Austin metro area. 125 Years of United Way In 1887, a Denver woman, a priest, two ministers and a rabbi recognized the need for cooperative action to address their city’s welfare problems. Frances Wisebart Jacobs, the Rev. Myron W. Reed, Msgr. William J. O’Ryan, Dean H. Martyn Hart, and Rabbi William S. Friedman put their heads together to plan the first united campaign for ten health and welfare agencies. They created an organization to serve as an agent to collect funds for local charities, as well as to coordinate relief services, counsel and refer clients to cooperating agencies, and make emergency assistance grants in cases which could not be referred.  That year, Denver raised $21,700 and created a movement that would spread throughout the country to become the United Way. More than 125 years later, United Way is still focused on mobilizing the caring power of communities and making a difference in people’s lives. Read more… The United Way Movement in Williamson County By 1948, there were over 1,000 communities  – Taylor and Georgetown included – that had established United Way organizations commonly known as Community Chests. Taylor was one of the first in the state of Texas to join the movement by establishing the Taylor Community Chest in 1939. In 1962, Round Rock created the United Fund to help area residents in […]

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Partnering with child care centers to make a real difference for local children and families

Here at United Way for Greater Austin, we believe that every child deserves a strong foundation for success. That’s why we run programs like Pre-K Partnerships with Austin ISD.  Through this partnership, we work with child care centers across Greater Austin to expand access to high-quality, full-day pre-K for children ages 3 and 4. Success in life begins with a quality education, but less than 50% of children in Travis County are ready for Kindergarten. Our youngest years are the most active period for brain development, a crucial time to lay a firm foundation for all future growth. That’s why this partnership ensures children get a strong start in life and are ready to succeed in Kindergarten and beyond.  We currently partner with 13 child development centers that are 3- and 4-star Texas Rising Star certified, to deliver high-quality pre-K and provide those centers with resources to help improve and sustain quality services for children. One of those child care centers is Angels Care and Learning Center.  Angels Care and Learning Center is a 4-Star Texas Rising Star certified center opened by Navy veteran Chuck Cohn in 2017. A bilingual center that serves children from varied socio-economic backgrounds in South Austin, they joined the Pre-K Partnerships program at the beginning of 2020.  As part of the program, Angels Care and Learning Center received funding which allowed them to hire an additional teacher with higher qualifications. However, Chuck quickly realized that partnering with United Way with more than just financial support.  […]

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The Greater Austin Reading Coalition: First year, big impact!

Earlier this year, we announced our expansion beyond early childhood education and into the K-12 space, with an initial focus on bringing together a diverse coalition of literacy advocates to increase the number of children reading on grade level by the 4th grade — a pivotal point in a child’s reading development. Convened by United Way for Greater Austin as part of our collective impact work to fight poverty, the Greater Austin Reading Coalition has been hard at work over the past year and has already made a huge impact in the lives of local children. 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 what” and “the how.” Throughout 2021, what work has the Greater Austin Reading Coalition engaged in, and how is it impacting local children?  In addition to building a strategic plan and laying the foundation for the coalition’s future work, we have been hard at work distributing culturally-relevant books. Just this year, together with our partners, we have gotten more than 50,000 books into the hands of young readers!  It’s important that children have access to books. Not only do they expand a child’s world, but are critical tools in […]

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Black Pearl Books and the Greater Austin Reading Coalition: Getting culturally-relevant books in the hands of young readers

The current reality in our community is that only three in 10 children from families with low income pass their 3rd grade reading STAAR test.  Here at United Way for Greater Austin, we believe that reading is a crucial, foundational skill. That’s why we lead a local movement — the Greater Austin Reading Coalition — to ensure that ALL children are reading on grade level by the 4th grade, which is a pivotal point in a child’s reading development.  Launched in 2021, the Greater Austin Reading Coalition is a diverse group of nonprofit and community leaders, librarians, teachers, and parents. The coalition is convened by United Way as part of our collective impact work to fight poverty. In just our first year, together with our coalition members, we have gotten more than 50,000 books in the hands of young readers across our community! One member that has been instrumental in making this possible is Black Pearl Books. Owned and operated by Katrina Brooks, Black Pearl Books is an indie, Black-owned bookstore in Austin with a mission to promote diversity, inclusion, equality, cultural awareness, and community through literature. This mission is what drove Katrina to join the Greater Austin Reading Coalition, as one of the coalition’s goals is to increase access to culturally-relevant books for children. “Having culturally-relevant books available to children is a necessity to get them to read on grade level.”  – Katrina Brooks  Culturally-relevant books are titles that illustrate the beautiful diversity of our community. It’s important for […]

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