Author: Jenan Taha

Meet Susan: 2-1-1 Navigation Specialist and community champion

National 2-1-1 Day, celebrated on February 11, recognizes the more than 200 2-1-1 helplines located across the country.  For the past 20 years, United Way for Greater Austin’s 2-1-1 helpline has connected thousands of Central Texans to local, statewide, and national resources such as housing, food, health, child care, education, employment, transportation, counseling, disaster information, and more. This year, we are celebrating 2-1-1 Day by recognizing our compassionate Navigation Specialists, who power this service and work around the clock to answer the call for members of our community. Just last year, our 2-1-1 Navigation Specialists answered 157,514 calls for help in our region. One of these specialists is Susan Martinez. She began working at United Way last year because she believes everyone in our community deserves to have their basic needs met.  “There’s a real disparity in wealth here that’s getting bigger and bigger,” Susan said. “We all have to do what we can to close that gap. I feel like it’s our duty as humans to help out and do our part, however small that may be.” Read more about why and how Susan answers the call day in, day out to support fellow Texans – and how each and every call advances our mission to fight poverty. What brought you to United Way? I’ve always been involved in some sort of volunteer work in nonprofits since my 20’s. I liked that the mission of United Way is to end poverty because it’s such a huge problem all over […]

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United Way Launches Model Community Initiative for Greater Austin Area

Zip code shouldn’t determine what opportunities are available to families, such as jobs, grocery stores, child care, schools, and safe housing–but in our current reality, it does. To support more equitable access to social services for everyone, we are launching a Model Community initiative, a person-centered framework that brings together various agencies, community clinics, and education institutions to offer more holistic delivery of social services. Funded by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Episcopal Health Foundation, and St. David’s Foundation, Model Community allows service providers–from health clinics to schools and community-based organizations–to develop a comprehensive view of an individual’s needs, in an effort to coordinate cross-organizational support to improve their quality of life outcomes. Research from the World Health Organization shows that social determinants of health–the non-medical factors and systems that shape one’s quality of life–can have a significant impact on health outcomes. Determinants such as access to education, housing, and healthcare account for between 30-55% of health outcomes. “Our goal is to bring together partners from all sectors including policy makers, health care entities, those with lived experience, funders, grassroots advocates, and community-based organizations to create a more efficient, proactive, human-centered path to connect individuals to social services and therefore improve overall health in the the Greater Austin area,” said Stephanie Cerda, Director of Model Community at United Way. “This work must be informed, led, and owned by the community.” As part of the initiative, our ConnectATX platform currently serves as one of the public-facing access points for the Model […]

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United Way partners provide children’s vaccines in Greater Austin

When the CDC first recommended the COVID-19 vaccine for children aged five to 11 in early November, United Way for Greater Austin jumped into action alongside eight of our community partners to provide children’s vaccines in Austin and the Central Texas region. To date, we have vaccinated over 3,000 children, and will continue our efforts through June 2022. Since Spring 2021, United Way has partnered with St. David’s Foundation and Austin Community Foundation to support 19 community-based organizations with funding to address COVID-19 vaccine confidence and equitable access among people with low income, Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), and other groups that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Now, eight of our partners in 2022—including VaxTogetherAustin, Eikon Church, Where We Thrive, Central Texas Allied Health, Latino Health Care Forum, Del Valle Community Coalition, Hays Latinos United, and COVAC Ops—are focused on providing children’s vaccines in Austin through pediatric clinics by partnering with school districts across Travis, Williamson, Bastrop, Caldwell, and Hays counties. Our partners have worked tirelessly to provide the best children’s vaccination experience for families, with strategies like VaxTogetherAustin’s onsite therapy dogs to help kids stay calm. We know that successful and equitable deployment of the COVID-19 vaccine is the most hopeful path to economic recovery, educational re-engagement, and re-emergence of cultural life.  Here are three ways YOU can help advance vaccine equity: Talk to your children and loved ones about the vaccine Share resources such as vaccine clinics in your area and transportation support for […]

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United Way for Greater Austin and United Way of Williamson County Join Forces

United Way for Greater Austin and United Way of Williamson County, who combined serve 10 counties in the Central Texas region, have joined forces! David C. Smith, CEO of United Way for Greater Austin, will serve as CEO of the newly merged organization. The expanded organization will be named United Way for Greater Austin, with a mission to “bring people, ideas, and resources together to fight poverty in our community.” “As the Austin metro area grows, the boundaries between Travis and Williamson counties continue to blend; many people work in one and live in the other,” said David C. Smith, CEO of United Way for Greater Austin. “For our communities biggest challenges, more and more people are finding regional solutions optimal. This merger will help us better and more efficiently serve our regional community, while expanding and deepening our impact for our neighbors who are working hard but still struggling to make ends meet. Together, we can do more.” The merged organization offers services that: Ensure families with young children are financially stable Provide quality early learning opportunities for children and students Connect people to resources for food, health, housing, transportation, and more This merger will allow for programs across our region to be upgraded, updated, and strengthened. “Integrating the services and expertise of our two organizations will help us better and more efficiently serve our community, both in Williamson County and the region,” said Jodee O’Brien, former CEO of United Way of Williamson County. “This is an exciting growth […]

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Free December holiday meals and events in Greater Austin

Every holiday season, United Way’s Navigation Center helps local families access free or low-cost meals and holiday events across the Greater Austin area. To make it easy for community members to find these seasonal events, we’ve compiled a calendar of meals and celebrations happening throughout the month of December.  From drive-thru light trails and gift giveaways for kids, to holiday festivities with Santa Claus, each event is open to the public. Check it out below! Know someone looking for assistance with food, transportation, housing, or other resources? Tell them to give us a call at 2-1-1 to get connected to help in our community. 2-1-1 is free and available 24/7.

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Ten Free Thanksgiving Meals in Greater Austin

Each year, United Way’s Navigation Center sees a spike in calls during November and December, many from people looking for a warm meal for the holidays. To help our Central Texas community find these resources, we’ve created a calendar of free Thanksgiving meal distributions happening throughout the month. These meals are open to the public on a first come, first serve basis. This year’s events include dine-in and drive-thru Thanksgiving meals, packaged food distributions to help people prepare a Thanksgiving meal at home, and more.  For more than 25 years, United Way for Greater Austin’s Navigation Center has helped people navigate the complex system of health and human services in Central Texas. Anyone can contact the Navigation Center by dialing 2-1-1. Know someone looking for assistance? Tell them to give us a call to get connected to resources in our community.

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Greater Austin Reading Coalition hosts book fair for kids in Austin

Last month, dozens of elementary school students in Austin lined up to receive books at the Greater Austin Reading Coalition’s second book fair, giving  local children access to diverse stories they can see themselves in. Thanks to a donation of over 1,000 books, 100 breakfast bags, and fitness equipment from KPMG, the coalition partnered with the Extend-A-Care YMCA program to host a book fair for the community, distributing these gifts to 32 students in Austin. Kids at the after-school event picked out four to five books featuring a range of characters and stories written in both English and Spanish, and participated in reading circles led by three KPMG volunteers. “To see the delight on the children’s faces as they select their books, and to hear the conversations that they have with their peers about what the books might be about warms my heart,” said Michelle Hutson-Crawford, Director of K-12 Education at United Way for Greater Austin. “In this heavily saturated digital and social world, it’s good to know that books are still winning in 2021! We hope this act of kindness and community engagement inspires others to step forward in partnership with the Greater Austin Reading Coalition.” Only three in 10 kids from low-income households are reading on grade level by 4th grade, a crucial point in children’s development that can impact their future academic and career outcomes. The Greater Austin Reading Coalition, convened by United Way, is working to change that by giving children access to culturally relevant books […]

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Emerging Leaders member Jose Lopez: “I Live United because I want to make a difference.”

After serving as a loaned executive for United Way’s biggest employee giving campaign two years in a row, H-E-B manager Jose Lopez joined our Emerging Leaders donor network to stay involved in the Austin community and be an advocate for United Way’s mission of fighting poverty. During his time with United Way thus far, Jose has led dozens of H-E-B store campaigns with more than 20,000 people and raised over $1 million for the Greater Austin community each year. Jose says he wants to help make his Austin community a more equitable place for everyone. As a member of Emerging Leaders, he aims to learn more about issues facing local communities and get involved in delivering impactful solutions. Watch more about Jose’s work and read the full story in his own words below. Why did you join Emerging Leaders?  I joined because I want to make a difference. A lot of the work being done [at United Way] personally resonates with me. Growing up with a single mom raising six boys, it was always a struggle. It was definitely a path that taught me a lot in life. But I don’t think everyone should have to go through that. It’s much better to help and connect folks to resources and put them on a better path.  Seeing the work that gets done with nonprofits has always been intriguing. I want to see what happens behind the scenes and not just that but how I can make a difference. So Emerging […]

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Expanding Opportunity for Young Families helps parenting students advance their careers

Meet Katie Gonzalez, a parent of six young kids. As one of 34 parents in our Expanding Opportunities for Young Families pilot program, Katie recently earned a phlebotomy certificate from Austin Community College, advancing her career opportunities while also receiving access to vital wrap-around services for her family. Expanding Opportunity for Young Families (EOYF) is a collaborative community program coordinated by United Way for Greater Austin that helps parents overcome barriers to completing their degree, such as challenges finding child care and financial pressures. The program, which takes a 2-Gen approach of serving parents and children simultaneously, works to increase young parents’ successful academic enrollment and completion so they can access middle-skill jobs.  The goal of the program is to increase the financial stability of young parents age 18-29 while improving the well-being of their children. Together with local community partner organizations, young parents from our Link Up Austin group are co-leaders of this work to advance the well-being and economic mobility of their families and the community. Katie says participating in the program allowed her to support herself financially while studying to achieve her dream role as a phlebotomist. “It’s a good opportunity for a lot of families,” she said. “Especially those who are in need and are wanting to go back to school and get educated, so they can have a career for themselves, their kids and their families.” How it works United Way partners with Workforce Solutions (WFS) Capital Area, Central Texas Allied Health Institute (CTAHI), Skillpoint […]

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