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Vacationing on a Budget

Whether you have toddlers or teens, cabin fever may be starting to set with week two of the kids being at home for the summer. Taking the family to Disney or somewhere in the Caribbean is not something everyone can afford, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a vacation. Texas has various getaways that are family-friendly, low-cost and enjoyable! It is possible to plan a quality summer vacation without breaking your budget. Interested in soaking up the sun on a beach? Or maybe you find joy in taking a scenic hike outdoors? Below is a list of affordable vacation hot spots that can work for weeklong trips or a day trip to encourage family bonding: Marfa, Texas Prices vary This west Texas town is quickly becoming a popular vacation spot for people all over the country! Since the 9th century ranchers, apache Native Americans and famous meteorologists have reported seeing the famous Marfa lights. These lights dance across the horizon of this town in hues of red, blue and white year round! Bringing the kids?You can camp for as little as $22 per night. If you have a bit more wiggle room, stay at the Thunderbird Hotel (rooms for around $160 per night) or get real groovy and opt to sleep in a yurt or tent at El Cosmico, where sleeping accommodations vary from $85 to $175. Galveston, Texas Free and up Looking for some fun in the sun? Visit the island of Galveston if you are looking to get some beach […]

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Guest Post: “Aspiring to Lead. Committed to Give Back.”

Heather Brunner has served on the UWATX Board of Directors for seven years, and as a volunteer for seventeen years. As she wraps up her final year on our board, she reflects on her time with United Way. “During my school years and at college, I was always a very active community volunteer. After college as a young professional, I was a road warrior, working long hours and was relentlessly focused on building my career–but something was missing. I wasn’t giving back to the welcoming Austin community that gave me such incredible career opportunity. In the summer of 1999, I saw an ad in the Austin American-Statesman with a call for volunteers from the United Way. I was familiar with United Way from employee giving campaigns at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) and from Donna Van Fleet, a United Way board member and Business Unit Executive at IBM that I admired. So I decided to answer the call. Today, seventeen years later as I end my final Board of Directors term, I can say that serving United Way for Greater Austin has been one of the highest privileges and proudest accomplishments of my life. In those seventeen years, I’ve seen the organization change dramatically from a mostly fundraising “pass through” mechanism to local nonprofits, to a strategic catalyst and thought leader driving positive change for the working poor and their families. Twenty-five percent of our Greater Austin community is living on the edge of poverty and in need of a helping hand […]

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UWATX Partners with Colin’s Hope to Promote Water Safety

Colin’s Hope is an organization that educates families and children about water safety in efforts to prevent children from drowning. This work is especially important during summer, when pools and water parks are filled with kids. United Way for Greater Austin partnered with Colin’s Hope to distribute water safety cards to more than 3,200 families. Laura Olson of UWATX’s Success By 6 program also connected Colin’s Hope with early childhood organizations that primarily serve families with children under the age of 5 to expand the reach of the messaging. In addition to distributing water safety cards, United Way for Greater Austin provided support by: Identifying partners that could distribute the Colin’s Hope Water Safety Quiz to families with young children Connecting Colin’s Hope to partners that would assist in sharing water safety awareness information, including Child’s Inc., KLRU, the Literacy Coalition and the AISD Early Childhood program Offered to recruit volunteers to aid in distribution of water safety cards via Hands On Central Texas Will assist in any future Spanish translations of Colin’s Hope material Developing a next level of outreach and education for summer camp providers/staff in low-income communities Will create a 2017 outreach plan with Colin’s Hope to educate even more families next year We are proud to partner with Colin’s Hope to keep Austin’s children safe this summer!

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Atlassian In-Kind Donations Boost UWATX Efficiency

Giving back to a nonprofit doesn’t always mean donating money or volunteering. We are grateful to the many companies who offer us in-kind product or service donations that help us run smoother internally, put on events or simply function better day-to-day. For the past couple of years, Atlassian has greatly supported United Way for Greater Austin in a very behind-the-scenes way in addition to volunteer projects, such as sponsoring a family during the holidays. Atlassian is a team collaboration software company that helps teams organize, discuss and complete shared work. Last year, Atlassian donated one of its products, Hipchat, to the UWATX office. Hipchat is a team chat service that allows our staff to share files, ask quick questions, video chat when we are working outside the office and—do not underestimate the importance of this—share gifs with each other. This was a HUGE upgrade for our staff, who formerly relied on either emails or poking our heads into each others offices to ask questions. Since the implementation of Hipchat, it has been much easier for UWATX staff to communicate quickly without interrupting each other and spend our time more productively. This year, Atlassian gave us an even bigger gift: Confluence. Confluence is an amazing team content and collaboration platform that provides an intranet for United Way for Greater Austin. We now have all of the information an employee could possibly want to know about UWATX all in one place. It helps us better manage projects, allows others to see what […]

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YLS Members Volunteer at Webb Middle School Prom

On the eve before the last day of school, a group of dedicated UWATX Young Leaders Society members volunteered at Webb Middle School ‘prom,’ allowing teachers to take a small break from a very hectic week. The Webb prom is held to honor 8th grade students graduating from middle school. YLS members were excited to help celebrate the student’s hard work and academic achievements at this special event. Members helped set up red carpets, prepared tables and hung decorations from the walls of the gymnasium. Once the gym was prepped, YLS members stuck around and chaperoned the dance as the students danced the night away. YLS members had the opportunity to interact with Webb faculty and staff and some of the students they had volunteered with throughout the year. We asked two YLS members about their experiences volunteering at the Webb prom.   How long have you been involved with the Young Leaders Society? John Fahy: I have been involved with YLS for about three years now. I was one of the first community ambassadors for Kerbey Lane Cafe; Kerbey introduced me to YLS and gave me opportunities to pursue my passion for philanthropy. Ward Hoffman: I have been involved with YLS somewhere between two to three years. What was your favorite part of volunteering at the dance? John Fahy: My favorite part of volunteering at the dance was knowing how much we were helping the teachers and other staff members. It was the last week of school and they had so […]

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Kerbey Lane Café Makes Huge Community Impact

Pancakes and queso are only some of the few great things that come from the delicious Austin landmark, Kerbey Lane Cafe! Kerbey Lane makes giving back to the community a top priority. Through their 36 years of operating, they have supported the Austin community by contributing their time, resources and energy to local organizations. Kerbey Lane Cafe emphasizes the importance of philanthropy by supporting UWATX by running employee giving campaigns at each location and volunteering year-round at different events, such as our Spring Day of Caring and Fall Day of Caring and one-off projects like beautifying Webb Middle School and childcare centers. Kerbey Lane CEO, Mason Ayer is also a devoted UWATX Board Member who exemplifies giving from the top down is what makes a campaign successful. On May 5th, Kerbey Lane Cafe celebrated their 36th anniversary by generously donating 100 percent of their profits from all seven restaurants to UWATX. Yesterday, Kerbey Lane team members and CEO Mason Ayer, who also serves on the UWATX Board of Directors, spent time volunteering at Webb Middle School’s field day. Volunteers painted signs for the talent show, assisted teachers with cleaning out rooms for the summer and even built a brand new shed to hold supplies for the school’s garden. They also took the opportunity to present a check for $50,037 to UWATX CEO, David C. Smith. The check was made up from donations collected from Kerbey Lane’s employee giving campaign as well as the profits from their 36th anniversary gift. A few years ago, Kerbey Lane […]

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Summer Learning Activities for Preschool-Aged Children

Wondering what to do with your young child at home all summer? We’ve compiled a list of fun AND educational activities you can do for free or very cheaply with your toddler or preschool-aged child this summer that will improve their math, reading and motor skills. Visit a farmer’s market The plethora of fruits and vegetables at markets are great learning tools. Children can learn colors and work on math skills by counting the fruit they help you pick out. Find a farmer’s market near you. Open a lemonade stand Make lemonade with your child and let them help you measure and count the ingredients. Help them count the money they receive from customers. Bonus points if you teach them about the importance of giving back by donating their profits to a local charity! Go on a nature walk Create an adventure in your backyard, neighborhood park or the greenbelt. Point out the different kinds of trees, plant and insect life you find with your child. Put on a puppet show This project will spark creativity. Read an age-appropriate book with your child. Then, using paper lunch bags, pipe cleaners, markers and other craft items, create puppets of the main characters and act out the story you just read together. At-home Olympics To get your child excited about the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, host a competition of your own. Count together to see how many times your child can jump over a jumprope or make a rotation with a […]

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Recognizing Excellence in Corporate Philanthropy: 2015 Campaign Awards

At United Way for Greater Austin, we run more than 200 employee campaigns in nearly 700 locations in the Austin area. Employee campaigns provide an opportunity for businesses to empower employees to be philanthropists by donating a portion of each paycheck back to the community. Last night, we celebrated and recognized companies who excelled in building philanthropy in our community at our 2015 Employee Campaign Awards. Award winners: Best Practices: Superior Health and Texas Gas This award recognizes the company that implements UWATX’s best campaign practices, which include Senior Officer involvement, access to employees and use of UWATX campaign materials among several others. This year we had two winners for this award. Superior Health kept their campaign at one week to give a sense of urgency; they also planned a week of fun, educational experiences for their employees encouraging them to give. Texas Gas established multiple opportunities for UWATX staff to come and speak to their employees about our work, as well as ran a closed campaign where employee donations were matched 1:1 by their foundation. Community Investment Award: H-E-B The Community Investment Award represents a company or companies who exemplify what it really means to wrap arms around a community to make a significant impact. Anyone who shops at H-E-B realizes it’s not your normal grocery store. This year, H-E-B decided to increase corporate giving to match the generosity of their employees and UWATX experienced a 150% increase in corporate giving. They make philanthropy a part of their culture and host […]

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The Effects of Summer Learning Loss on Low-Income Students

Students and parents alike usually view summer as a time for well-deserved relaxation and a break from learning. However, this break from learning can have consequences that are detrimental to students during the following school year and beyond. More than half of the achievement gap between low- and med/high-income students is due to unequal access to high-quality summer learning opportunities. Low-income students often can’t afford the summer camps, intensive programming or worldly vacations that their more affluent peers attend, and often spend their summers watching TV or babysitting their siblings. Most students lose about two months of mathematical computation skills over the summer. Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement, while their mid/higher-income peers actually make slight gains. This achievement gap has more and more of an effect on students as they complete more schooling. These summer knowledge losses compound so greatly that it has even been identified as part of the reason that low-income kids are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college (SummerLearning.org). Not only do students lose knowledge, many also gain unhealthy amounts of weight during the summer due to a lack of balanced meals at home and lack of exercise they normally get from recess, organized sports or gym class. Students gain weight on average two to three times faster than they do during the school year (Edutopia.org). As you can see, it’s important in many aspects of a child’s life to have access during the summer to programs […]

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VPL Graduates Celebrate at Kerbey Lane Cafe

The UWATX Volunteer Project Leader (VPL) middle school program aims to transform youth into active community leaders by teaching them leadership skills they need to make lasting change in their communities. This week, 35 middle school VPL students from the three campuses we work on attended a celebration of their accomplishments at Kerbey Lane Cafe. They ordered pancakes and breakfast tacos from a special menu featuring a letter of encouragement and congratulations from Kerbey Lane’s CEO and UWATX Board Member, Mason Ayer. These students from Mendez, Webb and Decker Middle Schools completed 20 volunteer projects this year, ranging from making seed balls and beautifying their neighborhoods, to packing hygiene kits for the homeless and leading a craft station for refugee children. After breakfast, students received special certificates, t-shirts and journals to document their ideas on how to continue making Austin greater. As with any VPL meeting, the event concluded with a peer shoutout exercise we call “brag on your neighbor.” Students and volunteers recognized the contributions of each other that made this year both successful and fun. Below are some messages left by the students on a reflection board from the event: “Thank you for helping me help others”   “Thank you for showing me skills I didn’t know I had”   “Because of VPL, I know that I want to grow up to be a philanthropist”   Want to make a difference in the community? Visit HandsOnCentralTexas.org, the largest volunteer network in Central Texas, and find opportunities that interest you!

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