Blog

9 volunteers making Austin greater

As part of our 90-day celebration of UWATX’s 90th anniversary, we’re working on 10 lists of 9 highlighting influential and impactful people in the Austin community. In the seventh part of our series, we bring you nine volunteers changing Austin.  Austin is known for our volunteering spirit – nearly 30 percent of Austinites invest their time in making our community even better. We’re proud to work with thousands of these dedicated community members through our Hands On Central Texas program, Austin’s largest volunteer network. Approximately 1 in every 17 volunteers in Austin interacts with our program, so we thought we’d take a second to highlight a few of these truly outstanding volunteers.    1. Ryan Melendez, BB&T Ryan not only teaches families about banking and managing money in English and in Spanish, but also builds confidence in our families by showing their impact on the economy.  Ryan’s been a wonderful volunteer by teaching financial education and conducting outreach for UWATX’s Bank On Central Texas initiative.   2. Tom Wald, former Executive Director of Bike Austin Tom brought his cycling expertise to a group of Decker Middle School Volunteer Leaders who were passionate about securing a bike lane or sidewalk on the route to their campus. He helped the students understand safety laws and ultimately get in front of TXDOT to share their stories and letters of advocacy which helped to secure priority funding for a Decker sidewalk that will ensure a safe passage to and from school.   3. Jennifer Healy, Target Jennifer’s […]

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75+ students in Manor ISD are getting a quality summer program!

Today, we launched a two-year pilot initiative: a summer program at Decker Middle School designed to provide more than 75 low-income fifth, sixth and seventh grade students in Manor ISD with summer learning opportunities. The 7 week-long initiative includes: UWATX’s Hands On Central Texas —Austin’s largest volunteer network — will conduct weekly volunteer activities where staff lead on-campus volunteer projects aimed to introduce students to philanthropy at an early age and help them improve their own school. This builds on our success leading Volunteer Project Leader classes at Decker MS.  National Summer Learning Day on Friday, June 20, in which students will team up with UWATX’s Young Leader Society members to guide advocacy letter writing about the importance of summer and afterschool programs as part of a larger, nation-wide effort. Texas Association of Minorities in Engineering event on Tuesday, July 22 in which TAME’s “Trailblazer Bus”—the only interactive science and engineering museum-on-wheels in Texas—will be stationed at Decker Middle School to provide STEM-based activities for the students. Creative Action will offer film production classes where students will be able to produce a film based on a social issue they identify in their community. Additionally, Creative Action will offer an art visual program in which students will develop their skills as individual artists. Camp Fire will offer a leadership program aimed to build leadership skills and introduce participants to STEM-based professionals. We’ve been serving Decker Middle School for three years as part of Target Graduation, which focuses services on the critical middle school period […]

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Nine young professionals making Austin greater

As part of our 90-day celebration of UWATX’s 90th anniversary, we’re working on 10 lists of 9 highlighting influential and impactful people in the Austin community. In the sixth part of our series, we bring you nine young professionals changing Austin.  Austin’s a city of entrepreneurs, innovators and philanthropists – and we’re a great city for young professionals, so it was difficult to determine who to highlight with so many talented Austinites. We chose to focus on individuals who made an impact on our community with a commitment to what makes Austin unique AND philanthropic efforts.    1. Dan Graham Dan Graham is founder and CEO of BuildASign.com. Dan has been named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2013 Central Texas, a 2012 best CEO by the Austin Business Journal, and Austin Under 40’s 2012 Austinite of the Year. He is on the Board of Directors for United Way for Greater Austin, Caritas of Austin and the Austin Chamber of Commerce. He is a mentor through Capital Factory and Incubation Station.   2. Julie Fisher Julie Fisher is the Public Affairs and Community Relations Specialist at Samsung Austin Semiconductor. Julie is heavily involved with UWATX. She mentors students weekly, is an Employee Campaign Leader for Samsung’s Employee Campaign, and on the Young Leaders Society Founding Committee. Photo: UWATX photo of Julie volunteering at Decker Middle School.   3. Luke Martinez Luke Martinez is Senior Vice President; Process Design Consultant at Bank of America. Very involved with UWATX, Luke is […]

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Food needs increase, spread out in summer

Throughout the year, seasonal needs drive different types of calls to our Navigation Center, but summer is an especially difficult time for Austin residents. As utility bills increase and children are home for the summer, without the school-provided free or reduced lunch option, we see food needs rise –  Food need calls by month in 2013:  *SNAP calls not included in this chart to make it easier to see trends.    Last year, 63 percent of calls for summer food programs were in June, creating the spike above. These programs provide free meals to children during the summer. Most of the needs for food year-round are related to SNAP/food stamp assistance followed by food pantries, and we see an increase for food pantry needs over the summer as well.  The need for summer food programs is unusual in that it’s more spread out than others. Two of our top zip codes for summer food program needs last year were 78664 (Round Rock) and 78660 (Pflugerville), breaking the trend of need in general.   Concentration of calls in Central Texas:    Concentration of overall food needs in Central Texas:  As food continues to dominate our top needs overall and food pantries make our list of unmet needs most months, summer is a critical period where many of our friends and neighbors struggle even more. 

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“Working with a creative community to serve the Austin community”

We’ve been growing up alongside Austin for 90 years –  and what it means to struggle financially has changed drastically in that time. To tell that story, we teamed up with local creative forces Alex Hannaford, journalist, and Matt Rainwaters, photographer, to create “Struggle: The Other Faces of the Texas Economic Miracle” – a zine showcasing our friends and neighbors who challenge the expected narrative around the working poor. What made you interested in this project? “These are the people who work full-time, often two jobs, to put food on the table and pay their bills, but who still find themselves unable to sustain this.” Alex Hannaford, journalist Alex: I’ve written a fair bit about the marginalized in society – and so this was a natural fit. I also thought it was interesting that this project didn’t focus on the poorest members of society, but the ‘working poor’ – a segment of the population that is largely ignored. These are the people who work full-time, often two jobs, to put food on the table and pay their bills, but who still find themselves unable to sustain this. Matt: I was also interested in telling the story of the ‘working poor.’ Having just recently learned the joy of fatherhood, I also confronted the high cost of child care, how that affects your quality of life and so on – there was definitely an element of sympathy there. It also interested me because these are stories we don’t hear about poverty – […]

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Middle school students gave 865 hours to low-income neighborhoods

Today, we proudly celebrated the end of another successful school year by watching more than 40 local middle school students graduate from our Volunteer Project Leader (VPL) program. In the past year, these students completed 18 projects and gave 865 hours of service back to their own communities.  The VPL program was adapted from a national model that trains adults on how to lead and manage volunteer projects on their own time, helping transform casual volunteers into active community leaders. Since it launched, we’ve expanded the program to all three campuses served by our Target Graduation program – Mendez, Webb and Decker Middle School – bringing together UWATX’s volunteer management expertise with our efforts to help students stay on the path to graduation.  The program helps students become active in their own communities from a young age. The three schools that currently have the program all serve low-income areas, so students are paying back into a system of supports that they have benefitted from or improving neighborhoods where there are significant needs and barriers.  As part of the VPL program, students conduct community assessments to determine projects that could better their local community. Based on the responses they receive from the assessments, students devote their entire school year to these projects.  Last year at Decker Middle School, one of the key needs they identified was for a safer route to school, since the speed limit on Decker Lane was 50 mph. Students organized their classmates and the community – and received funding from the Texas Department of Transportation to build a […]

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Amy Hammond served our country – now she serves our community

With Memorial Day around the corner, we’ve been thinking a lot about the veterans we work with every day, especially the dedicated men and women who help motivate their fellow government workers to give back to our community.  One of these inspiring figures is Amy Hammond – a San Antonio native, who retired from the Air Force two years ago and currently works as part of the Veterans Benefits Administration. Last year, Amy learned about UWATX’s work, specifically the Navigation Center, and was so impressed, she chose to give back to support our efforts. In the following months, Amy has joined the local committee to help lead the Central Texas Combined Federal Campaign, the Employee Giving Campaign that provides federal employees with the opportunity to support their local communities through payroll deduction donations.    What motivated you to go into the Air Force? What are you most proud of in your Air Force career?  I was born into an Air Force family and I’m sure that had something to do with me following that path; however, at the time I joined the Air Force I was simply looking for a means to pay for my undergraduate degree.  The Air Force paid for four years of my college via a scholarship and then I paid the Air Force back by committing to four years of service.  Somewhere along the way, the Air Force became so much more to me, it became a calling to serve and I ended up staying for 25 years.  The things I’m most proud of in my career […]

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UWATX to host City of Austin Mayoral Candidate Debate!

 Austin’s upcoming November election is bound to be one for the history books – it’s the first test for Austin’s new single member districts and the first time since 2009 that a new and untested mayor of the City of Austin will be elected. With such an historic election coming up, we want you to hear from the candidates on the issues we work on every day: barriers to economic opportunity for Greater Austin residents.    Follow the Mayoral Debate live on Twitter:   Tweets by @uwatx When: Wednesday, September 3, 2014, at 4:30 p.m.  Where: Newly renovated and soon-to-reopen Alamo Drafthouse, located at 1120 S. Lamar Blvd., Austin, Texas. (and on Twitter via @uwatx and hashtag #uwatxdebate!) What:  City of Austin Mayoral Candidate Debate, focused on the barriers to economic opportunity for Greater Austin residents Catherine Morse, general counsel/director of public affairs at Samsung Austin Semiconductor and board chair elect for UWATX, will moderate the debate. To date, Steve Adler, Mike Martinez, Sheryl Cole, Todd Phelps and Randall Stephens have confirmed they’ll be participating.  In the Greater Austin area, nearly half of all families are struggling to make ends meet because of high costs for everyday expenses like child care, housing, transportation and so on. The challenge is even greater for Austin children, one in four of whom lives in poverty, and our data show that the needs continue to grow.  We’re also excited to announce our host committee for the event:  Becky Arreaga, founder and president of Mercury Mambo, and member of UWATX Board of Directors Andy […]

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Exciting: we’ve helped 1,500+ new moms get informed about child development!

Through our Success By 6 program, UWATX makes sure every child is ready for kindergarten. To realize that ambitious goal, we’re both working to improve child care services and also through parent education. Recently, we have focused increasingly on using leading-edge strategies to spread information about early childhood development to parents in the Austin community. Not only do we foster our own innovative programs like Play To Learn, which fosters school readiness at home, but by partnering with other pioneering services to make sure our community is taking advantage of everything that’s out there. One of these services is Text4baby. “Text4baby helped show me how to interact with my baby – playing with baby, reading with baby, making baby laugh. When I started seeing my baby do the things that I was told I should be seeing her do I felt relieved and happy! I really got so much out of the service.”  –April R. Austin mother and text4baby user Text4baby reaches parents as early as possible—during pregnancy. It’s a free text messaging service that provides timed and relevant information for pregnant women and new mothers on prenatal care, labor and delivery, breastfeeding, vaccination, immunization, and more. Critical brain development occurs during a child’s first few years of life—through these early interventions, we have an even better chance of making a more positive and profound impact on these children’s lives. Since our partnership began in 2012, we have seen a 78% enrollment increase for text4baby in Travis County – that means 1,578 moms have signed up for […]

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Recognizing the best in philanthropy: Employee Campaign Awards 2013

Thanks to almost 400 companies and their employees in the Austin community, UWATX’s vision for Austin is one step closer to becoming a reality.  Last night, we celebrated and recognized those companies who excelled in building philanthropy in our community. Overall awards Excellence in Corporate Philanthropy Awards Our Excellence in Corporate Philanthropy award is given to United Way for Greater Austin’s Top 3 campaigns, companies who make important investments with a commitment to making Austin Greater and where employees also give of their time, talent and treasure. Each of these companies implement United Way’s best practices, and do so in a way that represents “excellence” in all categories.  They represent the heart of philanthropy in Greater Austin and we are so honored to work with them everyday to lift up the working poor and ensure that every one of our community members has what they need to thrive. This year’s winners are H-E-B, 3M and Enterprise. Pictured, from left: Mark Hauerland and David Spencer, H-E-B, Russell Bridges, 3M, Eric Munoz and Nikki Mulvaney, Enterprise, and Bobby Jenkins, ABC Home & Commercial   Best Practices Award: Target The “Best Practices Award” recognizes the company that implements UWATX’s 3 Best Practices of engaging company leaders in Employee Campaign, providing opportunities for employees to learn about the impact of their gifts and experiencing community change through volunteer projects hosted by UWATX.  This year, our representatives were able to speak at every Target store and cover every employee shift to ensure that Target employees […]

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