Blog

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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One of the many teachers we appreciate

Since it’s National Teacher Day and Teacher Appreciation Week, we are saying a warm & heartfelt thank you to one of the many teachers that make our work possible and support Austin’s students: Mr. Bavu Blakes, 7th Grade English Language Arts & Reading Teacher at Decker Middle School.  In case you need to get inspired, we asked Bavu some questions about his teaching philosophy – the answers are guaranteed to give you some warm and fuzzies.    Why did you decide to go into teaching?  I am a scholar. I have always been that way.  I am an avid reader and writer.  I was interested in teaching at the college level but I wanted to work in my community (he lives in Decker attendance zone) .  I wanted to serve my community and the young people.  Also, I remember my 8th grade English teacher.  She changed the course of history for me.  That’s why. As an English Language Arts teacher, I get to teach a subject that affects all parts of their life. Writing, reading, listening and speaking are the foundation of all things we do. Bavu Blakes, 7th Grade Teacher at Decker Middle School  What is your teaching philosophy? Teaching is about building relationships with children.  I see it as my job to identify what they need and how to teach them.  As an English Language Arts teacher, I get to teach a subject that affects all parts of their life. Writing, reading, listening and speaking are the foundation of all things […]

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WLC rounds out another year of helping Austin children

The United Way Women’s Leadership Council just wrapped up another successful year – and the results speak for themselves: “Anytime a group of women leaders are focused on the social and economic challenges in Greater Austin; the focus brings results.” Kathleen Farlow, Managing Partner, Deloitte Austin The WLC is a powerful group of professional women who have a deep passion for helping Austin’s youngest and most vulnerable children. Through advocacy, volunteer efforts and donations, they make sure that Austin’s future is on the right track. This past year, the WLC members gave an astonishing $400K to support our most vulnerable community members. I have the privilege of supporting this inspiring group – but their own words speak to the value of this group much more powerfully that I could: A HUGE thank you to all of the dedicated women who have come together to support young children this year! Of course, the work is never done, so right now, the WLC is supporting the Steiner Serves effort that selected our Success By 6 (SB6) program as their May beneficiary and working on a book drive to help centers in our SB6 Center Project.  Learn more about the efforts of the WLC and the great women that lead this work.   Want to learn more? Tell us:  [pardot-form id=”6638″ title=”Email marketing – welcome series”]

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Celebrate STEM education!

With Austin’s booming tech scene, Science Technology Engineering and Math (or STEM) skills are critical for most future jobs in Austin. This week, as cities across Texas celebrate STEM education, experts from our Target Graduation program curated a list of activities and experiments to teach STEM skills in the classroom or at home with just a few supplies.  Follow United Way for Greater Austin’s board STEM Week Texas Activities on Pinterest. These activities are appropriate for students from elementary school through high school, but you’ll see different responses depending on the age of participants. If you want to see more, check out our Pinterest board for links to sites with more ideas.  We support STEM education locally by evaluating programs for low-income students to make sure they meet quality standards and providing young children with STEM learning opportunities.    Have you found an interesting, easy-to-implement science or math activity? Share in the comments!  Feature photo by Nicholas Nova via Flickr Creative Commons. 

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