Blog

My love affair with Austin’s aggressive optimism

As our organization celebrates 90 years of serving this community and growing up alongside Austin, I’ve been reflecting on what brought me to this area in the 1970s – and it’s striking to realize that the mix of optimism and creativity that drew me here all those years ago is still what fuels my work in social justice to this day.  While I had visited Austin all throughout my childhood (and skied over snakes every summer in Ink’s Lake), by young adulthood, I was traveling around the west coast in a minivan, drawn to the next great artistic adventure.  I went to California to live in a redwood forest and restore trees to an area that had been devastated by a sawmill. I moved to New Mexico to live in an adobe house and run a 2,000 acres farm for a stunt man. When I came back to Texas, it was for the soil and the trees – I bought 50 acres of land in Bastrop that I still live on today and started an organic farm.  Austin had the perfect combination for me: I could live in the country (which feeds my soul) and I could be near artists at the same time. More than anything, Austin had and still has this aggressive optimism that says “you can do anything – make it happen.”   Austin has this aggressive optimism that says “you can do anything – make it happen.”  So I did: I grew organic vegetables and sold them to what […]

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Education shouldn’t end when the school day does

80 percent Portion of students’ WAKING hours spent outside of school  According to the most pervasive narrative, school is the place where students gain critical academic skills that will determine their success later in life and students attend school as it if were a job, mixed in with some opportunities for creativity and socializing. On the other hand, time spent outside of school, especially summer, is associated with vacation and leisure – but this narrative ignores the fact that students spend nearly 80 percent of their WAKING hours outside of school.  Out of School Time (OST) refers to the after-school hours, mornings before school, weekends and summer that make up the bulk of students’ time . In a state where 68% of students come from households where both parents work, OST programs keep kids safe, supported and engaged after the bell rings Unfortunately, OST programs are not meeting the needs of our community – only one in three of OST sites offer enough days to positively impact students and less than a quarter of low-income students are participating in OST programs at the recommended level.  The result is that low-income students face a substantial disadvantage because of a lack of summer programs: they lose reading skills and tech literacy in the summer months, where their high-income peers with more access to books and technology actually benefit from the summer months. In all, half of the achievement gap can be attributed to summer learning inequalities.  We are working to change this story […]

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Meet Raul Sanchez

It’s no secret that Austin, Texas is great, arguably the envy of the world: it’s the live music capital, boasts a roaring economy, has shown up on countless “Best Cities For” lists and is rapidly growing because of it. These things are obvious to us locals. What us natives might not realize is why Austin is greater: it’s greater because of Raul Sanchez.  Sanchez has been an educator for more than a decade, starting in his own back yard in the Rio Grande Valley and currently serving the St. John community as Principal of Webb Middle School, one of the schools in our Target Graduation program. The son of immigrants from Mexico, Sanchez feels great kinship with the children he works with everyday.  “The Rio Grande Valley didn’t need me like Webb needs me – we have kids who are moving so much, who have a lot of challenges in their family from homelessness to mental illness and more. Thanks to United Way, we can provide wrap-around help for all of these issues. That means my teachers and I can focus on learning.” – Raul Sanchez Principal, Webb Middle School  “When I see the children we serve, I see myself,” said Sanchez in a recent conversation with Celso Baez, a founding member of our Young Leaders Society who has volunteered at Webb Middle School. “I am the youngest of 14 children and the first person in my family to go to college. My parents don’t have a formal education. I started out very much like […]

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Insurance industry exceeded goal!

Last night, the insurance community came together to celebrate an incredible achievement: in it’s first year, the Insurance Industry Challenge exceeded their goal of $300,000 by raising $371,096!  This substantial increase – raising 56 percent more than last year – will make a significant impact on our community by helping children start school on-track, supporting students in the critical middle school period and ensuring families have the tools they need to thrive.  To make this happen, many insurance companies, industry associations, trade publications and individuals came together to support community change through United Way for Greater Austin – and we couldn’t be more grateful for their efforts.  [AFG_gallery id=’11’] The Austin Insurance Industry Challenge (IIC) demonstrates what happens when there is passion, focus and commitment to making Austin Greater. Thanks to everyone who participated!  Want to get involved with the Insurance Industry Challenge in 2014? Let us know! 

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It’s for the kids!

A year ago, we relaunched the Young Leaders Society with a few big changes – an increased focus on volunteerism, a strong connection to UWATX’s Target Graduation program and the opportunity to give or raise $1,000 per year to make Austin greater. Today, YLS members are kicking off the YLS Virtual Giveathon to help keep students on the path to graduation.  Since then, YLS members have planted trees, done campus clean ups, chaperoned dances and supported student volunteer leaders – and we enjoyed a lot of football. We’ve also worked with the students at Decker Middle School to advocate – and the state awarded $1.5 million to build them a sidewalk!   All of that has led up to this two-week period where we start truly advocating for the students we’ve worked alongside – in their own words, a lack of funds is often what keeps them from accomplishing all that they want to. I’m sure you can remember how hard (and let’s be honest, so very, VERY awkward) middle school can be. And for many of us, that was without the added challenges poverty brings.  I’ve volunteered directly on the three middle school campuses we support (Decker, Mendez and Webb) and alongside the students UWATX empowers to make change in their communities and seen the impact of our work directly. Seeing the impact UWATX’s work makes in these students’ lives makes it easy for me to ask for support and help other YLSers make their requests as well. In the last few weeks, […]

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Strengthening all parts of the village

As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child – supportive parents, well-trained child care workers, friendly and knowledgable doctors and so many others provide the necessary help to get a child off to the right start in life. As we work to make sure all children start off on the right path, we’re looking at the problem from all sides.  That’s why we’ve been reaching out to pediatric fellows doing their training in the Austin area to make sure they understand what early childhood services are available in our community. The goal is to create greater awareness between doctors serving young children about all the other parts of the village, so more children can get the help they need.   “Thanks to this training, I’ve learned more about the importance of a child’s social history in advocating for their wellness.”  – Cory Henson, pediatric fellow Cory Henson is just one of nine fellows we’ve talked to this year. Originally from Houston, he says his decision to become a pediatrician stemmed from “my desire to be a voice and advocate for those that may not speak out for themselves,” the same reason we work so hard to advocate young children.   “As a resident, I have a very active role in managing care for young children. We are often identified as the primary face of the medical profession for families,” Cory told us. “Thanks to this training, I’ve learned more about the importance of a child’s social history in advocating for their […]

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A middle school perspective on leadership

On the surface, these students look like any other boys in the St. John’s neighborhood – Jose is a Webb Middle School student who likes video games and has lived in Austin all his life, Kevin is a freshman at Reagan High School who was born in Mexico and loves to play soccer. But they do something that makes them stand out from the pack: Kevin and Jose are actively changing their community at the ripe old ages of 11 and 15, respectively. We’ve been working with students like them for three years as part of our Target Graduation program. When we first partnered with campuses to saturate schools with the services that students need, we also adapted our Volunteer Project Leader program into a full-year course for middle school students, and over the past year, our Young Leader Society has been actively engaged with volunteer leaders at our three target middle schools. Kevin, Jose and 48 of their peers are making a difference by assessing what the needs are in their own school, putting together a plan to resolve those needs and leading their peers and YLS members to fix problems. This is Jose’s first year in the program, but Kevin’s been involved since it first started.  “I enjoy getting to help people in the community where I live. I feel like I’m making a change at home,” said Kevin to YLS member Kara Birge when she sat down with the boys last week. “I got to help people today […]

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18 years of volunteering in 2013

Each your, our Hands On Central Texas program helps thousands of volunteers to give their time and invest in our community. In 2013, these volunteers gave a staggering 161,000 hours of time – that’s the equivalent of 18 years of non-stop, day-and-night volunteering!  [cta][/cta] All told, our in-house team managed 10,000 volunteers during our Days of Caring (both Fall and Spring), MLK Day of Service and H-E-B’s Feast of Sharing. On top of that, handsoncentraltexas.org connected an additional 16,000 volunteers to meaningful opportunities in our community.  We also had to respond to a crisis in our community this year. The flooding in October 2013 left homes in ruin and many people unsure where to turn. In the aftermath, volunteers were need to help clear houses, sort donations and more. We took the lead as part of our membership in Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster and coordinated 14,000 hours of volunteer work to help the Dove Springs recover.  [cta][/cta] But 2013 was also the year that we saw even more growth in our exciting Volunteer Project Leadership program for middle school students – we expanded from one campus to three and helped 50 students learn how to lead volunteer projects, and they turned around and coordinated 183 volunteers over the year. It’s students like Niko at Webb Middle School who show us every day what it means to be a leader and inspire us to keep doing this work.  Of course, none of this would have been possible without YOU – the amazing volunteers, donors […]

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YLS & student leaders expand the Decker Middle School Garden!

Last month, a small group of volunteers gathered at Decker Middle School to work on the community garden.  We were current YLS members, new volunteering recruits and Volunteer Project Leader students.  One of the VPL leaders even invited a friend from another school to participate— as Julie commented, it truly is neat to see recruiting happening at that age! Standing on a large rock in the middle of the Decker Community Learning Garden, Annie and the student Leaders for the project welcomed the volunteers and described our task—to continue the work begun last year by the VPL class on the Decker Middle School Garden.  Volunteers quickly got to work on the various projects including:  painting the sign for the Decker Community Learning Garden, building two benches, digging holes for the sign and the benches, and making bags out of old banners. The most popular activity seemed to be the bag-making project.  Julie shared this project from Keep Austin Beautiful. This project involved donated banners, staples, and duck tape.  In addition to making bags for carrying the gardening tools, nearly all of the VPL students made at least one bag to bring home or to give to a friend.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see these bags as the new “in” fashion in the Manor community. To conclude the event at Decker Middle School, Annie made the surprise announcement that we were going to have a cartwheel contest!  Congratulations Julie for winning the cartwheel contest. After saying our goodbyes to […]

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At 3M, WLC women are “true leaders”

Since 2003, the Women’s Leadership Council has worked to be “the most powerful female-driven philanthropic force in Central Texas” – and with more than 500 members investing in our community annually, it’s safe to say they’re delivering on that promise. At each of the 400+ companies that we work with locally, the WLC looks a bit different, adjusting to the culture and needs of that particular workplace.  Since it’s International Women’s Day, we wanted to find out what drives these incredibly giving women by talking to Judy Donigan, National Account Manager at 3M, about what’s working for them. The WLC group allows us to leverage the power of women and support efforts that are close to our heart.   – Michelle Diggs, 3M Marketing Manager & WLC Member JA Central Texas Board, Any Baby Can Advisory Board, Texas Civil Rights Division Commissioner What makes the WLC at 3M unique?  The WLC women at 3M are true leaders within our company.  They are successful in their different businesses and foster a sense of responsibility in giving back to our community.  Many of the women are board members of nonprofit organizations within the greater Austin area.  All of our members are committed to improving the lives of those with barriers to economic opportunity through our philanthropic efforts.    How many women are involved? Who has the WLC changed over time?  Twenty-four 3M women participate in activities with the Women’s Leadership Council. From my perspective, more 3M women are also taking additional leadership positions […]

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