Blog

What scarcity means for families we serve & each of us as well

A few months ago,  economists and researchers Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir  published Scarcity:  Why Having Too Little Means So Much – a fresh perspective on the causes of poverty that suggests scarcity, a lack of resources like time or money, drastically changes the way people think. Since January is Poverty Awareness Month, this seems like a perfect time to reflect on the psychology of scarcity.  Basically, the authors found that scarcity taxes the mind reducing cognitive capacity (IQ) and executive control (willpower). They call this the “bandwidth tax” and it could be experienced in a momentary situation, such as after a long day at the office, or daily and with no end in sight, as is typical when living in poverty.   Scarcity also contributes to “tunneling,” an effect where individuals focus exclusively on immediate deadlines, like that the rent is due today or the car needs a repair. That happens because families don’t have a cushion, so there is no slack to cover unexpected financial shocks we all inevitably face and putting out financial fires becomes you primary focus. This explains why a payday loan can look attractive today when a car repair has captured your absolute attention.  While putting out the fire, there is no bandwidth to foresee the additional problems that could arise in two weeks when the loan is due. Unfortunately, this creates a cycle – borrowing creates a deeper hole in the future.  The psychology of scarcity is true for people who lack financial resources AND those who lack time resources.  The same […]

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Tax prep tips: 7 things to know when claiming your charitable giving

As a CPA working with nonprofits for just over 30 years, I’ve often been asked about the proper documentation and processes to claim your charitable giving when filing taxes.  To help you get ready for tax season as the year draws to a close, here are the top things to keep in mind:  1. Before anything else, check to make sure an organization is qualified. You can always ask any organization whether it is a qualified organization, and most will be able to tell you. You can also go to IRS.gov and search for qualified organizations, or call the IRS at 1-877-829-5500.  2. You’ll need documentation that you gave to a nonprofit. For gifts of more than $250, that must directly come from the organization.  Donors cannot claim a tax deduction without a record of the gift [PDF]. This could be a bank record (like a cancelled check) or a written communication from the organization (such as a receipt or letter). These have to show the name of the organization, the date of the gift and the amount.  For a gift of more than $250, you MUST obtain a “contemporaneous, written acknowledgement of the contribution” from the organization. Keep in mind: the organization doesn’t incur a penalty for not sending you a notification, so the burden is on you as the donor to get this acknowledgement. Despite that, many organizations assist donors by providing a timely, written statement.  How does this all work for payroll deductions? You can use a pledge card prepared by […]

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Inspiration for year’s end

If you’ve met our president, Debbie Bresette, you know how inspirational she can be with both words and actions. And she knows no stranger. And only sees the best in all situations. I think every organization deserves a leader like ours – one that’s full of big ideas and passionate for what they do. Her personality shapes this United Way – making this a positive, ambitious, motivating and ever-moving-forward place to work. So with 2013 coming to a close and our 90th anniversary just around the corner (2014!), we decided to sit down with our President, Debbie Bresette, to get just a little bit more inspiration until the new year. Why have you dedicated your life to this work? I’ve always thought that with the right people in the right setting, we could really move people to a place where we could have honest conversations about poverty. Before I worked at United Way I could see that the organization brought these people together – in the right place and at the right time – and that excited me.  I don’t want to be involved with changing one person – I want our systems themselves to change to support more people – and doing this kind of work gives me great satisfaction. Why does the work matter? I never wanted to work in a job that had no meaning – I was born into this life to make a difference – or at least try. I’ve also seen many injustices in […]

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Research shows UWATX Play To Learn makes parents happy, helps children be school-ready

After an 18-month evaluation, we have firm numbers behind something we’ve been hearing for years: UWATX’s innovative Play To Learn initiative is changing lives – read the summary of results [PDF]. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhsCzogMYL4[/youtube] Play To Learn is a new, scalable early intervention program designed to bridge the critical gaps in learning among children. Like all our work, the project targets low-income from low-income neighborhoods in Austin and surrounding areas.  The project is a result of an extensive child assessment process and data mapping initiative in Austin’s low-income neighborhoods. Play To Learn: A course that teaches parents how to help their children become school ready while incorporating local resources and tablet technology. The Play To Learn project falls under UWATX’s Success By 6 program. Thanks to a $1-million grant from Samsung Austin Semiconductor, 212 families enrolled in Play To Learn from May 2012 to April 2013- and an astonishing 93 percent (198 families) completed the 8-week in-person sessions as well as the year-long library portion. The Samsung grant also funded an 18-month evaluation from a team of researchers at The University of Texas at Austin School of Human Ecology – the full research report shows  astonishing results [PDF]. “Play To Learn was found to be an effective, short-term program for helping young children develop learning skills, including media use, as well as encouraging parental involvement in learning,” said Sue Carpenter, Sr. Director of Success By 6. “The program provides evidence that technology, local resources and a high-quality curriculum can make a significant difference in the […]

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UWATX kicks off service year with 5 new AmeriCorps VISTAs

After wrapping up a banner year with two Success By 6 VISTAs, we are  welcoming five new AmeriCorps VISTAs to the Strategic Programs team. As one of several high-performing projects across Texas, we gained the opportunity to bring on two additional VISTA members to support Financial Opportunity and the Navigation Center‘s outreach work, while continuing to support Success By 6. The addition of new VISTA members means that UWATX will have capacity to take on new projects and the staffing to support increased systems building. Continuing support for Success By 6:  VISTAs have been crucial to building capacity in early care and family support systems. In order to continue and expand this work the Success By 6 VISTAs, Jeffrey King and Rebecca Nawls-Walker, will support data collection and analysis for the School Readiness Action Plan 2-year update, create and facilitate processes to incorporate parent input into the SRAP, coordinate programs for the Success By 6 Center Project, and manage our digital outreach programs, Text4Baby and Ready Rosie. New efforts in Financial Opportunity:  Building upon the early care and education work, the Financial Opportunity VISTA, Willy Raedy, will play a pivotal role focusing on 2-Generation strategies: an approach to early interventions that combines workforce training with high quality child care. Building capacity around 2-Generation efforts improves outcomes for the whole family by focusing on improving parent’s job readiness while providing early interventions for their children. Additionally, Willy will facilitate the blending of financial literacy into workforce development services and manage the […]

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What impact could YOUR holiday gifts make? #GivingTuesday

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, 141 million people spent an average of $400 each during the first “official” weekend of the holiday shopping season. Over the course of the full  season, shoppers will spend an average of $750 on holiday gifts for loved ones. Investing the same amount in our community could make a significant impact:  As you check off your list, filled with family members, friends and other loved ones, consider adding one more to your holiday list: our community. For what you may spend one toy, a piece of clothing or a new gadget, you can make a lasting and meaningful impact for Austin’s future.  If you’re curious what your shopping habits could mean if you invested in our community, check out our impact calculator to find out. After Black Friday and Cyber Monday, celebrate Giving Tuesday by buying a gift for our community: text UWATXHOLIDAY to 85944 to donate $10.  Gifts are a way to recognize what’s important in our lives and show appreciation for the things that matter. We hope that Austin’s future ranks high on your list – make a gift today.  Information compiled from the National Retail Foundation and UWATX Impact Calculator. With text-to-give, One-time donation of $10 will be added to your mobile phone bill. Msg & data rates may apply. Available on Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile. Must be 18 or older or have authorization of account holder. Donations benefit United Way of Austin, collected by Innogive Foundation. Subject to terms: igfn.org/t. Privacy policy: igfn.org/p. Text STOP to […]

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Looking for a warm meal this December?

Each year, our Navigation Center sees a spike of calls during the holiday season – people looking to help by donating food, toys, gifts or their time and also calls from people looking for a warm meal for the holidays. We’ve compiled this calendar of resources that are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC to make it a little easier to find that warm meal: Click on the image above to see a larger version. Know someone looking for assistance? Tell them to give us a call at 2-1-1 to get connected to resources in our community.

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Results are in: Middle School Matters changes students’ lives, earns high marks from schools

Two years ago, we set out to change the culture of three middle schools serving low-income communities with Middle School Matters, a project in our Target Graduation program. Now, we’re seeing promising results for students, hearing great feedback from teachers and seeing powerful changes on the campuses. Click through the interactive infographic to explore some of these exciting results or download the full report for the 2012-2013 school year.

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Meet Naomi and Tirzah

In the Greater Austin area, child poverty rates are nearly 25 percent higher than the national average and only 13 percent of children raised in Austin’s low-income neighborhoods enter kindergarten ready to learn. These concerning statistics are the target of UWATX’s Success By 6 program through initiatives like Play To Learn, a project that targets low-income families from under-resourced neighborhoods in Greater Austin and surrounding areas. Play To Learn provides  high-quality early education for children alongside their parents. The goal is to help parents learn how to put their children on the path to success in school and life. We recently say down with Play To Learn mom, Naomi, and her daughter (with the most precious blonde curls you’ll ever see), Tirzah, to hear how the program is supporting them.   Why did you and your daughter start participating in United Way’s Play To Learn program? I was in search of fun things to do with my daughter. She’s at the age where she likes to explore and interact and, most importantly, be active, so I thought this was a great opportunity for us to learn and grow together. Do you feel the program is having an impact on you and your daughter? It has had an impact in both our lives. I believe it’s very important to set routines and schedules with toddlers and I had no idea on where and how to start; Play To Learn has helped me create a safe environment for her, where there is discipline and […]

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HOW TO: make Thanksgiving a learning opportunity

Thanksgiving is a time when the whole family gathers together to appreciate good food, watch parades and football and be thankful for one another. It’s also an opportunity to support learning. It can be tricky to figure out how to turn a busy holiday into a learning experience, so our experts from Success By 6 and Target Graduation brainstormed a few simple activities:   Cooking teaches math & science skills Children can help in the kitchen in a variety of ways that help them learn. You can introduce young children to measurement by getting their help measuring out wet and dry ingredients. For children through middle-school-age, this can be a good time to practice conversions and fractions, particularly when doubling or halving a recipe. Cooking can also support nonfiction reading skills when children study the cookbook, and learning about nutrition and the chemical processes involved in cooking can further science skills. Read more about cooking with children.   Making place cards supports language development If you’re having your whole family over for Thanksgiving, children can help make place cards as a fun crafting activity. At its most basic, making place cards helps children practice reading and writing, which is important for young children. This activity can range from simply writing names on existing place cards to taking on a more ambitious craft project, which would support fine motor skill development. Enjoy some child-appropriate place card inspiration.   Expressing gratitude supports social-emotional development Saying what you’re thankful for is a time-honored […]

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