Blog

Success By 6 supports Austin’s most vulnerable children

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhsCzogMYL4[/youtube] In 2005, we launched our Success By 6 program – and made a commitment to support our youngest and most vulnerable children. We wanted to make sure the kind of quality early experiences that change lives were available, accessible and affordable. The first few years of life are critical – children who don’t receive quality early care have lower graduation rates than those who do, and the difference is even more stark for girls and women. More than that, quality care shows a significant return-on-investment – we see savings in fewer children repeating grades, lower criminal justice costs and a more productive, successful workforce. It adds up to a $4 to $9 return on every dollar invested. Unfortunately, our community doesn’t invest enough in young children. Compared to cities like Seattle, San Francisco and San Antonio, our investments per child are shocking low. And it shows: only 50 percent of children in Greater Austin are on-track to be ready for school. In low-income neighborhoods, that number drops to 13 percent. That’s why we’ve put together a portfolio of services to support children in all areas of their lives: We invest in evidence-based early childhood programs, including supporting 14 early care centers through our Center Project. We support parents, a child’s first teachers, by developing innovative programs like Play To Learn.   We make sure our community is working together. In 2012, our supporters successfully advocated to restore $500K of public funding for our youngest and most vulnerable community members. […]

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Top needs & trends for 2013: food, health care & bills

Our Navigation Center is uniquely poised on the front-lines of community issues – we answer calls from thousands of Greater Austin residents on issues ranging from child care and tax preparation to food stamps and health care.  Residents who call us are often struggling with every day needs, and all of them are challenged with how to access help for those needs.  We pride ourselves on connecting them to the right resource while also being friendly and professional – and it shows:  our staff maintained a 99% satisfaction rate among callers. To give Austinites a  snapshot of what issues residents struggled with last year, we’re releasing our 2013 Community Needs and Trends Report – download it today.  Here’s what we saw in 2013:  Significant increase in food-related calls Calls related to food needs continue to dominate. We saw a 58 percent increase in food stamp, SNAP and food pantry calls – piggy backing on a 55% increase last year.  Residents continue to struggle with paying bills Residents continue to call in for help paying their electricity and rent bills and to get help with housing. These have consistently been in the top 5 needs in our area for the last three years.  Noticeable jump in calls due to launch of Affordable Care Act We started partnering with Central Health in 2009 to make it easier for individuals to qualify for state and federal health care benefits like CHIP and MAP. Last year, our staff made 85 percent of all the […]

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Anyone can be a philanthropist

Look up ‘philanthropist’ on Wikipedia and you get a pretty narrow view of who gives back – generally wealthy, famous people. But philanthropy originally meant “the love of mankind,” and we see everyday that it’s not limited to major gifts, that the backbone of giving is often less flashy – investments in our community come from everyday people giving a little bit, and knowing that it adds up to a whole lot.  At United Way for Greater Austin, we believe that anyone can be a philanthropist – because we’ve seen it, because any gift is meaningful and because we know the difference it can make for our community and for companies. Since 1924, we’ve worked with companies to provide Employee Giving Campaigns where employees can choose to invest a portion of their paycheck in our community – and the most successful campaigns aren’t necessarily the ones where employees make the most. One of our most giving partners is H-E-B. The company itself gives back generously, but it’s the donations from cashiers and baggers that add up to a whole lot for us – specifically, to more than $1M each year for the last three years in Greater Austin. These gifts come from people like Jackie – she knows the value of giving back first hand. When Jackie was 15, she was in foster care. She then got into a difficult marriage, and needed help getting out of it. At that point she became a single mom who worked and needed […]

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Why Digital Literacy Matters

We’ve been working with Famigo for several years to help low-income families prepare their children for success in school by leveraging technology and local resources. Since it’s Digital Learning Day, we asked their team to write this post about why this topic is so important. [hr] Digital literacy is a foundational skill necessary to navigate the schoolroom, peer relationships, academic careers and every other aspect of 21st century life. Famigo and United Way for Greater Austin believe that ensuring that the families of central Texas are digitally literate is of the utmost importance. What is Digital Literacy? Digital literacy is more than just knowing how to download a book onto an e-reader or how to send a mass text message. In today’s society it means knowing how to responsibly use media in multiple forms to accomplish a task. It also means knowing how to avoid unwanted or inappropriate content.  Today, 79% of students are required to submit or access lessons online, and 29% of teachers report that they integrate social media into their coursework—a number that rises to 80% for college professors. These digital literacy statistics are reflected in later life as well. Today, 4 of the 7 fastest growing jobs directly require technology skills, and 80% of Fortune 500 companies only accept online applications. It is therefore extremely important that children learn from their earliest ages how to responsibly manipulate and use digital content.  Fast Facts 79% of students are required to submit or access lessons online 29% of […]

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We’re expanding our STEM programming!

We’re excited to share that thanks to the Freescale Foundation, our Target Graduation program will grow the quality of Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) programs in Austin. Nearly 150 students will benefit from Out-of-School Time programs that are safer, more supportive and more engaging for youth as a result of Freescale’s investment. Thanks to UWATX Investments in STEM: 115 Children will gain basic skills in math and literacy 200 Families will prepare their children for school using technology 150 Students will benefit from higher quality after school & summer STEM programs STEM programs teach students the foundational knowledge and skills that are critical for careers in engineering and technology.  However, research shows only programs that provide high-quality instruction paired with youth engagement and focused learning activities lead to improved academic outcomes for students, while programs that do not exhibit these traits show no effect on school performance. Unfortunately, without metrics for quality or training for staff, organizations are struggling to know whether or not their STEM programs are setting students up for school success. Thanks to this new grant, we will partner with five select STEM-focused nonprofit programs to provide instructors with training, assessment tools tailored for  STEM quality and coaching to implement research-based techniques. We will  implement the Center For Youth Program Quality model, which is used by after-school networks in 27 states and has been shown to improve program quality, increase staff retention and generate lasting improvements for programs that still remain a year after the intervention. This new effort will expand on […]

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Navigation Center provides help quickly, accurately, confidentially and for free

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2SuqZipb54[/youtube] Since 1996, the United Way Navigation Center has been connecting callers to the services they need. We took the first 2-1-1 call in Texas in 2002 and to date, our Navigation Center has answered more than two million calls. Here’s how it works: when a caller dials 2-1-1 in our 10-county region, they are connected to one of our Navigators within a minute. The Navigator assesses their needs and then finds appropriate organizations from our database of more than six thousand local resources. Calling isn’t the only way to access our service – you can also go online to search our online database directly. We want to make sure that anyone in need can turn to us in the way that works for them. And we pride ourselves on service: the Navigation Center is free, confidential and multilingual; our specialists are professionally-trained, nationally rated, and also friendly; and along the way, we collect data to provide feedback to decision makers, nonprofits and other stakeholders about what the needs are in our community and how they are evolving.  

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TAKE ACTION: 3 ways to make a difference for young children

The City of Austin is poised to begin their biannual Request For Proposal process for social service contracts – the grants given to nonprofit organization for community services – and we need your help to give a voice to the concerns of young children.  In our community, over 28,000 children under four are living in low-income households. Only 5,000 are receiving the early childhood services they need to start school ready to learn.  We are asking the City to increase funding for early childhood services in the upcoming social services funding competition. These services include  Head Start, home visiting, quality child care and Play To Learn.    [cta][/cta] Since the array of services is fairly complex, we are opting not to ask for a specific amount, but rather to increase awareness about the importance of these services for parents to be successful in the short-term and for children, the future of our community, to thrive in the long-term. Once the formal RFP process begins in late February, City Council Members will be restricted from hearing our message because of conflict of interest regulations – so it’s critical that we get the word our early so City Council Members have the right information as they make decisions.  You can help in a few ways:  1. Go on an advocacy visit  To make our case, our staff experts will meet with City Council members for about 30 mins each to give your voice to vulnerable young children. The process is easy and straight-forward (as […]

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To understand how many families struggle, we need to look at savings and assets

Written by: Don Baylor In our mind’s eye, we typically picture people struggling economically as individuals or families either disconnected from steady employment or those with jobs earning wages below the poverty level. What we too-often fail to consider is how much it truly takes to cover everyday expenses in our community and what might happen if income is interrupted. The federal poverty guidelines consider a family of four to be poor if the family income is $23,550 or less, but these numbers grossly underestimates the income necessary to meet a family’s basic needs.  According to CPPP’s Better Texas Family Budgets, a Greater Austin family of four needs to earn more than $50,000 per  year to cover housing, transportation, food, child care and other expenses.   Notably, this “break-even” salary does not include any debt service or allow for any type of household savings.  In order to save for a rainy day and college, the same Austin family needs to earn about $1,000 more in annual income.  While one in five Greater Austin families is officially income-poor as defined by the federal poverty level, a bigger share of Greater Austin families are living paycheck-to-paycheck and experience economic insecurity, with low incomes, insufficient savings, or both.   What’s more, income is only part of the story, because while income gets you by, assets get you ahead – and in our community  nearly twice as many families are considered poor when we look at poverty through the lens of assets. An individual or household […]

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What is payday lending & why does it matter?

Over the past few weeks, much has been discussed in the media about payday lending, how the industry has grown in Texas and what the implications are for our state. We’ve been working on providing alternatives to payday lending through our Financial Opportunity program for a few years. It’ s a complex issue with many facets – so our experts worked together to break it down and answer some questions.  What is a payday loan?  A payday loan is a small, unsecured, high-interest, short-term cash loan that needs to be repaid within two weeks or by the next payday. Borrowers are looking for an average of $500 [PDF], and in Texas, 67 percent of loans are for $500 or less [PDF].  In most cases, borrowers write a post-dated personal check for the advance amount plus a fee. The lender holds the check for the loan period, and then either deposits it or returns the check when the borrower pays in cash. Why do individuals use payday loans?  There is a misconception that payday loans are use for unexpected emergencies, like medical bills or car repair, but the the Pew Charitable Trust found that 69 percent of people took out their first payday loan for “a recurring expense, such as utilities, credit card bills, rent or mortgage payments, or food.”  Oftentimes, borrowers may need to pay bills a few days or a week before their paycheck, so payday loans function as an ‘advance’. What are the benefits of payday loans?  The biggest benefit is speed […]

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2014 MLK Day of Service – January 20, 2014

More than 175 volunteers marked the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday by participating in United Way of Williamson County’s Day of Service on January 20, 2014. Volunteers of all ages joined together with hundreds of thousands of others across the country who participated in this National Day of Service. More than 450 volunteer hours were donated back to Williamson County during this annual event. “Each year, the MLK Day of Service seems to attract more and more volunteers,” said LeAnn Powers, Chief Professional Officer at United Way of Williamson County. “Many people have time off of work or school on MLK Day, and it’s encouraging and inspiring to see so many families or employee groups taking time on a day off to help others in Williamson County.” Families, individuals, student groups and corporate teams sorted donations, cleared and mulched trails, assisted with beautification projects and prepared the Hutto Library for an upcoming renovation project. Projects were held in Georgetown at Annunciation Maternity Home, The Caring Place, WBC Opportunities, and Berry Springs Park & Preserve. The Hutto Library hosted volunteers from ERCOT. Southwest Regional Park in Leander hosted 70 volunteers, many of whom were employees of Starbucks and TDIndustries. AGE of Central Texas and Hope Alliance hosted volunteers in Round Rock, and Shepherd’s Heart welcomed volunteers in Taylor.

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