Blog

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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Mentoring “can easily change lives with as a little as one hour per week”

In our work, we get to meet and talk with incredible donors and volunteers who are committed to our community – and one of the most remarkable among them is Julie Fisher. Not only is she on the YLS founding committee AND an Employee Campaign Leader for Samsung’s Employee Campaign, but for two-and-a-half years, she’s been giving her time every week to be a mentor.  Since January is Mentoring Month, we thought we’d ask Julie a few questions about her experience:  UWATX Question: What policies does Samsung have to allow their employees to do this kind of work? Julie’s Answer: One of Samsung’s core values is co-prosperity. We are dedicated to being socially and environmentally responsible corporate citizens in every community we operate in. Specifically at our local level, employees are allowed to volunteer on a workload and manager permitting basis. We offer volunteer opportunities at several different times to accommodate the schedules and shifts that our employees work. We encourage our employees to find their passion and connect with our nonprofit partners to ignite inspiring volunteer opportunities. How much time do you spend mentoring each week? What kinds of activities are involved? We meet for at least 1 hour each week . I visit Da’shyra during her lunch period and we usually do arts and crafts and talk about different things going on in her life. At the beginning of our mentoring relationship, we created a scrapbook that I bring every time to sketch, write and put pictures in. It is […]

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Partner Profile: Central Texas Afterschool Network (CTAN)

Name: Central Texas Afterschool Network (CTAN) Partner for: 7 years Partner with: Target Graduation   Our Relationship: Assessing youth programs UWATX facilitates Youth Program Quality assessments in our community to help providers isolate the exact areas where their program could improve. CTAN has been a valuable partner in these efforts by providing trained staff and volunteers to conduct individual assessments. These annual assessments allow programs to evaluate how they’re doing and put in place a plan to improve – studies show that this type of measurement leads to better programs.  Training professionals to provide high-quality programs Once areas of improvement are defined, UWATX and CTAN work together to schedule, plan and conduct topic-specific training classes for programs staff. Topics include building community, quality coaching and cooperative learning. Through this professional development program, CTAN and UWATX improve students’ out-of-school time (OST) experiences by making sure programs are enriching, educational, safe and supportive. Conducting a first-of-its-kind survey of Austin afterschool and summer programs This summer, UWATX was joined by AmeriCorps VISTA summer associates to conduct a first-of-its-kind survey of out-of-school time programs in the Greater Austin area. Previously, there was no comprehensive data on the availability or quality of programs for students outside of school. This research project was be a first step to get a sense of the landscape of services. We continue to work with CTAN staff to analyze the results and take the next vital steps to improve the OST network.   What we’ve accomplished together Together, we’ve conducted […]

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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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