Newsroom

2-1-1 Specialists Make Austin Greater

At UWATX, we are grateful for our employees who are dedicated to improving the lives of people in Greater Austin. United Way’s 2-1-1 Navigation Center is one of the busiest departments that does this every day; just last year, the 2-1-1 Navigation Center answered more than 300,000 calls from residents in need! This compassionate team of specialists connects callers to more than 30,000 nonprofit and government resources within the ten counties we serve. Four phenomenal women: Cynthia Houlihan, Laura Juarez, Melissa Korpi and Jessica Venson (all photographed above), have worked in the UWATX 2-1-1 Navigation Center for more than five years! We chatted with these specialists on their specific roles, the transformations they have seen in the call center over the past five years and what they enjoy most about their jobs: Q: What is your role? Cynthia: 2-1-1 Community Information Coordinator Laura: Bilingual Navigation Specialist Melissa: Lead Healthcare Navigation Specialist Jessica: Director of Client Services Q: How have you seen the Navigation Center change over time since you’ve been here? Cynthia: At the time I started working for 2-1-1 United Way, we were in the first phase of expanding the 2-1-1 call center through the addition of MAP screening services for Central Health. Since that time, we have increased the scope of services the Navigation Center provides to the community through expansion of the Central Health platform and the addition of Bluebonnet Trails Community Services and El Buen Samaritano Episcopal Mission. The Navigation Center has increased our community involvement by partnering with community programs and initiatives such as […]

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Divine Canines Aid 2-1-1 Call Specialists

Austin – a city where you can find dog-friendly restaurants, hotels and even a dog bar! Another special thing about Austin is that there are a variety of non-profit organizations that focus on animal care and services. Divine Canines is a non-profit organization that encourages smiles and promotes physical and emotional wellness by providing therapy dog services to various populations in Central Texas. This summer, Divine Canines volunteers and their therapy dogs began visiting the UWATX Navigation Center on a monthly basis.The call specialists who work in the 2-1-1 Navigation Center connect Central Texans in need to vital resources, such as rent assistance, food assistance and affordable childcare, and even suicide prevention. Their jobs can often be demanding, emotionally taxing and stressful. The monthly visits provided by Divine Canines has made a profound impact on our call center employees. Sometimes all it takes is a furry friend to brighten up your day! We spoke with Karen Laurenzi, a Divine Canines volunteer who frequently visits the UWATX Navigation Center with her dog, Ranger, and her involvement with the organization: Can you tell us about yourself and how you began volunteering with Divine Canines? When Ranger was nine months old, I started taking him to obedience school. This led to him earning his Canine Good Citizenship certification when he was a little over one year old. During this time, one of the trainers mentioned that Ranger would make a good therapy dog. I wanted a volunteer opportunity and began researching my options. A few weeks later, my […]

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Free December Holiday Meals in Austin

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 offering FREE warm meals and holiday events to the public:   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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Free November Holiday Meals in Austin

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 on a walk-in basis: 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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How to Save Money During the Holidays

The holiday season brings many costly events — from having to heat your home to preparing a Thanksgiving meal, money can get tight fast. When you do not have sufficient funds to spend on your loved ones during this time of the year, it is easy to get stressed out. Fortunately, there are ways to save during one of the most expensive times of the year. Here are a few tips we have compiled that will help you cut back on expenditures this holiday season: Free Thanksgiving Meal to Cook At Home Looking for a warm Thanksgiving meal or know someone that is? One great resource is offered by El Buen Samaritano, a partner who contracts services with the UWATX Navigation Center. This event serves around 1,000 families each year by providing a turkey and ingredients to prepare a delicious Thanksgiving dinner at home. Families who meet eligibility criteria must register at El Buen Samaritano. Click here for information on registration times and dates. The 26th Annual H-E-B Feast of Sharing will also be providing thanksgiving dinners to over 14,000 Central Texans on Tuesday, November 24th at the Palmer Events Center. We will soon be posting a detailed calendar on free holiday meals in the community — be sure to keep an eye out! Reduce Heat Loss From Your Fireplace Fireplaces are handy resources to utilize when the nights get extremely cold (or at least what feels extreme to us Texans!). In order to keep warm air from going up the chimney, make […]

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Free Educational Summer Activities for Children

Think about when you take time off of work to go on vacation. It can be hard to get back in the groove of things when you return; this is similar to what your kids experience when they have time off from school. When school is out of session, many children struggle to find educational opportunities in the summer months. According to the National Summer Learning Association, research spanning 100 years show that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer break than they do on the same tests at the beginning of summer break (White, 1906; Heyns, 1978; Entwisle & Alexander 1992; Cooper, 1996; Downey et al, 2004). It is critical for kids to keep their minds active to avoid the summer learning loss that so many children unfortunately experience. Summer is actually a great time to strengthen a child’s academic skills while still balancing other nonacademic fun summer activities. Here is a diverse list of FREE educational summer activities for your kids to enjoy this summer that will help prevent digression in their academic skills: Literacy Luau at Bright Horizons at Round Rock On Saturday, July 18th from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Bright Horizons at Round Rock is offering a Hawaiian-themed event that will include storytelling using Smart board technology, family-oriented literacy activities and a hula dance performance from Island Rhythms Hula Company. Parents can also learn how to document literacy for all ages! Summer Playgrounds Program  Summer Playgrounds is a drop-in program providing quality recreational experiences that […]

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Top Community Needs By District

Sometimes it’s easy to get carried away by the many great things Austin has to offer: parks, restaurants, concerts and local shops. If you live in a nice neighborhood, you likely aren’t thinking about how others, who may live near you but are struggling to make ends meet, are experiencing the same city in a completely different way. Using data collected from the 327,935 calls our Navigation Center received in 2014, we found the top community needs in each district. The top four needs were overwhelmingly the same for each district: Food stamps/SNAP, followed by Medicaid application, and rent and electric payment assistance. Below, we’ve listed other data that stuck out from our analysis: District one zip code 78701’s call volume increased 16% from the year before. Additionally, four zip codes in this district are within the top 10 zip codes that contacted our Navigation Center the most in 2014: 78702, 78723, 78724 and 78753. District six had the highest ratio of housing related needs, from Section 8 vouchers to help locating homeless shelters. In district seven, two zip codes are in the top ten zip codes that called for assistance: 78753 and 78758. Within these two zip codes, the call ratio per person is very high; there was one call per every five people living in these zip codes. Zip code 78701’s call volume in district nine increased 16% from the year before. Additionally, one zip code in this district is in the top 10 zip codes that contacted our […]

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Free Summer Meals for Kids

Summer vacation is a time that most children look forward to, but summer can also mean something different for the children who rely on school in order to receive regular meals. Because of this, the summer break can be detrimental to low-income children. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Texas is one of the top thirteen states to receive intensive technical assistance to expand the reach of summer meal programs. This is because Texas is currently experiencing high levels of rural/urban food insecurity and reduced program participation. Over 23 million children rely on free and reduced-price meals provided by National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs throughout the school year. However, only a small portion–3.8 million–participates in the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program. By creating the Summer Food Service Program, the USDA hopes to minimize this gap in order to ensure that children are receiving the meals they need. Fortunately, there are various locations in the Austin community where eligible children and teens ages 18 and below can find facilities that can provide them with free meals while school is out of session. The Summer Meal Site Finder is a mapping tool provided by the USDA that shows local sites that provide meals through the Summer Food Service Program. Distance, days of operation, times and the types of meals being served are some of the details provided by the finder tool. Every day parents, teachers and educational staff members worry for the children that do not have […]

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It’s Tax Return Season!

For some people, it”s the most wonderful time of the year–tax return season! What could be better than the government paying YOU?! The actual process of preparing your taxes–not so wonderful. Whether you”re just out of college and filing for the first time on your own, or have multiple jobs and are having trouble keeping track of it all, we have some great resources to make it easier for you. The deadline to file taxes with the IRS is April 15th. United Way for Greater Austin partners with Foundation Communities to provide tax preparation services through Community Tax Centers. If you earn $50,000 or less annually (slightly higher for households of more than five people), you qualify for free tax preparation! Last year, these Community Tax Centers (CTC) filed 20,000 returns for local individuals and families and generated $36 million in refunds. You can either make casino online an appointment with a CTC volunteer or walk-in, or even drop off your documents to be prepared and pick them up a few days later. Call 2-1-1 today to find the nearest tax preparation location to you or visit the Foundation Communities for more details. Prepare for your appointment by using this checklist to make sure you have all of the documents you will need in order to file. Already received your return? Use our Bank Locator tool to locate a bank close to you to make the most of your return. Feeling generous with all of your newfound cash? Consider making a donation so we can continue to support services like the Community Tax Centers!

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2-1-1 Call Data Shows Community Needs and Trends for Greater Austin

Happy February 11th, or as we like to say at United Way for Greater Austin, “Happy 2-1-1 Day!” Each year, 2-1-1 resource centers around the country celebrate this day and aim to raise awareness about the importance of the service. Since 1996, our Navigation Center has served the Greater Austin community as an access point for health and human services referrals. We are able to quickly and privately connect those in need of assistance to nonprofit and government resources, as well as track the needs and trends of the community as a whole with each call. The UWATX Navigation Center celebrates 2-1-1 Day by releasing an annual “Community Needs and Trends Report,” a compilation of data reflecting the scope of needs within our community throughout the year. View the complete report for 2014 here. The most recent data showcases the suburbanization of poverty in our region. While 2-1-1 call volume stabilized in Central and East Austin, we saw a significant increase in call volume from outlying areas, including Pflugerville, Manor, San Marcos and portions of Bastrop County. We aren’t the only ones noticing this trend. According to the Brookings Institute, “There has been a 143% increase in suburban poverty in the Austin metro area over the last decade.” Of the 327,935 calls answered in 2014, 79% of callers were female. We know that single parent-headed households are more likely to live in poverty than dual income households. The majority of callers were between 20 to 50-years-old, indicating that it is the working […]

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