Category: Hands On Central Texas

VPL Students and YLS Build Skate Ramp at Mendez Middle School

Young Leaders Society members and VPL students from Mendez Middle School, one of three campuses we support through our Target Graduation program, joined forces last weekend on a very different kind of volunteer project.  Along with members of Mendez’s Skateboard Club, an after school group dedicated to kick-flipping and perfecting the art of an Ollie, the volunteers built a skate ramp at the school entirely from scratch. Students utilized skills they had recently learned in their math classes as they measured boards, calculated angles and used formulas to get the perfect angles on the ramp. Young Leaders Society members assisted with the heavy-duty aspects by drilling the boards into place and making sure the ramp was stable. Members of the Skateboard Club had an audience to show off on the new ramp after completion, and some YLS members even assisted with teaching new skateboard skills. The Dove Springs community in which Mendez Middle School sits is two years into a health and wellness revitalization project. “GO Austin! VAMOS Austin!” is a place-based health initiative, funded by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, aimed at reducing obesity in zip code 78744. Initiative organizers and community leaders have advocated for better sidewalks, improved lighting at parks, safe routes to school and coordinated exercise programs, like Zumba and soccer for local kids and families.  We are happy to support not only this health initiative in Dove Springs, but to support high-quality afterschool programming in this neighborhood, such as the Skateboard Club at Mendez. View all of the photos from this project on our […]

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Farmers Insurance Group Promotes Literacy in Dove Springs

Recent studies reveal that approximately 53 percent of fourth graders report reading recreationally almost every day – but that figure drops down to 20 percent by eighth grade. At United Way for Greater Austin, we invest in Middle School Matters through our Target Graduation program because we know that middle school is a critical tipping point for student success and that literacy development, supported by self-directed reading, is one of the cornerstones of academic achievement. Because the promotion of literacy is paramount to our mission, we’re thrilled to announce that Farmers Insurance Group generously funded a reading nook in the Mendez Middle School library! In partnership with UWATX, Farmers donated more than 100 high-interest book titles to the library collection and added beanbag chairs, festive rugs and pillows and other décor to make the space more inviting. Farmers volunteers also held an on-site competition to create posters highlighting the new books. On Thursday, March 12, Farmers volunteers spent the afternoon cataloguing the new books, arranging furniture, hanging posters and decorating the reading nook. The space was officially unveiled on Friday, March 13 at the Dove Springs Community Alliance meeting. Located in Dove Springs, a low-income neighborhood in southeast Austin, Mendez Middle School serves as a key community resource for local families. More than eighty five percent of students in this area are economically disadvantaged, which poses barriers to opportunity and academic success for many of them. By partnering with companies like Farmers Insurance Group, UWATX works to provide support for target campuses to move toward closing the […]

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Volunteers Make St. John’s Greater

UWATX will focus on the St. John’s neighborhood during this year’s 24-hour session of community-wide giving through Amplify Austin in hopes we can expand our work in this community, as well as our other target neighborhoods including Manor and Dove Springs. Take a look at some of the projects volunteers completed in the St. John’s community within the last year! Webb students who participate in our Volunteer Project Leaders class have been busy improving their own neighborhood. For Valentine’s Day, they created cards and banners to show their appreciation for teachers at their school. VPL students also participated in our annual MLK Day of Service by working with members of the Young Leaders Society to create giant jenga and other games for the Big Game – Super Bowl XLIX watch party. Funds generated from the watch party will go toward the YLS $180K Challenge, raising money for full-time coordinators at Webb, Decker and Mendez Middle Schools. Last December, the neighborhood came together for our Community Tree Lighting held at Webb Middle School. UWATX volunteers gathered more than 1,600 books to give out to kids of all ages who attended the event. Many of the kids walked away with more books than they could carry. Our valued business partners have also been busy making St. John’s greater in the last year. Texas Mutual spent the day at Webb Middle School volunteering as part of the Insurance Challenge. Some volunteers worked to beautify the grounds, while others decorated and put together welcome boxes to inspire students for […]

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Volunteers Spread Love to Local Teachers for Valentine’s Day

According to the Greeting Card Association, 190 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged each year. Due in part to United Way for Greater Austin’s first family-friendly Valentine’s Day volunteer event, community members will contribute nearly 1,000 cards to spread love to those giving back in the greater Austin community. On Saturday, February 7th, 25 volunteers created handmade Valentine’s Day cards to acknowledge the teachers and support staff who work every day in our target neighborhoods: Dove Springs, St. John’s and Manor. Volunteers wrote inspiring notes for preschool and middle school teachers, and thanked the businesses who run UWATX employee campaigns. Without the dedicated teachers, principals and staff who support Success By 6 and Target Graduation, programs aimed at improving school readiness and graduation rates, our work would not be possible.   [youtube id=pNu16XsTm4Q]   UWATX is investing in the future of greater Austin. In addition to the community volunteer event, our middle school Volunteer Project Leaders also created cards. These Volunteer Project Leaders are part of an afterschool program at Mendez, Webb and Decker Middle Schools that train middle school students to identify community needs and coordinate volunteer projects. More than 35 middle school students contributed to the massive Valentine’s Day card project by writing notes to their teachers and making appreciation banners to hang in the schools. Valentine’s Day is a day to recognize and appreciate all of the people in your life. We hope this volunteer project inspires you to tell those around you that you love them–whether it is […]

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Community Tree Lighting in St. John’s Makes Austin Brighter

United Way for Greater Austin was pleased to host the inaugural Community Tree Lighting in St. John’s on December 2, #Giving Tuesday.  We are so appreciative of the people and communities that make Austin greater and are overjoyed about the opportunity to provide a complimentary holiday event for families in this neighborhood.  Located on the Webb Middle School campus, the 15-foot tree, which was generously provided by Capital Metro, will serve as a joyous fixture that the people of St. John’s will be able to enjoy and revisit throughout the holiday season.  We chose Webb Middle School as our venue for this event because of our investment and strong ties to the community. Our Target Graduation program invested $300,000 in Webb Middle School students during the last academic year to coordinate student services including mentoring, tutoring and parent education.  You can see photos from the Community Tree Lighting here! Principal Sanchez, dressed as santa, flipped the switch on the 15-foot tree, casting a warm holiday glow on approximately 200 attendees. Following the tree lighting, Hands On Central Texas  distributed more than 1,500 books to adolescents and children in St. John’s. Seeing the expression on students’ faces as they were able to carry armloads of books away from the event was the most rewarding moment for staff at United Way and all those involved in the book drive. This free holiday event also offered families the opportunity to participate in card decorating, ornament making, face painting, interactions with mini-horses and balloon art, as well as cookies and cocoa. We […]

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Families Give Thanks, Volunteer Together

Thanksgiving Day is just around the corner, and with it comes time for individuals and families to reflect on what they hold near and dear. Family Volunteer Day, held nationally on the Saturday before Thanksgiving each year, is an opportunity for parents and children to give back to their community together. Started in 1992, this national day of philanthropy signals the beginning of the season of holiday giving and is an opportunity for families to give back as a unit. United Way for Greater Austin is a proud participant in Family Volunteer Day, and hosted a Holiday Cheer event this past weekend. Families created ornaments, made cards and decorated bookmarks to accompany children’s books donated from the book drive! More than 50 people attended this volunteer event, which compliments our upcoming Community Tree Lighting in St. John’s. The ornaments will be hung on the 15-foot tree, and the donated books will be distributed to underserved children at the Tree Lighting event. Family volunteerism supports the community by shaping the volunteers and philanthropists of the future. Children who volunteer with their families learn the importance of civic engagement and giving back through first-hand experience. Children also benefit from volunteering by building confidence and self-esteem. Interested in volunteer opportunities? We’ve complied a few options below!   Organize a drive to collect books or other materials for families in need Click here to learn more about UWATX-sponsored holiday drives Adopt a family. Local organizations such as Safeplace and Lifeworks have volunteer opportunities where individuals can adopt a family […]

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UWATX Leads Projects That Make a Difference for Local Schools

United Way for Greater Austin believes that anyone, regardless of their ability to make a financial contribution, can engage in philanthropy. Volunteering one’s time is a valuable way to make a positive impact and invest in the community. As part of our annual participation in Make a Difference Day, one of the largest national days of community service, our staff members organized projects that allowed others to donate their time and talents in order to make local schools greater. On Friday, October 24, Hands On Central Texas coordinated a volunteer project for Mendez Middle School students to clean up litter on campus. Approximately 60 students participated in the project and were supported by adult volunteers through our Young Leaders Society. Ricoh kicked off its United Way for Greater Austin employee campaign by volunteering. Employees helped prepare Webb Middle School’s gardens for future outdoor classroom instruction. Webb’s Volunteer Project Leaders led the volunteers in gardening, and spoke about their campus and future project plans for the school and neighborhood. A group of Dr. Pepper Snapple Group employees also volunteered their time in the St. John’s neighborhood, where Webb is located, by touching up the Born Learning Trail at J.J. Pickle Elementary. Volunteers cleaned up the area and painted shapes, numbers and letters that coordinate with activity signs for children. Dr. Pepper Snapple Group employees also wrote inspirational letters to middle school students at our three Target Graduation middle schools (Webb, Decker, Mendez) and made bookmarks to accompany board books from recent book drives. Decker Middle […]

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Fall Day of Caring: A volunteer’s perspective

Some might think that going out to work in a garden the day after torrential rains would be a not-so great idea. How much mud are you going to encounter? Will the flower beds and vegetable patches be flooded? Will it be gross? Those are some of the questions that might come up. It had rained pretty hard the night before the Austin American-Statesman volunteers were scheduled to volunteer in the JJ Pickle Elementary School garden. Because of this, we showed up in rain boots and rain coats, hats and hooded jackets. By the time we arrived at the school, there were menacing clouds gathering again in the sky, but these provided a great cover for us as we gathered our tools and listened to the instructions for the day. Our volunteer leader, Judith Hutchinson, greeted us with coffee and donuts. She was happy to see that we arrived in a school bus—very appropriate for our volunteering location. We huddled in front of the bus for a picture, and then we were off to the gardens. Judith showed us where all the tools were and gave us plenty of options of where to start and what to improve. There was more than enough enthusiasm to go around. Plenty of fresh green weeds to pull from the raised vegetable beds, and soft, crumbly dirt to turn over with a shovel. We emptied a pond in order to make room for fresh water, trimmed flower bushes and made sure the sprouting vegetables […]

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What a difference a year makes

A little over a year ago, a group of young professionals began meeting and discussing ways that we could make a positive change in some of Austin’s most vulnerable communities. I’m proud to have been part of that group. We’ve had the chance to get to know each other better, help the community, and have a lot of fun along the way. More importantly, we’ve had the chance to be inspired by an amazing group of kids that are working to make Austin greater.  You don’t have to take my word for it:  I’m humbled by the accomplishments of the group over the last year and wanted to share a few of our key initiatives. Volunteering at UWATX’s Manor Summer Program – This year, we had the opportunity to help out with UWATX’s Summer Program at Decker Middle School. In this program, 75 plus low income middle schoolers had the chance to participate in a seven-week program designed to combat the effect of “summer slide.” As noted by Target Graduation Director Nichole Lopez- Riley, ““We know that a lack of summer learning contributes substantially to students falling behind academically across many subjects. This initiative is aimed to provide students with the materials, project-based learning opportunities and access to services they need during the summer break to be successful.” A highlight of the program was Summer Learning Day on June 20. The day was a chance for students in the UWATX Manor Summer Program to interact with volunteers and learn more about how to advocate for their […]

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Jesse Garcia on giving back: “I owe it to the community to pay it forward.”

Yesterday, Young Leaders Society (YLS) members joined 75 low-income fifth, sixth and seventh grade students from our Manor Summer Program to host the Texas Alliance for Minorities in Engineering (TAME) “Trailblazer”—the only interactive museum-on-wheels in Texas. YLSers in STEM careers connected to eager middle schoolers learning fundamental concepts in that arena.  One of these dedicated YLSers was Jesse Garcia, who is in the Engineering Rotation Program at Freescale, for whom the effort struck home.  “I grew up in a low income neighborhood where everyone was expected to find a job after highschool and people didn’t really talk about college,” explained Jesse. “I was lucky to have a 4th grade teacher who pulled me aside one day to talk to me about engineering and how he thought I’d be a good engineer. From that point forward, it became my goal. I want to bring the same experience to other kids so that hopefully they can find their own goal and hopefully spend their days doing something that’s not a “job” because they love it. I guess I feel like I owe it to the community to pay that forward.” Jesse first got involved with YLS because Kara Birge told him it was a group focused on helping middle school students. “When I asked her how, she said I had to come to find out. Seeing the speakers there made me want to come volunteer, so I signeed up for the next project. It was a great experience so I kept coming back.”  Here’s more of Jesse’s inspiring story:    “YLS is a group […]

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