Category: Impact Stories

Parents are powerful: Uplifting parent voices as champions for change | 2-Gen Leadership Council

Parents are powerful. At United Way for Greater Austin, we value the lived experience and extensive expertise of parents & caregivers. What does that mean for our work? It means that we not only strive to make room at the table for parent voices, but we work to uplift those voices and ensure that they are heard.  Welcome to our new blog series all about shining a spotlight on the ways amazing parents are using their voices to build a better Austin. In this first installment, you will hear from two-parent leaders, Alma Ruiz and Cristina Guajardo, about their experience serving on the 2-Gen Leadership Council.  What is the 2-Gen Leadership Council? The 2-Gen Leadership council is made up of 47 local leaders. These council members guide the creation of policy at the city and county level and are decision-makers in the areas of workforce, school districts, nonprofits, child care, and more. They provide big picture guidance and oversight for the 2-Gen Strategic Plan purpose, goals, and strategies. As parent leaders, Alma and Cristina are actually sitting at the table with systems leaders to co-design strategies, programs, pilots as well as to guide our overall strategic planning process. The 2-Gen Leadership Council is the only structure of this type elevating parent leaders to this strategic level in Austin currently. The goal is to elevate the voices of families and inform strategic plan implementation while giving families the skills they need to be effective advocates and leaders in the community. The […]

Read More

We did this, All Together ATX

Back in March of 2020 we had no idea the amount of good we would do when we worked together to help those most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. With so many in our community facing economic, social, and health hardships, the pandemic disrupted life as we knew it,  we just knew we had to do something. That’s why, in an effort to support the community, United Way for Greater Austin partnered with Austin Community Foundation to create All Together ATX. Now here we are, nearly a year later, celebrating more than $7.7 million in funding raised by 3,149 donors that helped 210 local nonprofits provide support to our community members most in need. Check out the full report to learn more! For nearly 100 years, United Way for Greater Austin has been dedicated to those in our community who are suffering and creating opportunity for all people, children, and families. The work we’ve been doing all along prepared us for this moment of unprecedented need. Needs will continue to evolve, and we will be here.  Together, we can provide stability today and create long-term solutions for the future, for all.     

Read More

United together, we can weather every storm

Fighting poverty means fighting to change broken systems, and last week every member of our community felt the weight of broken systems. No one in Texas was safe from the statewide systems failure that caused millions of Texans to be without power, heat, clean drinking water, and access to food and resources when needed. It was a terrible week, and our community will feel the weight of tragedy and trauma for years to come as we rebuild together. As setbacks mounted many felt hopeless, but in the wake of the disaster something beautiful happened. While systems let us down, our neighbors came together to find their own solutions. United together in community, we helped each other make it through. There are many bright stories from across the city of grassroots organizations, volunteers, and individuals who made sure neighbors had some way to stay warm and fed, and that they had access to water. The team at United Way for Greater Austin saw an opportunity to bring together our friends and partners to help with the water crisis, and quickly jumped into action.  Last Friday (February 19), reports of city-wide water outages and clean water concerns surfaced. United Way ATX’s Madison Mattise (Director of Pre-K Partnerships) and Cathy McHorse (VP of Success By 6) wanted to ensure that Austin families with young children had access to the clean water they needed to weather this crisis. They immediately began connecting with the greater United Way ATX team, partners, and local child care […]

Read More

Supporting our littlest Austinites, together

Family Connects Texas recently celebrated its second birthday, and the program is striding forward, full steam ahead with plans for growth. We are so proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish over the last few years serving families at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center, and we are committed to serving even more families in the years to come. We have a bold goal: to make sure that all babies born in Austin/Travis County have the best possible start in life. “We really enjoyed our nurse home visit with Family Connects, and our nurse was fantastic! She provided wonderful resources, and a lot of important information for parents. Even though we already have a two-year-old, there were a lot of things that we learned from our visit, and we were impressed that the nurse checked on the health of the family in general. We would definitely recommend a nurse home visit with Family Connects for all parents.” — Brandon C. It takes a village to raise a baby, and for many families in Austin, Family Connects is that support structure. In just a few short years, we’ve made great progress on our goal to serve families in Austin. Already we have: Served over 1,300 families in Austin/Travis County Successfully connected 78% of families who indicated a need with support services, from food assistance programs to family support groups to lactation consulting Addressed some need or concern — either during the nurse visit or through a outside connection — for […]

Read More

Child care advocacy in action

When 2020 began, child care was already facing a tough dilemma. Teachers were underpaid and stretched thin, families were struggling to afford high-quality care, and child care programs were surviving on budgets with razor-thin margins. The pandemic has only worsened these strains. The problems were always there, but 2020 became the year that the world noticed that child care is in crisis. As schools and businesses shut down in March, Governor Abbott asked child care centers to stay open to serve the children of essential workers. Many local programs heeded that call to action despite the many unknowns about virus mitigation, transmission, increased costs, decreased revenue, and long-term sustainability. At the same time, our Success By 6 Coalition (SX6) began advocating for relief funding by contacting local officials, providing comment and testimony at meetings, and more. Many coalition members responded to the call for advocacy, and many leaders of local child care centers also emerged as leaders in advocating for their staff and families. The Austin City Council, in turn, allocated $5M+ child care relief funds, recognizing child care as a vital economic sector of the Austin economy. Austin is one of the only cities in the state providing substantial relief with local dollars for child care, thanks in part to powerful testimony from these local leaders.      Patsy Harnage has continued her advocacy, and was recently featured in an interview with KXAN sharing her support for essential child care workers receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Our advocacy has helped […]

Read More

When Dog Days Turn Into Summer Shade

The sun beats down as children from Sweetbriar Child Development Center file outside to the playground. The students, ranging in age from 18 months to five-years-old, scurry to the fence line instead of onto the playscape. Fighting for refuge from the sun’s rays, those who do not fit in the sliver of shade, provided by large oak tree branches that sag over the black iron fence, huddle under the play structure. This routine has been on repeat twice a day for more than two summers.   “We don’t want to go outside, it’s too hot,” is their rally cry. It’s something we can all relate to in the Texas summer heat.   According to an Austin American Statesman article, July in Austin was a scorcher. With 17 triple-digit days on record, the average temperature for the month of July came in just shy of 100 at 99 degrees. The last two weeks have been particularly brutal, with all 14 days in the triple digits.   “One afternoon we came to pick up our son,” Joshua Mauk, Sweetbriar parent shared “and he was huddled under the play structure because it was really hot and that was the only shade available.”   Something had to change but parents, teachers and even the Center Director alike did not know where to begin.   The Background and Beginning   Sweetbriar Child Development Center is located in the 78744 neighborhood that Go Austin Vamos Austin (GAVA), a resident-led coalition focused on community health and well-being, […]

Read More

2-Generation: The data, collaboration & story behind the multiplier effect

“You can’t be intimidated by social determinants. You have to be willing to take risks, be criticized be offended and to offend.” – Mike Geeslin, CEO of Central Health Did you know that social and economic factors account for 40% of long term health outcomes? That’s more than any other set of factors, according to most public health models. On September 8, the 2-Gen Collaborative Provider Network held its quarterly meeting to align around coordinated social service interventions for the whole family to address “upstream factors (i.e. social determinants of health) that contribute to long-term health outcomes.” Discussions were led by Mike Geeslin, CEO of Central Health, Amy Price, Director of 2-1-1 Community Information and Dr. Chris King, local 2-Gen expert and Ascend fellow presented at the meeting.   What we need to be successful The meeting began with a word from Mike Geeslin about the importance of addressing upstream determinants of our community’s long-term health outcomes. Social determinants of health are the societal factors and conditions that people are born into that often affect their accessibility to quality health care. They include factors like socioeconomic status, education, the physical environment, employment and social support networks. Geeslin’s presentation evoked a dialogue about the barriers to addressing social determinants for the families we work with and attendees discussed the importance of having a variety of players and options available. Entrepreneurialism is integral in the healthcare space. Innovation is fueled by competition and a greater level of competition leads to higher quality healthcare for many […]

Read More

Outdoor Learning Environments & the importance of play

Data shows that the path to poverty starts at an early age and one contributing factor is that many children who are low-income do not have access to the same resources as their more advantaged peers. Now, more than ever, research indicates that the earliest years of life often sets the stage for lifelong physical and mental health and academic success. Children thrive when they are cared for by responsive and sensitive adults; participate in regular, stimulating early learning experiences; and enjoy healthy food and active play. Time spent playing in naturalized outdoor learning environments has been linked to a variety of positive health and wellness outcomes. It has been shown to support gross motor development, reduce rates of myopia, and increase physical activity. reduces children’s levels of stress and aggression, increases concentration, and lessens the symptoms associated with ADHD. Additionally play is associated with improved performance on science tests and development of an environmental ethic. The bottom line- play improves the lives of all children. OLE (Outdoor Learning Environments)! Texas is a new statewide intervention for increasing childhood physical activity and food awareness by improving childcare centers’ outdoor environments. Success By 6 is leading a coalition of local stakeholders to implement this model in our community. Launched in 2016, OLE! Texas is supported by the Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention Section, Texas Department of State Health Services, and implemented through a statewide project leadership team with support from the Natural Learning Initiative (NLI) and Texas Parks and Wildlife. […]

Read More

Volunteer Spotlight: Beth Tracy, IBM

United Way for Greater Austin (UWATX) and IBM have a deep partnership, and much of this is accredited to Beth Tracy, IBM Manager of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs. Beth has been making Austin Greater with UWATX since 2002. She served on the Hands on Central Texas Advisory Board for two years from 2004-06 guiding the team to inspire, mobilize and equip volunteers to create sustainable change in the Austin community. Nikki Krueger, Director of Community Engagement and Youth Development at United Way for Greater Austin, explains,“When I entered the world of community and volunteer engagement, Beth was one of the first people I met through the Hands On Central Texas Advisory Council. She is a model for corporate community engagement and she never shies away from a leadership role. She is an incredible advocate and friend.” Beth also served on the Success By 6 Leadership Council as Vice Chair from 2010-11 and Chair from 2012-14 leading the team towards innovative and sustainable solutions for Austin’s youngest residents. Sue Carpenter, Vice President of Success By 6 adds, “Beth has been a long-time, highly valued SB6 volunteer leader, culminating in a term as chair of the SB6 Leadership Council. Her calm, professional style set the tone for effective and productive meetings and her understanding of appropriate volunteer leadership roles allowed her to mentor experienced and rookie advisory board members. Beth listens carefully and seeks understanding before giving advice or guidance, and her insightful questions often helped me reach better decisions over the years. […]

Read More

UWATX Launches CommunityTHRIVE

United Way for Greater Austin recently launched a new initiative within our Financial Stability work called CommunityTHRIVE. CommunityTHRIVE provides financial education classes, coaching and community resources in partnership with the City of Austin Neighborhood Centers and Goodwill. Connie is an engaged community member at the Rosewood-Zaragosa Neighborhood Center who participated in the first CommunityTHRIVE class series we just wrapped up. She also volunteers at R-Z food distributions and serves on the advisory board at the Conley-Guerrero Senior Activity Center next door, advocating for programs and trips for her peers. She is a recent retiree adjusting to living on a fixed income, adding new financial difficulties to her life. CommunityTHRIVE is a four class series on budgets, debt, credit and saving open to community members at the City of Austin’s Rosewood-Zaragosa Neighborhood Center. Participants are also supported with one-0n-one financial coaching and incentives from the food bank for participation. In partnership with the Capital Area Food Bank, we are able to offer participants completing the CommunityTHRIVE classes a “food scholarship.” Participants earn a certificate in class which they can redeem for an extra basket of fresh food at several local pantries. We asked Connie about her experience in the CommunityTHRIVE classes. What was your experience like with CommunityTHRIVE? What did you learn? “It was a positive experience overall. It gave me a lot of validation. I got lots of tips on how what I’m doing could work better.” Connie really liked the handouts she received in the class, including sample budget sheets, how […]

Read More