Newsroom

Black Pearl Books and the Greater Austin Reading Coalition: Getting culturally-relevant books in the hands of young readers

The current reality in our community is that only three in 10 children from families with low income pass their 3rd grade reading STAAR test.  Here at United Way for Greater Austin, we believe that reading is a crucial, foundational skill. That’s why we lead a local movement — the Greater Austin Reading Coalition — to ensure that ALL children are reading on grade level by the 4th grade, which is a pivotal point in a child’s reading development.  Launched in 2021, the Greater Austin Reading Coalition is a diverse group of nonprofit and community leaders, librarians, teachers, and parents. The coalition is convened by United Way as part of our collective impact work to fight poverty. In just our first year, together with our coalition members, we have gotten more than 50,000 books in the hands of young readers across our community! One member that has been instrumental in making this possible is Black Pearl Books. Owned and operated by Katrina Brooks, Black Pearl Books is an indie, Black-owned bookstore in Austin with a mission to promote diversity, inclusion, equality, cultural awareness, and community through literature. This mission is what drove Katrina to join the Greater Austin Reading Coalition, as one of the coalition’s goals is to increase access to culturally-relevant books for children. “Having culturally-relevant books available to children is a necessity to get them to read on grade level.”  – Katrina Brooks  Culturally-relevant books are titles that illustrate the beautiful diversity of our community. It’s important for […]

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Expanding Opportunity for Young Families helps parenting students advance their careers

Meet Katie Gonzalez, a parent of six young kids. As one of 34 parents in our Expanding Opportunities for Young Families pilot program, Katie recently earned a phlebotomy certificate from Austin Community College, advancing her career opportunities while also receiving access to vital wrap-around services for her family. Expanding Opportunity for Young Families (EOYF) is a collaborative community program coordinated by United Way for Greater Austin that helps parents overcome barriers to completing their degree, such as challenges finding child care and financial pressures. The program, which takes a 2-Gen approach of serving parents and children simultaneously, works to increase young parents’ successful academic enrollment and completion so they can access middle-skill jobs.  The goal of the program is to increase the financial stability of young parents age 18-29 while improving the well-being of their children. Together with local community partner organizations, young parents from our Link Up Austin group are co-leaders of this work to advance the well-being and economic mobility of their families and the community. Katie says participating in the program allowed her to support herself financially while studying to achieve her dream role as a phlebotomist. “It’s a good opportunity for a lot of families,” she said. “Especially those who are in need and are wanting to go back to school and get educated, so they can have a career for themselves, their kids and their families.” How it works United Way partners with Workforce Solutions (WFS) Capital Area, Central Texas Allied Health Institute (CTAHI), Skillpoint […]

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United Way for Greater Austin & United Way of Williamson County are joining forces!

We are excited to announce that United Way for Greater Austin and United Way of Williamson County are joining forces! Our two organizations have signed a management contract with intent to merge, and we are engaged in a due diligence process as the final step in the merger process.  Together, we will have one mission: Bringing people, ideas, and resources together to fight poverty in our community.  “As the Austin metro area grows, the boundaries between Travis and Williamson counties continue to blend; many people work in one and live in the other,” said David C. Smith, CEO of United Way for Greater Austin. “For our communities biggest challenges, more and more people are finding regional solutions optimal. This merger will help us better and more efficiently serve the Greater Austin community, while expanding and deepening our impact with a regional approach. Together, we can do more.” The Boards of Directors for both organizations approved the move in June 2021. The due diligence process is expected to be complete by the end of the year, with a further vote by both organizations’ Boards at that time. Until then, United Way for Greater Austin has a managing agreement with United Way of Williamson County and is thoughtfully integrating the two organizations into one. “Integrating the services and expertise of our two organizations will help us better and more efficiently serve our community, both in Williamson County and the region,” said Jodee O’Brien, former CEO of United Way of Williamson County and […]

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VaxTogetherAustin: Helping the community heal, one vaccination at a time

On May 4, 2021, VaxTogetherAustin became one of nineteen community-based organizations receiving a total of $415,000 in grant funding from United Way for Greater Austin, Austin Community Foundation, and St. David’s Foundation. This grantee cohort shares ideas and collaborates in monthly meetings and day-to-day communications in their grantee Facebook group. Remember how we said that anyone can save lives in Central Texas? This week we want to introduce you to one of our vaccine equity initiative grantees who is doing just that. Meet VaxTogetherAustin, a COVID-19 health equity organization supporting underserved populations in Austin and surrounding areas.  Starting in January 2021, VaxTogetherAustin began as a loose coalition of volunteers drawn from various grassroots groups dedicated to helping people find COVID-19 vaccine appointments in and around the Austin area. Early efforts focused on serving seniors, the blind and visually impaired, medically fragile individuals, hesitant individuals, and underserved communities, while also assisting anybody who reached out for help. “Initially I was on NextDoor, helping people in my neighborhood who needed help securing vaccine appointments for their elderly family members,” Sharon Cohan, VaxTogetherAustin Founder, and Executive Director said. “I ended up partnering with Raji Parameswaran, now President of the Board and Strategic Operations for VaxTogetherAustin when we realized we were doing the same thing. The next thing I knew, we had a spreadsheet of 300 people that were all eligible for vaccines and needed help.” In February, Marcy Gonzalez, a visually impaired Austinite, helped VaxTogetherAustin identify a need for vaccine access in the […]

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Superior HealthPlan Supports New Moms: Meet Katy and her Futur

This blog was written by Superior HealthPlan Sr. Manager, Marketing and Communications, Michael Cation. Superior HealthPlan is a long-time corporate partner of United Way for Greater Austin and a pillar of our community. Together with our partners like Superior, we’re building a better Austin for families like Katy and Futur. Katy Moreno is a certified nursing assistant, a community health worker, and just weeks away from finishing coursework to become a phlebotomist. Three years ago, those achievements seemed unreachable, as she became a mother at the age of 16. As her son, Futur, faced early health complications, his wellbeing was at the top of her priority list. Katy and Futur accessed support through Medicaid and Superior HealthPlan, an Austin-based managed care organization that serves members in all 254 Texas counties. As a young, single mother in Austin, Katy had access to a range of services from Superior – including through its Start Smart for Your Baby program – that set her and Futur up to be successful. “Futur struggled to eat in the first few months,” Katy explained. “He had some issues with gaining weight and required multiple hospital visits and medication. Without Superior’s support, I think I would have had some anxiety and Futur might have had some even bigger health issues.” After addressing Futur’s healthcare needs, Katy’s focus turned to herself – how to support her young family moving forward. Like many before her, Katy enrolled in a GED and job training program through American Youthworks, an organization […]

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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 […]

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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.     

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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