Newsroom

Two-Generation Pilot Project Shows ESL As Biggest Need

Ascend is a policy program of The Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization that aims to pass on economic security and educational success from one generation to another. They emphasize a two-generation approach in every thing they do, meaning that they want to create opportunities for both the parent and child living in disadvantaged situations. UWATX received a grant from The Aspen Institute Ascend Fund in order to develop and test a two-gen pilot project of our own. United Way for Greater Austin engaged two researchers from the University of Texas’s Ray Marshall Center to measure impact through an evaluation that used multiple methodologies, including participant focus groups, individual interviews, surveys and pre- and post-skill tests. At the onset of the pilot, UWATX met with community partners to discuss project strategies to test an adult education care model for parents with children already engaged in high-quality early education. With Austin Independent School District (AISD) and Uphaus Early Childhood Center, UWATX developed an outreach plan to reach potential participants. After several weeks of dedicated outreach, UWATX reached over 100 parents and learned some valuable lessons. Over half of respondents cited English as their primary need and interest. Those who were interested, qualified and eligible for job training had diverse interests, making it difficult to form a cohort. At the same time, UWATX learned most of the job training families had reliable transportation and could access the existing training centers, while the Spanish-speaking families struggled with isolation. All of this […]

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Success Story: Kevin Rogel

What do you think of when you hear the word “philanthropist?” This year’s theme for employee campaigns is to “put away your top hats and monocles” and that “anyone can be a philanthropist.” We believe that whether you give $5 a year or $500,000 a year, you are a philanthropist; it is your giving spirit and earnest attempt to better your community that grants you this fancy-sounding title. We could find no better example of this than Kevin Rogel, who graciously agreed to let us share his story. We met Kevin, 16, a few years ago when he was a student at Webb Middle School. He joined our Volunteer Project Leader group, which teaches middle school students to not only give back, but to design and lead their own volunteer projects. While on a tour of the middle school, H-E-B senior vice president Jeff Thomas heard Kevin speak about the program and was impressed with his confidence, philanthropic heart and always positive attitude. Thomas told Kevin later that day, “when you hit 16…look me up” for an open position awaiting him at H-E-B. Mere days after Kevin’s 16th birthday last April, Kevin filled out his application with the help of his mentor and UWATX Director of Volunteer Engagement, Nikki Kruger–and as Thomas promised, he was hired as a Customer Service Associate. Unfortunately, Kevin awoke a few days later in a hospital in San Antonio with more than 40% of his body covered in third-degree burns. While helping his mom cook, he slipped […]

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Meet Principal Alejandro Góngora

“On Time, On Task and On a Mission.” These are the words that are displayed in the Decker Middle School hallway and echoed through the leadership practices of Principal Alejandro Góngora. Decker Middle School is located in the Manor area in Austin, Far East on 290. This campus is considered low-SES and more than 80 percent of Decker students receive free or reduced lunch Góngora, originally from Flushing Queens, New York, has worked in education for 15 years. He earned his undergraduate degree from The University of Texas at Austin and is currently part of the cooperative superintendent program there. Principal Góngora previously taught at Oak Meadows Elementary, which feeds into Decker Middle School. Coincidentally, he has had dozens of the same students for many years. “I’ve known some of these kids since they were in kindergarten, so they know I’m invested. I do feel that the majority of my students understand that I do care about them and love them.” When asked about his leadership style, Góngora said, “I make [emotional] deposits with my students… I talk to them. I work with them. When tough moments arise, I help. When they are ready, we talk. I’ve known some of these kids since they were in kindergarten, so they know I’m invested. I do feel that the majority of my students understand that I do care about them and love them.” Principal Góngora is a native Spanish speaker and is able to effectively communicate with many ESL students and parents. […]

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Making Ends Meet in Manor

Meet the Maldonado Family – they live in the Manor area in Austin, Far East on 290. Benito, Sr. and Leonor are parents to Benito, Jr. (15,) Brenda (12) and Blue Emmy (1 mo.) Like the Salazar Family, they face a unique set of economic challenges and rely on their community for support. Benito, Sr. works two jobs to make ends meet for the family, but it can still be a struggle to manage everyday expenses in addition to the cost of housing and utilities. It takes about fifty thousand dollars for just a family of four to break even in Austin, so the Maldonados rarely have enough money at the end of the month after covering their rent, food, childcare, car insurance, bills and more. The Maldonados aren’t alone – half of all people in the Manor neighborhood spend 1/3 or more of their income on housing. And as temperatures rise during the blistering Texas summer, it can be tricky to keep up with high utility bills. Luckily, the Maldonado family is able to utilize our Navigation Center, where dialing 2-1-1 will connect them to local resources that can help them pay these high bills so that their utilities are not disconnected.  $50K For a family of four to break even in Austin 50%  Renters in Manor who spend 1/3 or more of income on housing The Maldonados have considered using payday loans when they’re behind on bills, but this can cost them $1,000’s in annual fees to predatory […]

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It takes a lot to thrive as a working family

This is the Salazar family – they live in the St. John’s neighborhood in Austin, near the intersection of I-35 and 183. Like many Austin families, they juggle many challenges – tight budgets, long hours and trying to provide the best for their family – so the Salazars need support from their community. Claudia, the mother, decided to stay at home to care for their children and avoid the high costs of child care while her husband provides for the family by fixing cars. Between transportation to get to work on time, food, bills and rent – there’s barely enough left at the end of each paycheck. During the summer especially, as the temperatures rise, so do water and electric bills – so a time that most families enjoy together is a time of stress in the Salazar home as their finances get even tighter. The Salazars have even considered taking out payday loans just to get along – but these can cost thousands in fees and leave them with even more challenges. But the Salazars can turn to United Way to access safer banking options so they can avoid payday lenders – or call our Navigation Center to connect to summer food programs.  In a couple of years, their daughter Kylie will enter middle school where many students begin to fall behind. The Salazar’s know that for Kylie to stay on the path to graduation, she’ll need support from both of them, she’ll need to not worry about food or how she’ll get […]

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AJ is spending his summer learning

instead of staying home alone while his mother works, AJ is coming to Decker each day, where he is currently working through interactive lessons about outdoor skills and environmental science – in the second half, he’ll concentrate on visual art and film. AJ Resendez describes himself as a ten-year old boy, born and raised in Austin, TX, who loves swimming, dodgeball, and the color blue. This summer he has joined the ranks of 70+ other middle school students who will learn new skills and make new friends at our Middle School Matters Summer Program at Decker Middle School, part of our Target Graduation program.  “I have always lived in Austin – born and raised,” says AJ.  “It’s really fun, and I like living here because you get to meet people from around the world and learn about them.” This summer, instead of staying home alone while his mother works, AJ is coming to Decker each day, where he is currently working through interactive lessons about outdoor skills and environmental science – in the second half, he’ll concentrate on visual art and film. Because of the program, AJ will have more opportunities to learn, stay active, and get to know the middle school he will attend in the fall. At the same time, Decker benefits from AJ’s cooperation and easy smile.   AJ just graduated from fifth grade at Pioneer Crossing elementary where he served as student council president. When asked if he campaigned for the position, he simply shook his head and said that he was chosen by […]

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One of the many teachers we appreciate

Since it’s National Teacher Day and Teacher Appreciation Week, we are saying a warm & heartfelt thank you to one of the many teachers that make our work possible and support Austin’s students: Mr. Bavu Blakes, 7th Grade English Language Arts & Reading Teacher at Decker Middle School.  In case you need to get inspired, we asked Bavu some questions about his teaching philosophy – the answers are guaranteed to give you some warm and fuzzies.    Why did you decide to go into teaching?  I am a scholar. I have always been that way.  I am an avid reader and writer.  I was interested in teaching at the college level but I wanted to work in my community (he lives in Decker attendance zone) .  I wanted to serve my community and the young people.  Also, I remember my 8th grade English teacher.  She changed the course of history for me.  That’s why. As an English Language Arts teacher, I get to teach a subject that affects all parts of their life. Writing, reading, listening and speaking are the foundation of all things we do. Bavu Blakes, 7th Grade Teacher at Decker Middle School  What is your teaching philosophy? Teaching is about building relationships with children.  I see it as my job to identify what they need and how to teach them.  As an English Language Arts teacher, I get to teach a subject that affects all parts of their life. Writing, reading, listening and speaking are the foundation of all things […]

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Meet Raul Sanchez

It’s no secret that Austin, Texas is great, arguably the envy of the world: it’s the live music capital, boasts a roaring economy, has shown up on countless “Best Cities For” lists and is rapidly growing because of it. These things are obvious to us locals. What us natives might not realize is why Austin is greater: it’s greater because of Raul Sanchez.  Sanchez has been an educator for more than a decade, starting in his own back yard in the Rio Grande Valley and currently serving the St. John community as Principal of Webb Middle School, one of the schools in our Target Graduation program. The son of immigrants from Mexico, Sanchez feels great kinship with the children he works with everyday.  “The Rio Grande Valley didn’t need me like Webb needs me – we have kids who are moving so much, who have a lot of challenges in their family from homelessness to mental illness and more. Thanks to United Way, we can provide wrap-around help for all of these issues. That means my teachers and I can focus on learning.” – Raul Sanchez Principal, Webb Middle School  “When I see the children we serve, I see myself,” said Sanchez in a recent conversation with Celso Baez, a founding member of our Young Leaders Society who has volunteered at Webb Middle School. “I am the youngest of 14 children and the first person in my family to go to college. My parents don’t have a formal education. I started out very much like […]

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A middle school perspective on leadership

On the surface, these students look like any other boys in the St. John’s neighborhood – Jose is a Webb Middle School student who likes video games and has lived in Austin all his life, Kevin is a freshman at Reagan High School who was born in Mexico and loves to play soccer. But they do something that makes them stand out from the pack: Kevin and Jose are actively changing their community at the ripe old ages of 11 and 15, respectively. We’ve been working with students like them for three years as part of our Target Graduation program. When we first partnered with campuses to saturate schools with the services that students need, we also adapted our Volunteer Project Leader program into a full-year course for middle school students, and over the past year, our Young Leader Society has been actively engaged with volunteer leaders at our three target middle schools. Kevin, Jose and 48 of their peers are making a difference by assessing what the needs are in their own school, putting together a plan to resolve those needs and leading their peers and YLS members to fix problems. This is Jose’s first year in the program, but Kevin’s been involved since it first started.  “I enjoy getting to help people in the community where I live. I feel like I’m making a change at home,” said Kevin to YLS member Kara Birge when she sat down with the boys last week. “I got to help people today […]

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Free tax prep is “the best thing I’ve ever come across”

In my work with UWATX, I’ve had the pleasure of helping thousands of Central Texans take a meaningful step towards financial security by opening bank accounts, encouraging savings and taking advantage of free tax prep. Recently, I got to speak with Sarah in La Grange who used myfreetaxes.com/uwatx (which is powered by H&R Block) to file her taxes for FREE.  Sarah had just gotten back in town from Brenham where she works at the State Supported Living Center. Sarah has been living in La Grange with her husband and three kids (10,4, and 2) for the last ten years.  She grew up in the city and always knew she wanted to raise her kids in a rural setting with good schools.  “It’s the best thing I’ve ever come across – I’ve encouraged all of my friends and family to prepare their taxes this way” – Sarah on myfreetaxes.com/uwatx How were you getting your taxes done before this? What changed?  I had been getting them done at retail tax preparers for years.  Last year, I paid $290 for my return. This year, they whipped it up  in what seemed like no time at all and then asked for $315 plus a $35 fee for direct deposit. I can’t afford that, I have a husband and three kids, so I got up and walked out.  What did you do then?   I reached out to Workforce Solutions in La Grange, TX and they connected me to the United Way service.  I sat down at a computer and […]

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