Category: Makes Austin Greater

Spring Play To Learn Classes Graduate

As our Play To Learn program runs on a school year schedule, we just wrapped up our spring semester and are launching our summer groups with about 30 families participating. This year so far, a total of 204 families graduated from Play To Learn or an extension class through YMCA, which is a combination of Play To Learn and YMCA’s Early Learning Readiness program. Through Play To Learn, not only did young children leave with new skills but parents learned how to foster their child’s optimal development at home. Parents and children attended classes together with the following themes: • Social skills • Gross motor skills • Fine motor skills • Language Development • Emotional regulation skills • Geometry • Numeracy • Emerging Literacy “Honestly, this program did help my daughter a lot. My children are naturally very shy and now my daughter is less introverted and more social. I really did see a huge change in my daughter and I highly recommend the class. The reason I never missed a class is because I could tell my daughter loved being there and benefited greatly.” –Maria R. Attendees also learned digital literacy skills by practicing various tasks and using the pre-loaded educational apps on the Samsung tablets provided by United Way for Greater Austin. It is important to bridge the “digital divide” between low-income families and their more affluent peers now more than ever. Internet access is no longer a luxury but a necessity for individuals to complete homework, fill […]

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Guest Post: “Aspiring to Lead. Committed to Give Back.”

Heather Brunner has served on the UWATX Board of Directors for seven years, and as a volunteer for seventeen years. As she wraps up her final year on our board, she reflects on her time with United Way. “During my school years and at college, I was always a very active community volunteer. After college as a young professional, I was a road warrior, working long hours and was relentlessly focused on building my career–but something was missing. I wasn’t giving back to the welcoming Austin community that gave me such incredible career opportunity. In the summer of 1999, I saw an ad in the Austin American-Statesman with a call for volunteers from the United Way. I was familiar with United Way from employee giving campaigns at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) and from Donna Van Fleet, a United Way board member and Business Unit Executive at IBM that I admired. So I decided to answer the call. Today, seventeen years later as I end my final Board of Directors term, I can say that serving United Way for Greater Austin has been one of the highest privileges and proudest accomplishments of my life. In those seventeen years, I’ve seen the organization change dramatically from a mostly fundraising “pass through” mechanism to local nonprofits, to a strategic catalyst and thought leader driving positive change for the working poor and their families. Twenty-five percent of our Greater Austin community is living on the edge of poverty and in need of a helping hand […]

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Atlassian In-Kind Donations Boost UWATX Efficiency

Giving back to a nonprofit doesn’t always mean donating money or volunteering. We are grateful to the many companies who offer us in-kind product or service donations that help us run smoother internally, put on events or simply function better day-to-day. For the past couple of years, Atlassian has greatly supported United Way for Greater Austin in a very behind-the-scenes way in addition to volunteer projects, such as sponsoring a family during the holidays. Atlassian is a team collaboration software company that helps teams organize, discuss and complete shared work. Last year, Atlassian donated one of its products, Hipchat, to the UWATX office. Hipchat is a team chat service that allows our staff to share files, ask quick questions, video chat when we are working outside the office and—do not underestimate the importance of this—share gifs with each other. This was a HUGE upgrade for our staff, who formerly relied on either emails or poking our heads into each others offices to ask questions. Since the implementation of Hipchat, it has been much easier for UWATX staff to communicate quickly without interrupting each other and spend our time more productively. This year, Atlassian gave us an even bigger gift: Confluence. Confluence is an amazing team content and collaboration platform that provides an intranet for United Way for Greater Austin. We now have all of the information an employee could possibly want to know about UWATX all in one place. It helps us better manage projects, allows others to see what […]

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Kerbey Lane Café Makes Huge Community Impact

Pancakes and queso are only some of the few great things that come from the delicious Austin landmark, Kerbey Lane Cafe! Kerbey Lane makes giving back to the community a top priority. Through their 36 years of operating, they have supported the Austin community by contributing their time, resources and energy to local organizations. Kerbey Lane Cafe emphasizes the importance of philanthropy by supporting UWATX by running employee giving campaigns at each location and volunteering year-round at different events, such as our Spring Day of Caring and Fall Day of Caring and one-off projects like beautifying Webb Middle School and childcare centers. Kerbey Lane CEO, Mason Ayer is also a devoted UWATX Board Member who exemplifies giving from the top down is what makes a campaign successful. On May 5th, Kerbey Lane Cafe celebrated their 36th anniversary by generously donating 100 percent of their profits from all seven restaurants to UWATX. Yesterday, Kerbey Lane team members and CEO Mason Ayer, who also serves on the UWATX Board of Directors, spent time volunteering at Webb Middle School’s field day. Volunteers painted signs for the talent show, assisted teachers with cleaning out rooms for the summer and even built a brand new shed to hold supplies for the school’s garden. They also took the opportunity to present a check for $50,037 to UWATX CEO, David C. Smith. The check was made up from donations collected from Kerbey Lane’s employee giving campaign as well as the profits from their 36th anniversary gift. A few years ago, Kerbey Lane […]

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Recognizing Excellence in Corporate Philanthropy: 2015 Campaign Awards

At United Way for Greater Austin, we run more than 200 employee campaigns in nearly 700 locations in the Austin area. Employee campaigns provide an opportunity for businesses to empower employees to be philanthropists by donating a portion of each paycheck back to the community. Last night, we celebrated and recognized companies who excelled in building philanthropy in our community at our 2015 Employee Campaign Awards. Award winners: Best Practices: Superior Health and Texas Gas This award recognizes the company that implements UWATX’s best campaign practices, which include Senior Officer involvement, access to employees and use of UWATX campaign materials among several others. This year we had two winners for this award. Superior Health kept their campaign at one week to give a sense of urgency; they also planned a week of fun, educational experiences for their employees encouraging them to give. Texas Gas established multiple opportunities for UWATX staff to come and speak to their employees about our work, as well as ran a closed campaign where employee donations were matched 1:1 by their foundation. Community Investment Award: H-E-B The Community Investment Award represents a company or companies who exemplify what it really means to wrap arms around a community to make a significant impact. Anyone who shops at H-E-B realizes it’s not your normal grocery store. This year, H-E-B decided to increase corporate giving to match the generosity of their employees and UWATX experienced a 150% increase in corporate giving. They make philanthropy a part of their culture and host […]

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AISD Doubles Capacity For Pre-K3 Next Year

(Via Austin ISD Press Release) Austin ISD will nearly double its capacity to teach prekindergarten for three-year-olds (Pre-K3) next year, thanks to funding from local donors. View photos from the press conference at Pleasant Hill Elementary on May 5th. “When students have a strong start, they have a strong future,” Superintendent Paul Cruz said. “We want make sure all students are given a path to success. Starting early improves the chance that students graduate college-, career- and life-ready.” AISD will be able to add Pre-K3 to 13 more schools: Barrington, Casey, Harris, Houston, Jordan, Kocurek, Metz, Ortega, Palm, Perez, Read, Sanchez and Widen elementary schools. Three years ago, AISD offered the Pre-K3 program to 42 three-year-old students at two pilot schools. This year, the program expanded to provide Pre-K3 for 550 three-year-old students funded by United Way for Greater Austin and its major donors. Next year, there will be space for more than 1,000 students thanks to the latest expansion. The partners who made this expansion possible: Buena Vista Foundation, Cullen Family Charitable Foundation, the Gottesman Family, Tapestry Foundation and Eric Stumberg with support from United Way for Greater Austin. AISD Early Childhood Director, Jacquie Porter, emphasized the strong foundation students build in Pre-K. “Prekindergarten is more than just shapes and colors. It’s about getting students ready for life,” Porter said. “In prekindergarten, students learn socializing, social and emotional learning, and how to work with others.” Registration for Pre-K is open through the beginning of the school year. However, capacity at some schools […]

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10 Easy Ways To Be Environmentally Friendly

Today is Earth Day. It has always been important, but now more than ever is the time to reflect on how your daily rituals are negatively impacting our world. Being “environmentally friendly” is more than making sure to recycle and throw your trash in the proper receptacles. There are many little things that can add up to a large negative impact on the environment you never realize; but on the flip side, this also means that by being conscious of these little habits, you can make changes to your routine that are easy on you and effective for making Austin a bit greener. 10 easy ways to be more environmentally friendly: Stop using straws Like we promised–easy yet impactful! You may not think about straws because they’re so small, but consider this: Straws are one of the top ten items littered into our oceans. In the last 25 years, over six million straws and stirrers were removed from beaches during annual cleaning events (One Green Planet). While Austin may not touch any oceans, consider this same effect relevant for our beloved lake, greenbelt and other areas. Straws are literally made to only be used once, and do they really make much of a difference when it comes to enjoying your drink or not? Pick up your garage sale, lost pet, for sale, etc. signs It’s great to repurpose your old clothing and furniture–one man’s trash is another’s treasure. But one man’s garage sale signs are simply trash if they’re still sitting […]

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Volunteer Spotlight: Jon Le, eBay

For our National Volunteer Week series, today we’re highlighting Jon Le. Jon is an outstanding and dedicated UWATX volunteer who’s been involved with UWATX for the last six months and has given his time to prep holiday meal kits for low-income families, clean-up the neighborhood during MLK Day of Service, participated in our Family Volunteer Day series and more! Hear from Jon about why he is involved with UWATX as a volunteer. “I enjoy the idea of a company that not only has the business sense to be able to thrive in the competitive market, but also helps promote the growth of the surrounding communities.” –Jon Le, eBay Tell us a little bit about yourself and how long have you been involved with United Way. I have been working for eBay for about three years. I was born and raised in Texas, originally Houston. I have been involved with United Way for about six months or so, mostly volunteering work through the campaigns they already have in place. What are some of your favorite volunteer projects you’ve worked on and why? I mostly enjoy volunteering on youth projects. I think this is in part to be able to give the youth of today as best of an opportunity as they can afford, but also, since the birth of my first child, I’ve taken a closer look at the impact I have on others and on the future. Do you feel that working for a company that gives back is important and why? eBay does a great […]

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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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Sweeten Up Your Valentine’s Day

With the winter holidays being a thing in the past, the stores have been quick to stock up on candy hearts, chocolates and stuffed animals – all in the spirit of Valentine’s day. This holiday is the perfect opportunity to show appreciation to our loved ones – whether it’s passing a sweet Valentine’s Day card to the cutie you’ve been crushing on in class or simply asking your best friend to spend some time with you. We have complied a list of V-day plans and gift ideas that can help sweeten the day for your family, friends or partner that most importantly, won’t break the bank. Spread the love! Decorate wooden hearts at Terra Toys with the whole Family This Sunday, February 7th from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Terra Toys is holding a FREE Valentine’s Event. Bring your family out and make a wooden heart for someone special. All materials are provided! RSVP for groups of 5 or more by calling 512-445-4489. Go see a flick at the Blue Starlite Drive-in From When Harry Met Sally to Moulin Rouge – the Blue Starlite has got it all! Gather up your friends, blankets and cozy up to a good love story! Admission is only $5 if you bring a lawn chair and sit in the pedestrian area. Rent the swan pedal boat For $15 an hour you and a +1 can pedal down Lake Austin, enjoying the view from this adorable swan boat. Make sure to come early, as this […]

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