Category: Success Stories

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, […]

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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 […]

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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. […]

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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. […]

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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 […]

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Donor Champions United Way After Receiving Years of Support

Lisa Suarez is the campaign leader for UPS, as well as a leadership giver and Women’s Leadership Council member. While every donor has a different reason driving them to give, Lisa’s longstanding relationship with United Way has transformed over time uniquely, as she started as a services recipient before turning into a donor. Lisa grew up in a low-income family that moved frequently due to the financial hardships they were faced with. “It really is a vicious cycle. I was never encouraged to go to college even though I was a straight ‘A’ student. That’s just not the priority in low-income neighborhoods…just living day to day is the priority, so most people don’t have the means or even the knowledge to encourage their kids to try to do more and break the cycle. As your grow up, you do what you are familiar with and begin to look for jobs that just get you by. You do what you’ve grown up seeing from your parents–the minimum–because that’s all they knew too.” “My life would have been completely different without United Way. It’s afforded me a life that I didn’t come from and didn’t think was possible for me, and I looked back and realized United Way got me where I am today. I haven’t reached all of my goals in life yet, but now I know that I’m capable of doing it–and I didn’t know that before.” –Lisa Suarez “People think those in need aren’t trying for themselves. When you […]

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UWATX 2015 Impact on Community

Check out what United Way for Greater Austin was able to do for our community this year, all because of YOU–our donors, volunteers, supporters and funders. We could not have done any of this important work without your support, and we are so grateful to have compassionate, generous donors like you making this possible for thousands of struggling families and individuals in our city. Just think–your donation is giving a child living in poverty the chance to be the next great doctor, mayor or perhaps even the person that will solve the Austin traffic crisis. Your investment in UWATX is an investment in the future of our great city. Thank you once again for your support, and let’s work together to make Austin even greater in 2016!

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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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