Category: Success Stories

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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Meet Naomi and Tirzah

In the Greater Austin area, child poverty rates are nearly 25 percent higher than the national average and only 13 percent of children raised in Austin’s low-income neighborhoods enter kindergarten ready to learn. These concerning statistics are the target of UWATX’s Success By 6 program through initiatives like Play To Learn, a project that targets low-income families from under-resourced neighborhoods in Greater Austin and surrounding areas. Play To Learn provides  high-quality early education for children alongside their parents. The goal is to help parents learn how to put their children on the path to success in school and life. We recently say down with Play To Learn mom, Naomi, and her daughter (with the most precious blonde curls you’ll ever see), Tirzah, to hear how the program is supporting them.   Why did you and your daughter start participating in United Way’s Play To Learn program? I was in search of fun things to do with my daughter. She’s at the age where she likes to explore and interact and, most importantly, be active, so I thought this was a great opportunity for us to learn and grow together. Do you feel the program is having an impact on you and your daughter? It has had an impact in both our lives. I believe it’s very important to set routines and schedules with toddlers and I had no idea on where and how to start; Play To Learn has helped me create a safe environment for her, where there is discipline and […]

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After-school programs make a difference for students like Lillie

Middle school is a tipping point for many students – and while what happens during the school day is critical, students spend more than 76 percent of their AWAKE time outside of school. That’s why we invest in quality out-of-school-time programs through Target Graduation, but the importance of these programs can sometimes be pretty abstract. Until you meet people like Lillie – a seventh-grade straight-A student at Mendez Middle School. She’s lived in Dove Springs for ten years and last year, she became involved with Junior Staff, a program from the Boys and Girls Club that students apply to participate in. Through Junior Staff, Lillie learns job skills by taking a leadership role in the program and learns how to run effective after-school programs for other students. “I believe Lillie believes in us as much as we believe in her and I think she will continue to flourish and grow as a vital part of our program.”   Steven Zuniga, Extension Director of the Boys and Girls Club at Mendez Middle School Here’s what Lillie has to say about the program: Why did you start participating in the program? I started in sixth grade because because the people were really nice and my dad thought it would be good for me.  The first time I went I had a lot of fun so I kept coming every week.   What is your favorite part of the program? My favorite day is the day they celebrated my birthday.  They wrote it […]

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Financial Opportunity rewards those who open bank accounts

The Financial Opportunity team at UWATX recently had the pleasure of rewarding our Bank on Central Texas grand prize raffle winner, Mark Mead, for taking a critical step towards financial security – opening a bank account. In April, Financial Opportunity launched a strategic outreach campaign to help Central Texas families save hundreds of dollars each year by opening free or low-cost bank accounts. Mark, who was among many individuals to take part in the campaign, opened an account with Greater Texas Federal Credit Union, conveniently located on his way home. Without a bank account, families pay close to $1,000 a year in fees to cash checks. For many unbanked individuals, how close a financial institution is to their home can make a significant difference because getting to a far away location is often not an option. Transportation is just one of the barriers to accessing quality financial services, along with a lack of education about what services are available and how to access them. Our outreach efforts were another step towards breaking this education barrier. Without access to mainstream financial services, individuals may spend tens of thousands of dollars over a lifetime on the high fees associated with check cashing, money orders and other alternative financial services. According to the Brookings Institute, the average unbanked worker spends an estimated $40,000 throughout his or her life just to cash paychecks. More than that, a bank account is often the first step towards greater security – the beginning of a relationship with a bank […]

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