Category: Young Leaders Society

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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Saatchi & Saatchi Donates to UWATX During SXSW Panel

Saatchi & Saatchi don’t just talk the talk. They hosted a SXSW panel on Sunday titled “Do Good. Feel Good: The Science of Altruistic Acts,” and showed the audience firsthand exactly how doing good can make you feel good–by ending the panel with a check presentation of $1,000 to UWATX! Saatchi & Saatchi is an international global communications and advertising agency network with 140 offices in 76 countries. S&S’s global chief creative officer, Kathy Delaney, sat on the panel along with Devon Eyer of Johnson & Johnson, Michael Norton of Harvard Business School and Sebastian Buck of Enso. UWATX development officer and Young Leaders Society manager, Keith Richardson, accepted the check on behalf of United Way. The $1,000 will be put toward the YLS $180K Challenge to provide full-time service coordinators at three local middle schools. Keith’s perspective of the panel: “When first hearing the title of the panel, “Do Good. Feel Good: The Science of Altruistic Acts,” I knew I would be impacted by the content. As the manager for YLS, I’m always looking for ways to engage our donors more with our work, so linking volunteerism to positive physical effects hit home. The panel discussion began when moderator Kathy Delaney welcomed everyone in attendance by introducing the topic as a “different kind of wellness.” Kathy’s opening statement, “If you want to be happier and healthier, giving back or doing good is essential,” truly set the tone for the panel. The first part of the panel focused on examples […]

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YLS In 2014: Time For Reflection and Growth

2014 was a successful year for the Young Leaders Society (YLS), and we hope that it was rewarding for you both personally and professionally.  While reflecting on the success of this year, we also have the opportunity to look forward into 2015 and explore what’s in store for the YLS in the new year. As you’ve most likely heard, YLS has an ambitious goal of raising $180,000 this campaign year to fund full-time social workers on each of the three campuses where we work. This approach will allow us to serve even more students in a meaningful way and keep them on the path to graduation. We would love you to be a part of our fundraising campaign to make a difference in the lives of some of our neediest middle schoolers. You can do that by giving directly to United Way or through our YLS peer-to-peer fundraising taking place in February. Keep an eye out for more details on our big online give-a-thon coming in a few weeks. There are a couple of exciting things we have in store to help us get going on our $180K goal. The 2nd annual “State of the YLS” meeting is coming up on January 6 at Speakeasy. You’ll hear speakers from the YLS Committee and staff from the middle school campuses we support. You can expect to hear what we’re all about (“it’s for the kids!”) and how you can get involved in the coming months. This event is for both current members and those interested in […]

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UWATX Leads Projects That Make a Difference for Local Schools

United Way for Greater Austin believes that anyone, regardless of their ability to make a financial contribution, can engage in philanthropy. Volunteering one’s time is a valuable way to make a positive impact and invest in the community. As part of our annual participation in Make a Difference Day, one of the largest national days of community service, our staff members organized projects that allowed others to donate their time and talents in order to make local schools greater. On Friday, October 24, Hands On Central Texas coordinated a volunteer project for Mendez Middle School students to clean up litter on campus. Approximately 60 students participated in the project and were supported by adult volunteers through our Young Leaders Society. Ricoh kicked off its United Way for Greater Austin employee campaign by volunteering. Employees helped prepare Webb Middle School’s gardens for future outdoor classroom instruction. Webb’s Volunteer Project Leaders led the volunteers in gardening, and spoke about their campus and future project plans for the school and neighborhood. A group of Dr. Pepper Snapple Group employees also volunteered their time in the St. John’s neighborhood, where Webb is located, by touching up the Born Learning Trail at J.J. Pickle Elementary. Volunteers cleaned up the area and painted shapes, numbers and letters that coordinate with activity signs for children. Dr. Pepper Snapple Group employees also wrote inspirational letters to middle school students at our three Target Graduation middle schools (Webb, Decker, Mendez) and made bookmarks to accompany board books from recent book drives. Decker Middle […]

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Young Leaders Society sets ambitious goal: bring FULL-TIME coordination to middle schools

Today, we’re proud to announce an ambitious goal for the Young Leaders Society: we will raise $180K by June 2015 to fully fund full-time coordinators at Mendez, Webb and Decker Middle Schools.  [Tweet “Big goal for @uwatx #atxyoungleaders: bring full-time coordination to low-income middle schools!”] Last year, our group of young professionals from across the Austin community raised $126K to support middle school services – and this year, we’re raising the bar. By funding this specific service, we can make sure students are connecting to the help they need.  As Kat Pfannenstiel, strategic advisor for Target Graduation and YLS member, said, “Investing in a campus coordinator means that more children at-risk for school dropout and school failure can be identified and linked with supports. These supports have led to greater sense of school community and positive, long-term effects for middle school students.” The YLS Challenge is simple:   YLSers will grow a successful program by funding full-time coordination Since UWATX launched Middle School Matters in 2011, we’ve seen the difference that coordinating services can make:    Before, many nonprofits were working to help students at Mendez, Webb and Decker Middle Schools, but they were working by themselves. With our support, nonprofits and schools are now working together in an organized way.  To date, we’ve coordinated 9,000 hours of service for nearly 5,000 middle school students.  But even with this success, we’ve only been able to provide part-time coordination services at each of the three middle schools. Helping 20+ nonprofits and 240+ school staff manage the needs of so […]

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What a difference a year makes

A little over a year ago, a group of young professionals began meeting and discussing ways that we could make a positive change in some of Austin’s most vulnerable communities. I’m proud to have been part of that group. We’ve had the chance to get to know each other better, help the community, and have a lot of fun along the way. More importantly, we’ve had the chance to be inspired by an amazing group of kids that are working to make Austin greater.  You don’t have to take my word for it:  I’m humbled by the accomplishments of the group over the last year and wanted to share a few of our key initiatives. Volunteering at UWATX’s Manor Summer Program – This year, we had the opportunity to help out with UWATX’s Summer Program at Decker Middle School. In this program, 75 plus low income middle schoolers had the chance to participate in a seven-week program designed to combat the effect of “summer slide.” As noted by Target Graduation Director Nichole Lopez- Riley, ““We know that a lack of summer learning contributes substantially to students falling behind academically across many subjects. This initiative is aimed to provide students with the materials, project-based learning opportunities and access to services they need during the summer break to be successful.” A highlight of the program was Summer Learning Day on June 20. The day was a chance for students in the UWATX Manor Summer Program to interact with volunteers and learn more about how to advocate for their […]

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Jesse Garcia on giving back: “I owe it to the community to pay it forward.”

Yesterday, Young Leaders Society (YLS) members joined 75 low-income fifth, sixth and seventh grade students from our Manor Summer Program to host the Texas Alliance for Minorities in Engineering (TAME) “Trailblazer”—the only interactive museum-on-wheels in Texas. YLSers in STEM careers connected to eager middle schoolers learning fundamental concepts in that arena.  One of these dedicated YLSers was Jesse Garcia, who is in the Engineering Rotation Program at Freescale, for whom the effort struck home.  “I grew up in a low income neighborhood where everyone was expected to find a job after highschool and people didn’t really talk about college,” explained Jesse. “I was lucky to have a 4th grade teacher who pulled me aside one day to talk to me about engineering and how he thought I’d be a good engineer. From that point forward, it became my goal. I want to bring the same experience to other kids so that hopefully they can find their own goal and hopefully spend their days doing something that’s not a “job” because they love it. I guess I feel like I owe it to the community to pay that forward.” Jesse first got involved with YLS because Kara Birge told him it was a group focused on helping middle school students. “When I asked her how, she said I had to come to find out. Seeing the speakers there made me want to come volunteer, so I signeed up for the next project. It was a great experience so I kept coming back.”  Here’s more of Jesse’s inspiring story:    “YLS is a group […]

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Summer Learning Day: Bridging the Access Gap

On June 20, students at Decker Middle School had the opportunity to engage in service learning with the help of a few special volunteers from the UWATX Young Leader Society (YLS). Summer Learning Day, a national initiative that we participated in, this year focused on bridging the access gap for summer learning options between high- and low-income students. “It is encouraging to know we are providing this opportunity for students to learn and engage with their peers.”  – Julie Fisher, YLSer & Samsung Austin Semiconductor employee The day was a chance for students in the UWATX Manor Summer Program to interact with volunteers and learn more about how to advocate for their neighborhood. Through interaction and discussion, they also had a chance to learn more about a wide variety of careers.  The day began with a financial education program that included four United Way bank-on partners to talk about their work. The students also had the chance to play two games that taught them about finance and budgeting with a little help from Smarties candy. Next, the students participated in an advocacy session. Students and YLS volunteers participated in a letter writing campaign and in a unique photo petition, advocating to the Travis County Government for community change in the Decker area.   Later, representatives from the UWATX Navigation Center were on hand to talk about 2-1-1 and its role in the community.  The presentation included a competition that encouraged students to learn about the resources available through the Navigation Center. To wrap up […]

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We have an obligation to make Austin greater

Like many people, my original exposure to United Way was through an Employee Giving Campaign – when a speaker from one of United Way’s partner agencies came to our staff meeting and talked about the difference that United Way made. The story was compelling, so I became a donor. At that point, I didn’t give a lot of thought to the big picture of United Way in the community. Over the years, I was exposed to more and more stories through our company’s campaign, and I even got involved in our company’s Day of Caring. I began to see some of the direct effects of United Way’s work and that, through UWATX, we were all making a difference in a broad way, but I still wasn’t where I am today.  The big change happened about a year ago when I was approached about being involved in the relaunch of the Young Leaders Society.  From the start, it was clear that this was going to be a different kind of philanthropic group. It was one that was going to make a difference for a specific group kids during one of the hardest times in their life – middle school. I remembered my own middle school experience, and how awkward and difficult everything seemed. I can’t imagine going through that along with the financial, family and language challenges that some of these kids have. So, I jumped at the opportunity to support the Target Graduation program through financial contributions and volunteer projects. Giving is about more than the money. It […]

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9 volunteers making Austin greater

As part of our 90-day celebration of UWATX’s 90th anniversary, we’re working on 10 lists of 9 highlighting influential and impactful people in the Austin community. In the seventh part of our series, we bring you nine volunteers changing Austin.  Austin is known for our volunteering spirit – nearly 30 percent of Austinites invest their time in making our community even better. We’re proud to work with thousands of these dedicated community members through our Hands On Central Texas program, Austin’s largest volunteer network. Approximately 1 in every 17 volunteers in Austin interacts with our program, so we thought we’d take a second to highlight a few of these truly outstanding volunteers.    1. Ryan Melendez, BB&T Ryan not only teaches families about banking and managing money in English and in Spanish, but also builds confidence in our families by showing their impact on the economy.  Ryan’s been a wonderful volunteer by teaching financial education and conducting outreach for UWATX’s Bank On Central Texas initiative.   2. Tom Wald, former Executive Director of Bike Austin Tom brought his cycling expertise to a group of Decker Middle School Volunteer Leaders who were passionate about securing a bike lane or sidewalk on the route to their campus. He helped the students understand safety laws and ultimately get in front of TXDOT to share their stories and letters of advocacy which helped to secure priority funding for a Decker sidewalk that will ensure a safe passage to and from school.   3. Jennifer Healy, Target Jennifer’s […]

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