Investing in impact

Austin is the greatest city to live in on earth, isn’t it? I’ve loved this city since moving here over twenty four years ago, but the Austin you and I love, and the one at the top of many “best of” lists is not the same reality for our residents who are living in poverty. Earlier this year, United Way for Greater Austin  (UWATX) completed a strategic planning process led by an amazing team from Boston Consulting Group. From this process came a focused vision and plan that will move United Way forward and, most importantly, will help our neighbors living in poverty.

As a result of our new vision, we’ve discontinued some of our programs in order to better focus on areas where we’re creating the greatest impact. As we launch our new strategic vision, UWATX will focus on three explicit areas: the 2-1-1 Navigation Center and our Success By 6 and 2-Generation initiatives. We think of them as pillars, each addressing poverty in a unique way and together creating a holistic, 360 degree approach.

  • The 2-1-1 Navigation Center consists of two principal services – information and referral support, as well as our Healthcare Navigation Program. Essentially, if you don’t know where to sleep tonight, can’t pay your utility bill, or don’t have enough food for your family, we’ll connect you with a service in town that can meet those needs. It’s free, confidential, multilingual and available 24/7. We answered more than 300,000 calls just last year, which gives us a real-time understanding of the needs of our community and provides a wealth of data that informs our work and that of the nonprofit sector. If you need help we will get you connected.
  • Success By Six  helps Austin’s youngest residents.  Study after study shows thateducation is the key to breaking the cycle of generational poverty. In Austin, only 26 percent of low- income children entering kindergarten are ready for school success. In addition when annual childcare costs are on par with a year’s tuition at UT, it’s pretty clear why these kids aren’t receiving the resources they need to enter kindergarten on a level playing field. The good news is that 85 percent of children in receiving services from our Success By Six Initiative are school-ready. We know that when kids start school ready, they are more likely to graduate, go to college, defer pregnancy, steer clear of juvenile crime, and have higher paying jobs with better health outcomes. Early childhood education is the key to success.
  • 2-Gen, or “two-generation,” intentionally focuses on both generations:  the children and parents. By concentrating on the parents and their children, the likelihood of breaking the cycle of poverty increases. We don’t stop at school-readiness, because a child can’t benefit from early childhood education if he or she goes home to a parent who is unable put dinner on the table. Last year, we launched a 2-Gen network of service providers and experts to address challenges caused by the fragmentation of social services. For the first time, earlier this year, we awarded grants to five local organizations that are incorporating 2-Gen strategies in their work. Rather than acting as a direct service provider, we areinvesting in partners who are delivering 2-Gen interventions.  UWATX seeks to magnifyimpact and foster comprehensive solutions to poverty.

We approach these three pillars with the understanding that we can only make transformative change if we’re in the fight together. The end of poverty starts here. Here at United Way, through our partnerships and collaborations. The end of poverty starts here in Austin, with each of usWe can do this. We must do this. And with you, we will. Together, we can create a thriving community for all.

–  David C. Smith, CEO, United Way for Greater Austin