Meet Ashley Unbehagen: Making a Difference One Book at a Time

Here at United Way for Greater Austin, we know Ashley Unbehagen as a member of Women United and a volunteer at Bright Beginnings child care center. But, to the 3- and 4-year-olds she reads to each week, she’s the “Book Lady.”

“It takes a community of people to be able to influence and grow these little beings, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.” – Ashley Unbehagen 

Bright Beginnings is one of our partner child care centers through Pre-K Partnerships — a collaboration between Austin Independent School District and United Way for Greater Austin to support and expand access to high-quality, full-day pre-K for children ages 3 and 4 in our community.

Success in life begins with a quality education, but more than 50% of children in Travis County are not ready for Kindergarten. That’s why this partnership ensures children are ready to succeed in Kindergarten and beyond. Our youngest years are the most active period for brain development, a crucial time to lay a firm foundation for all future growth. What happens in these early years has a lasting impact from Kindergarten readiness to third-grade reading scores to high school graduation and beyond. 

Ashley is one of many community members working hard to ensure that our littlest Austinites get the strongest possible start in life.

What draws you to United Way’s work in early childhood education? 

My background is in social work. I worked as a licensed therapist in the areas of mental health and education. I also have two children of my own, who are now 17 and 20. And it’s the combination of my work experience in education and having two children that has really solidified my understanding of how there is this critical, sweet, and very short period in children’s lives that they are just ripe to learn and to grow. Without that nurturing, teaching, and love things get tough. That’s why I’m a big supporter of United Way and of Women United. 

What does a day volunteering look like for you? 

Once a week I go to an early childhood development center here in Austin called Bright Beginnings…I walk into the room, and I have these beautiful little beings come jumping up and down saying, “The Book Lady is here! The Book Lady is here!” We read for about 20 minutes, and then I sit on the ground and spread out the books. We talk about the story, or they pretend to read to me, or we play I Spy. 

Why do you choose to give back in this way? 

They’re [children at Bright Beginnings] just hungry for language, to play with language, and for the attention. It’s the highlight of my week to be able to experience that. I feel like my kids were really fortunate to have a strong community of people participating and contributing to their life…It takes a community of people to be able to influence and grow these little beings, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it. 

Thank you Ashley for helping build greater opportunity for the children in our community. You can join her and thousands of others in making a real difference in Greater Austin. Give, advocate, or volunteer today! 

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