Does it matter which United Way you give to?

Speaking of United Way….

There are 69 United Ways in Texas, each with a different service areas, some of which overlap. It’s confusing. But it’s important to clear up because when you give to the United Way, you want that money to go to the United Way that serves the area where you live…right?

For example, the service area of United Way Capital Area, based in Austin, includes 10 counties: Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee, Llano, Travis, and Williamson.

And this is not to be confused with United Way Central Texas, which serves the Temple area.

Nor should it be confused with United Way of Williamson County, based in Georgetown, which also serves Williamson County.

And there are others. United Way of Hays County is based in San Marcos, United Way of Comal County for New Braunfels, and United Way of the Greater Fort Hoodarea based in Killeen. 

Oh, and there’s a United Ways of Texas, too, which is actually a volunteer association of Texas United Ways. Not to mention the national United Way. Oy. So to which organization do you give?

If you want to impact the area where you live, seek out the United Way that serves that area. I don’t think any of these United Ways are created to trick you. It’s just that serving communities with support for nonprofits that do good work is complicated, to say the least. More about this in the first issue of GoodCause.

What Austin kids should know by kindergarten – and almost half don’t

My 5-month-old daughter "reading"

My 5-month-old daughter

On the I Live Here, I Give Here site this month, the highlight is education. Here’s a disturbing number:

The sad truth is that a whopping 40 percent of children entering kindergarten in our community – the majority of whom live in poverty – are 12 to 18 months behind developmentally.

I have a preschooler (and an infant, Olivia, picture above, “reading”), and since he entered daycare a year ago, my husband and I have done little things here and there to prepare him for kindergarten. As he is my first child – and I didn’t go to kindergarten nor would I remember much about it, if I had – I really don’t know what he needs to know by kindergarten. But we’re working on the basics: his alphabet, some reading, counting to 100, shapes, colors, science, calculus… (no, not calculus. maybe a little trig.)

So what does it mean to be “12 to 18 months” behind? What does being prepared for kindergarten mean?

One collaborative effort lead by United Way Captial Area is called “Success by 6,” as in six years old. One of their guidelines for success is a document called “Austin Vision for School Readiness.” It lists a number of emotional, intellectual and health goals for children entering kindergarten. Here are some of the skills children should demonstrate by kindergarten:  

· Children are able to communicate ideas, interests, needs, and understandings in their native language.
· Children can tell or retell a story that is read or told to them.
· Children know some songs and rhymes
· Children show an interest in books and are familiar with basic book conventions such as how to turn the pages of a book.
· Children recognize some environmental print, for example “McDonalds”
· Children recognize and name some letters
· Children scribble or pretend to write
· Children can distinguish between and label basic shapes: square, rectangle, circle, and triangle.
· Children can distinguish between objects that are the same or different.
· Children have basic understandings of size and quantity relationships – big/small, bigger/smaller, more/ less.
· Children can sort objects into basic categories by color or other common
shared characteristic.
· Children can count at least three objects.
· Children use their senses to describe and learn about the world.

So are you telling me that 40 percent of Austin children entering kindergarten next week do not have all of these skills? I don’t mean to sound so shocked nor do I mean to offend, but for those of you who don’t have children, I’m telling you: The pre-K kids I know have these skills. My son is four years old and he has these skills, and it’s not because he’s a prodigy. These are basic.

SO what to do?

1. Give money, obviously. One place to start is the United Way, which funds a number of specific programs – not nonprofits, but programs – with measurable results. Other things you can do…

2. Donate preschool level booksto Eastside churches, preschools, and libraries
3. Volunteer to read to kids at the library and People’s Community Clinic
4. If you know any struggling families or single moms with preschoolers and toddlers, offer to help the mom once in a while to give her more energy to read to her kids
5. Read to your kids.We make it a special trip when we go to the bookstore or library. Sam thinks books are a treat. He insists on reading at least three every night. We act like he’s a hotshot when he reads a word by himself (Most recent scary reading moment: him reading “Google” in the top-left corner of my browser window, over my shoulder.) We read the comics to him.

You get the idea. We’re not the best parents in the world, these are just the tricks that we use.

One more suggestion: Turn off the TV (after the Olympics are over). There’s stuff we can do, people!

Sept 3:Tweet-Up hits Food Bank next!

Those same crazy folks who brought you the Tweet-up Blood Drive are now taking aim at the Capital Area Food Bank.

They’re calling it the HAM-Up Tweet-Up, which actually does mean something. Wait for it… September is Hunger Action Month… HAM… Tweet-up is a meeting of Twitter followers and followees… so HAM-Up Tweet-Up.

Okay, don’t try to explain the name to anyone who isn’t online 20 hours a day, just tell them to mark their calendars for September 3 when something special will happen. The organizers are still working on what, exactly, but you know it’s gonna be good.

Remember getting new sneakers?

Give $20 to Shoes for Austin and a disadvantaged child gets a brand new pair of sneakers? How cool is that?

When I was little, the first thing I wanted to do when I got new sneakers was run, run, run. Remember that feeling? I knew they were dorky and super-white, but they felt great.

That’s why Shoes for Austin is such a great cause. The charity gives brand-new, named brand athletic shoes to disadvantaged kids – about 8,000 in all – to motivate them to move. Every $20 donation means a new pair of sneakers for a deserving child.

Shoes for Austin

Shoes for Austin

Here are some ways to donate:

  • Give online
  • Give at any RunTex location
  • Eat at Guero’s this Wednesday, August 20
  • Stop by the booth at Blues On the Green, Wednesday, August 20
  • Eat at at Maria’s Taco Express, Friday, August 22
  • Go to the 2nd Annual Boots and Books Charity Concert with a live performance by the Band of Heathens. Scholz’s Garten, Thursday, August 21 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. $25 General Admission Ticket

AUG 29: Your fun, new after school project

Theatre Action Project is looking for volunteers!

The nonprofit runs an after-school program, a dynamic program which explores social themes through theatre, art, music, movement and more. I’ve seen this group in action – getting more than 100 strangers to make little teepees and walk in circles – so think what they can do with a classroom of kids.

Here’s who they’re looking for:

  • enthusiasm for kids
  • no previous creative arts or teaching experience necessary, but nice to have
  • commitment of once-a-week volunteering for an entire semester

Still interested? The come to volunteer orientation:

Friday, August 29th at 3pm  OR   Friday, September 12th at 3pm
Both orientations will be held at the TAP offices located at 701 Tillery Street
Please RSVP to Sarah McCafferty at or 512-442-8773.

OMG: Goodwill’s cool idea

I’m okay with used clothes. I had to share a wardrobe my whole life with two sisters, the three of us one year apart, so I’ve actually taken a shirt off someone else’s back and put it on mine. Did we ever fight about who was going to wear what? You’d be surprised… by my big sister’s natural left hook. I mean, the raw talent and brute force combo in that punch literally took my breath away.

So I’m cool with Goodwill shopping. I cruise the dusty racks often, especially since my two chitlins keep dipping in to my clothing allowance. I consider it a smart move.

But this Goodwill shopping event is borderline genius. First of all, they’re running this “Brand U” campaign to encourage people to “be creative and express themselves through clothing.” But as part of that campaign, they’re also running a sweepstakes. This from Andrea Ball’s column:

Everyone that registers between August 2-17 has the opportunity to win a $100 Goodwill shopping spree with a personal shopper/designer, hair cut/style/coloring, manicure/pedicure, a before and after photo shoot, and the chance to be a model in Goodwill’s next ‘Brand U’ shopping ad, courtesy of Salon Keriz’ma and Almost Impatient Productions.

I could do some damage with that $100, not to mention the needs of my gray hair and biscuit heels. Sign me up!

Just go to a Goodwill and sign up anytime between August 2 -17. Hey, look. I’ve got one right next door. Hmm. Lunchtime diversion.

HEM Jeans: Your old jeans = Help for SafePlace

Hem's Jeans for SafePlace event


I love when local businesses find a cool way to help local nonprofits.

I don’t know why it’s different from what Macy’s does… wait! Yes, I do!

It’s different because it’s local and because, again, Macy’s “Shop for a Cause” event is yucky.

Macy’s asks nonprofits to sell $5 shopping passes to customers that would give customers an extra 20% off on this one day in September. Usually, Macy’s runs 20%-off coupons in the paper (aka, buys an expensive newspaper ad), which are available to anyone who buys a paper for 50 cents. What “Shop for a Cause” does it put the burden on nonprofits to hawk their coupons (aka “$5 shopping pass”) – except nonprofits get to keep the $5. Gee, thanks.

Now if any local nonprofits do participate in this, I hope it goes really well for you. I know you need a variety of revenue streams to stay afloat these days, and I hope this works out to be one.

But then we get local Austin businesses like Hem Jeans, this super-cool denim store born and raised in Austin. From August 13 – 31, when you bring in a gently worn pair of jeans to Hem Jeans, they give the jeans to SafePlace and give you $40 off a new pair.

No special “shopping pass” needed, other than a pair of jeans that don’t fit you anyway. An Austin business giving to an Austin charity. Nice.