(In)Fighting for East Austin’s kids: Grant applications for Promise Neighborhood planning due today

Okay, an amendment to a previous post…

Backstory: In March, I wrote a post about Southwest Key’s efforts to improve the educational opportunities and help strengthen the community for the people living where Southwest Key lives, Central East Austin around the former Johnston High School, now Eastside Memorial High School.

In that post, I talked about learning how Southwest Key established the East Austin Children’s Promise, which it modeled on the Harlem Children’s Zone. The HCZ itself serves as a model for the federal government’s new Promise Neighborhoods planning grants, which will offer about $500,000 to about 20 community efforts like HCZ around the country. Southwest Key — the Juan Sanchez team — is applying for a planning grant.

A few weeks after writing that post, I had lunch with Allen Weeks, a community organizer who lives in the St. John’s neighborhood in Northeast Austin, and has also worked to improve educational opportunities and help strengthen the community for people living where he lives. The Weeks team has organized a large collaboration to apply for a Promise Neighborhoods planning grant as well, this one for the Northeast Austin neighborhood around Reagan High School.

I wondered if it helped or hindered Austin’s chances to have two grant applications competing among the 900+ nationwide. And regardless of that, does the competition help East Austin?

Applications due today: Recent Statesman news stories, editorials and blog posts about the Promise Neighborhoods planning grants pick Weeks’ team over Sanchez’, saying that the former effort was better planned and includes more heavy-hitting collaborators, including AISD, UT, City of Austin, St. David’s Foundation, United Way Capital Area and more. They also criticize the Sanchez team for not being as well prepared and for being sore losers.

All this just substantiates the point I was trying to make in my March blog post: In a city the size of Austin and considering the plight of so many East Austin students, are we really allowed infighting? Still?

I think even AISD Superintendent Maria Carstarphen said something along those lines, too. At the same time, though, Carstarphen inherited what many believe to be a history of AISD’s inability to address the educational needs of East Austin.  Maybe the AISD of the past could have evolved its approach to account for the increasingly diverse and urban population?

AISD needs to do that now, and working with both Promise Neighborhood grant applicants should be a top priority. I’d love to know exactly what each team was asking from AISD. “Support” can come in many forms; surely AISD can support two efforts in some way.

I’d also love to know more about why the Statesman thinks the Northeast Austin proposal was stronger. It’s been reported that Southwest Key didn’t submit its proposal to AISD until the last minute, in June, but it was also reported that Sanchez said he’d been trying to meet with Southwest Key for months. And it’s not like AISD didn’t know about Southwest Key’s charter  school; the East Austin College Prep academy enrolled 90 6th-graders in 2009 and now has a waiting list for its 6th and 7th grades.

The only amendment I can add to this story is, maybe Carstarphen needs to include AISD among her mention of the infighting adults.

PS 1: Here’s a listing of some of the communities Austin is up against. There were 941 “intents to apply.” The grant applications are due today, June 28. Grants will be made available this September.

PS 2: Also, here’s what I read for fun on a Sunday night: A link to the PDF of FAQs about the Promise Neighborhoods planning grant applications.

PS 3: After spending hours with both Weeks and Juan Sanchez, Southwest Key’s CEO, I got the impression I was looking at two sides of the same coin. Both are effective and passionate community leaders, but each approaches their work with completely different strategies. It’s worth getting to know both of them better to learn which of their two distinctively different leadership styles is more effective for East Austin in the long run.

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Hopped up on coffee and ideas

Coffee and meetingsThis morning I hustled up to Genuine Joe’s to meet Matt Kouri, Ann Starr and Haila Yates of Greenlights. Then down to Scholz’s to meet Jason Denny of the Austin Jaycees. Then to Lift to meet Priscilla Cortez and her new daughter, Isabella, of FuturoFund this afternoon. And I am still wide awake and hopped up, man.

It’s great to ramp up GivingCity and soak up all that positive, “be the change” energy again. It reminds me of why I wanted to do this in the first place. I could stay up and work all night! Yes, the caffeine has something to do with it, but what really gets me hopped up are the people.

The fact is, I get to talk to some of the best people in Austin almost every day. Smart, interesting people who care deeply about the city and spend significant time and energy working to make it better. I sit across from them at those tiny coffee shop tables, listen for the clues and put them down in my handy-dandy notebook as fast as I can.

Do you work around smart people who inspire you every day?

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Don’t forget!

  • Greenlights & OneStar team up to bring us the Texas Nonprofit Summit, September 23-24 here in Austin.
  • The last opportunity to become a member of this year’s FuturoFund is to make your pledge by July 31. FF will choose its grant winners this November.

It’s going to be a fun fall.

No more sneaking around

Among the things I couldn’t do when I was working on GivingCity “on the side”…..

  • Promote it much
  • Talk about it with strangers (who might know my employer)
  • Work on it during the day
  • Have phone conversations about it at the office
  • Meet with people about it during normal business hours like adults

I’m surprised anyone noticed GivingCity at all.

The good news is, it’s all out in the open now. I can tell people what I do — the one thing that I do! — and not have to explain and repeat myself. It’s like the time I changed from being “Monica Maldonado” (Wha? McDon-nold-o?) to “Monica Williams.” Just so much easier.

That’s why I’m filling up my calendar with meetings. During office hours at real offices. No more sneaking around!

I can’t tell you how nice this is. And how much more I’m learning — exponentially — about philanthropy in Central Texas. (Thank you again, ACF.)

SAT, June 5: Dads, we need you!

River City Youth Foundation Father's Parade and FiestaFather’s Day is still a couple of weeks away, but let’s face it  — dads have no idea when Father’s Day actually is. Bless their hearts.

So you won’t spoil anything if you bring him to the River City Youth Foundation‘s 10th Annual Father’s Day Parade & Festival. In fact, I’m sure he’ll love it.

This celebration just makes sense. RCYF believes that father’s play an important role in a child’s academic and general well being, so it offers this event as a way to seal that bond between dads and their kids. And in the end, dads will be glad they went.

River City Youth Foundation Father's Parade and Fiesta

The celebration kicks off with a parade — which you can be in! — starting at Mendez Middle School at 11:30 and ending the RCYF on Pleasant Valley by noon. Once you’re there, you’ll get to do a little Flying Pinto Game, a Dragon Game, a watermelon seed spitting contest, (of course, dads love spitting) and more. Then they’ll read some essays written by students, hand out a couple of awards and crown a few dads. Crowns! What dad doesn’t love crowns?!

River City Youth Foundation Father's Parade and Fiesta

No one else in Austin offers a celebration of dads like this, and River City Youth Foundation has been doing it for 10 years. Check out this video to see families having a great time at previous years’ events.

I hope you’ll check it out, and then tell us all about it….

River City Youth Foundation’s
10th Annual Father’s Parade & Fiesta

SAT JUNE 5

11:30 am – 2 p.m.
5208 South Pleasant Valley Road (map here)

(Re)Introducing GivingCity Austin

It was almost exactly three years ago that I wrote the first blog post for GivingCity Austin. A few months later I started messing around on Twitter, then we launched our first digital issue, then a Facebook page and suddenly I was calling Evan Smith to write an article for the magazine … as if I had any idea what I was doing.

Luckily, GivingCity had a few guiding principles (and the best designer in Austin) on its side. Among those guiding principles were these:

1. People like stories. Of course, people like infographics, databases, reports, charts, graphs, lists and I hear some weirdos enjoy Excel pivot tables. But nothing inspires, intrigues and connects people like a story does. And thanks to the Internets, there are a million more ways to tell a story.

2. Magazines can support communities. I love the way Tribeza supports the community of Austinites who love fashion; how Edible Austin supports local foodies; how AustinFit supports people who look great in workout clothes. The trick to making a magazine that supports a community is in the editing — or what they call “curating” these days. Curated, targeted and relevant content can foster shared affinities. And again, the wonderful Internets is a great place to grow a magazine.

3. Austinites want to help, it’s just hard for us to fit it into our lives. But I think the same city that can support magazines about fashion, foodies and fitness can also support a magazine about philanthropy. Because as Austinites, we truly have a passion for making our city one of the country’s best places to live.

I’m glad Torquil Dewar felt the same way. He’s a sucker for magazines, like I am, but he has the rare ability to turn a bunch of copy and pictures into an “experience.”  Plus, he’s made more digital magazines than just about any designer in the country. And it helps that he apparently doesn’t sleep.

GivingCity had always been a labor of love. I hate that phrase, but there’s no better way to say it. We put our own personal resources into it and have never seen anywhere near a profit, but that’s not what it was about for us. What kept us going was the creative freedom and, more than that, your support. Unfortunately, between the day jobs, the kids, the other freelance work, we had to stop producing the magazine. On our list of priorities — namely our families and our need for steady incomes — GivingCity just didn’t make the cut.

Now after four issues, hundreds of blog and Facebook posts, thousands of Tweets, and lots and lots of caffeine, we’re very proud to say that GivingCity has found a home.

The Austin Community Foundation has decided to support GivingCity Austin as part of its mission to grow a culture of generosity and philanthropy in Central Texas. The good people there have hired us to produce GivingCity Austin just the way we’ve produced it in the past as a service to the community. GivingCity Austin’s mission won’t change much; it will include stories from all over the community, not just ACF; and we’ll continue to distribute it digitally to our audience, ACF’s audience and whomever else wants it, free. Look for the first issue this fall.

In addition to this, on July 1, I’ll become the Austin Community Foundation’s first ever communications director, which I’m over the moon about. The Austin Community Foundation has a truly amazing story to tell. They are one of the pillars of the philanthropic community in Austin, and it will be my mission to tell more Central Texans about the important services and support it provides.

Seth Godin says we should “delight and overwhelm” our true fans, and that’s what we’re going to aim to do. Yes, GivingCity Austin is about bringing new people to the philanthropy community, but when we make it, we think of you — those of you who are already plugged in and looking for more, those of you who have told us this is exactly what you’ve been looking for, and those of you who’ve emailed, called, commented, friended, liked, re-Tweeted, #FFd and all the other means you’ve used to keep us on the right path.

Thank you so much, a thank you especially to ACF. Look for major improvements in the coming year, and, as always, let us know what you think.