Easy way to help an Austin kid go to college

College tuition varies—from $7,000 per year at a public, four-year college to $27,000 per year at a private four-year college—but no matter what type of college you choose, that amount adds up quickly. For many Austin students, it’s completely unaffordable.

Imagine working hard enough to be accepted for college only to realize you can’t actually afford college. This doesn’t have to happen. You can help!

Volunteers are needed to help families complete financial aid applications at Financial Aid Saturdays, here in Austin.

Volunteers at Financial Aid Saturday events provide personal assistance with filling out the FAFSA. Students and families can also bring other financial aid applications they need help with, including the Texas Application for State Financial Aid (TASFA) and scholarship applications. It is our mission to help students secure the financial aid they need to go to college.

Events take place Saturdays (Feb 5, 12, 19, 26, March 5, 26) from 8:30 am – 12:30 p.m. at schools across Austin. They could sure use your help.

Just think: You could be the final push an Austin kid needs toward his college degree. Wow.

LEARN MORE HERE

Free glasses for kids at Texas Book Festival

Free Glasses for Kids at Texas Book Festival

FREE GLASSES FOR KIDS
Free eye exams and glasses for kids 5 – 12 years old
Prescription lenses and designer frames offered at no cost to families

When:
Texas Book Festival
Saturday, October 16 from 9:00 am-5:00 pm
Sunday, October 17 from 11:00 am-5:00 pm

Where:
Texas Book Festival, Children’s Tents, west of capitol,
corner of 13th Street and Colorado

Who is eligible?
Children ages 5-12
Qualify for free or reduced lunch (no proof of income or birth certificate necessary)
Targeting children without vision insurance, CHIP or Medicaid

Details
Parents must sign consent for before exam
Proof of residency or income not required
Exams and prescription glasses and frames will be provided at no cost to families
Dozens of volunteers will be on hand
Se habla espanol

NEED A FLYER? Download the English version or the Spanish version

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The Essilor Vision Foundation and the Austin Kids Vision Coalition will offer qualifying  young children free eye exams and glasses at the annual Texas Book Festival, October 16 -17, in Austin, Texas.

A screening team and eye doctors will be on-hand to offer free vision screenings and eye exams from a tent and a large van set up in the children’s area of the festival. Technicians will be able to offer new, prescription glasses to the children who need them but can’t afford the exam or glasses.  Most glasses can be made on-site the same day.  The free 2-day pilot to offer glasses for needy kids is a pilot project called Kids Vision for Life, a collaboration lead by Essilor Vision Foundation, the nonprofit arm of Essilor, the world’s largest manufacturer of ophthalmic lenses.

According to Essilor Vision Foundation’s research, 25% of school children living in the U.S. have a vision problem significant enough to affect learning.  Studies also show that 70% of juvenile delinquents have uncorrected vision problems.

“To think that our children are failing because of the very fixable issue of not seeing well is a problem we can solve, together,” says Ken Gladish, president and CEO of Austin Community Foundation. “I’m proud that so many great Austin organizations are participating in this pilot project and identifying ways to ensure that all the children in Austin who need glasses get them.”

The teams of volunteers, doctors and Essilor Vision Foundation staff will have spent four days working with hundreds of kids at three Austin ISD elementary schools earlier in the week.

Austin teen runs annual food drive, basket by basket

Broushka, a 15-year-old Austin teen, has raised thousands of pounds of food for Caritas.

An Austin teenager, Bridget Boushka, has been organizing an annual food drive in her neighborhood since she was 12 years old. What started as a volunteer project through her school, St. Gabriel’s Catholic School, led to her collecting 542 pounds worth of food for the nonprofit Caritas, which serves low-income and refugee adults and families. That was the first year.

Two years later, Boushka raised 2,029 pounds of donated items, including food, drinks, diapers and clothing. In addition to in-kind donations, the drive raised $700 worth of H-E-B gift cards, $560 in bus passes and $2,300 in cash donations.

Boushka attributes the success of her food drive to the generosity of her neighbors, but she also has a sure-fire plan of action. She outlines her project to neighbors on a flyer that she attaches to a large basket and delivers to each doorstep. The flyer asks donors to simply leave items they want to donate in the basket on their front porch for pick-up within the next week. 

Mindful of the most urgent needs of Caritas clients, Boushka also includes a wish list for neighbors to reference on what to give. As promised, she then travels up and down neighborhood streets picking up baskets filled with donations.

“My neighbors are always so enthusiastic to be a part of the drive, they feel like they are making such an impact,” Boushka beams. To adequately demonstrate the collective impact, Boushka photographs all the items together and includes them in thank you notes.
 
Executive Director for Caritas of Austin, Beth Atherton says, “I am so impressed by Bridget’s passion, energy and drive. It is encouraging to see such exemplary leadership in a young adult and Caritas is fortunate to have her support.”

This year, Boushka will celebrate her 16th birthday, but the busy St. Michael’s Catholic Academy student, All-State swimmer, track and cross country runner says she will definitely continue her annual food drive, saying, “I love doing it, it is so rewarding.” With a 16th birthday between now and then, the only difference is that next year she will be the one behind the wheel delivering donations.

School supply drives around Austin

With your help, all these kids will get school supplies!

Who can resist a new box of crayons? Especially the big one with the sharpener in the back.

No one. So feel free to buy them and donate them to any of these 2009-2010 school supply drives. Or even better, keep it for yourself! Then donate the money to the school supply drives, because they can buy a lot more school supplies with your $20 in bulk than you can at Target.

Volunteers needed, too!

(Oh, and backpacks! If your organization or business has some new, logo’d backpacks lying around, these organizations would love to hand them out to needy kids. Thanks!)

Manos de Cristo
Helps more than 2,000 East Austin children get school supplies, backpacks, and clothes for school.
DONATE: Monetary donations also accepted. Just $20 can provide a backpack with school supplies for one child, and for $45 you can completely outfit a child with a new backpack, supplies, and two new outfits.
VOLUNTEER: Volunteers needed to prepare for event, sort items, help distribute items, take photos and video.
WHEN: Pre-sorting & Preparation: Monday – Friday, July 26 – 30
Distribution Dates: Monday – Friday, August 2 – 6 and August 9 – 13
WHERE: 5335 Airport Blvd., Austin, Texas 78751
MORE: Manos de Cristo

Round Rock Partners in Education
Currently, more than 30% of RRISD families in Round Rock, Northwest Austin, and Cedar Park (approximately 12,000 students) qualify for the federally-funded Free and Reduced Lunch Program. These students are eligible to receive free basic school supplies from RRISD and the RRISD Partners in Education Foundation.
DONATE: “Support-A-Student-Program” lets you sponsor a student for only $10.
VOLUNTEER: Volunteer at Stony Point High School, 1801 Tiger Trail (formerly Bowman Road,) Round Rock, TX 78664.
WHEN: Sorting and distribution August 12-14
MORE: Round Rock PIE

Communities in Schools
2,000 CIS students need backpacks and school supplies. YOU can help!
DONATE: A $20 donation provides a CIS student with a backpack and a full set of school supplies. For just $5 more, a personal hygiene kit can be added to their backpack.
VOLUNTEER: School supplies are shipped directly to CIS where volunteers pack the supplies, write personal notes to each student and deliver them to campuses.
WHEN: Individuals or teams can volunteer to help pack supplies on August 13-14 or deliver supplies on August 18.
MORE: CIS

For the Children
FTC is an all-volunteer nonprofit. 100% of your donation goes toward school supplies. Low income children from 10 Central Texas school districts are eligible for school supplies, which they receive on the first day of school. Last year, FTC supported just under 55,000 children in the 10 Central Texas school districts, grades Pre-K through 4th. This year they hope to help 9,000 more.
DONATE: For the Children

Hope & Love 4 Kids
Founded in 2006, Hope & Love 4 Kids is a non-profit based in Kyle serving the children of Hays county.
DONATE: The school supply drive will be going all summer long. Donation bins are located at: KYLE – Kyle United Methodist Church, Seton Hospital, Fox’s Pizza, Wells Fargo, Trust Texas Bank , Austin Regional Clinic, Whataburger, UPS Store and Vantage Apartments, BUDA – Body Interiors and Learning Squared, AUSTIN – Champion Toyota and Haverty’s Furniture.
MORE: Hope & Love 4 Kids

UPDATE… PLEASE REMEMBER: These organizations hand out school supplies as well, so check their websites for dates, times and locations.

Here’s one Austin event offering FREE school supplies for K-12:

The Back to School Parade
SUNDAY, AUG. 22
3-6 pm

A parade starts at the Delco Center and ends at Batholemew Park on E. 51st Street. (MAP) All school supplies will be handed out at the end of the parade on a first-come, first-served basis. Please note that children who are present will get first chance to go home with school supplies; there may not be enough school supplies for others to take to children who do not attend. Get more information here.

SAT JULY 17: Fitness Fair to introduce more kids to sports

Fitness Feria 2010

FitnessFeria will introduce Austin Spanish-speaking families to school sports.

This Saturday, July 17, more than 40 nonprofits, health agencies, and fitness groups across the area will offer Fitness Feria, a first-ever concept for Austin.

The event features more than 20 sports and fitness activities demonstrated to families, including cycling, kayaking, football, cheerleading, ballet, golf, running, and more. There’ll also be hands-on practice activities between parents and children with coaches, athletes, and mentors.

At Fitness Feria, parents will navigate with their children thru an “Olympic pathway” of hands-on sports demonstrations and exhibits as they learn these things about the U.S. sports and fitness system:

· The ABCs of Movement – the essential physical activities at every age level, from infant to teenager

· What it takes to do many kinds of sports, such as volleyball, running, cycling, baseball, swimming, karate, soccer, and many more

· Where to connect with free sports camps, training, and fitness activities in the area

· How to get athletic mentors and scholarships

· The importance of practice, mental discipline, and healthy lifestyles to achieve success in sports and fitness

WHY: One in three kindergarteners in Austin is overweight or obese with a near majority of these kids live in Spanish language dominant families. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses are at their highest in the Hispanic community, but the number is increasing across all socioeconomic and ethnic groups.

Fitness Feria aims to give Spanish-speaking parents a better understanding of the U.S. sports and fitness system so they can be drivers of their family’s health and movement. The event also trains and mobilizes nonprofits and community groups to better engage the Spanish-speaking community. Organizers still need volunteers.

WHEN: Saturday, July 17, 2010, 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.

WHERE: Toney Burger Center, 3200 Jones Road, Austin, Texas

WHO CAN ATTEND: The program is geared toward Spanish-speaking families, but all families are welcome to attend.

HOW YOU CAN HELP: Volunteer! According to Oné Musel-Gilley, “We have English and Spanish volunteer roles. However, our greatest need is Spanish speaking volunteers.” Go for it!

CONTACT: To learn more about Fitness Feria, click here.

(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.

Will Austin lose a fantastic opportunity to help East Austin for a completely asinine reason?

Is it possible that after three years of immersing myself in the Central Texas nonprofit community – as part of our mission to bring more Central Texans into philanthropy – that  I am still completely clueless about how the system actually works. And I don’t mean I don’t understand a process, I mean I don’t understand how things work in the real world, which means that no matter how well meaning people are, they are still, in fact, people.

So please help me understand what’s going on in East Austin right now…..

1. Monica meets Southwest Key

The latest example of my naivete started with my visit to Southwest Key. You’ve heard of this place, right? You’ve seen them on the business journal’s list of the largest nonprofits in Central Texas (Southwest Key is number four). But what exactly do they do?

SWK started as a program to keep young people in San Antonio out of jail. Kids were being arrested and incarcerated for minor infractions when they really just needed some adult support in their lives. SWK founder, Juan Sanchez, swooped in to create programs that supported the kid and his whole family, really. Kids weren’t committing new crimes, not going back to jail, and the program was a success.

Soon, other cities started to ask him to set up programs for their communitiess, and Southwest Key was born. Today there are 55 programs with more than 1,000 employees in 7 states with an operating budget of $58 million from government grants, foundations, corporations and private donations. Sanchez is, by all accounts, on a mission and a positive force in the community.

2. Clearly, Southwest Key is committed to East Austin

In fact, he’s so committed to Hispanics and the economically disadvantages and, as he calls them, “kids,” that he moved his headquarters there. In 2007, Sanchez and his board completed construction of its national headqaurters, the East Austin Community Development Center, right across the street from the now-closed Johnston High School in the Govalle/Johnston Terrace neighborhood. The exact location was deliberate: This neighborhood needed an anchor, and Sanchez wanted to provide that.

At one point, people from Southwest Key went door-to-door asking residents what their neighborhood needs the most, what their children need the most. Not surprisingly, what they said was: a better education. (Obvious, right?)

3. Southwest Key’s promise to East Austin kids

This past school year, SWK opened the East Austin College Prep Academy. The open enrollment charter school will provide the first middle school class since Allen Junior High closed in the 1980s, a move that left the Govalle/Johnston Terrace neighborhood without a middle school.

The school  is small but really beautiful, with modern architecture and inspirational artwork, all in all a wonderful environment for that really awkward stage of adolescence. The “kids” are really proud of their school, and it shows. In fact, the whole headquarters is like an oasis to the blight around it.

(I keep putting “kids” in quotes because that’s how Sanchez talks about them. Not “at-risk youth” not “economically disadvantaged” not “impoverished.” In fact, he’s one of the rare nonprofit leaders I’ve met who doesn’t speak in “nonprofitese,” that politically correct, exacting language that may be polite but also keeps poor people at a safe distance.)

All this still makes sense to me, though it’s hard for me to get my head around all Southwest Key does – and why so few people realize the impact it’s having on one of the weakest links in the Austin school system. And Sanchez… why does he have such a low profile around Austin but a very high profile for his work everywhere else?

4. The Academy is modeled on a Harlem school

The middle school didn’t spring from the mind of Sanchez, who’s fiercely intelligent but also knows enough to take advantage of proven education models  to adapt to East Austin’s particular situation. In fact, the model the school’s based on is The Harlem Children’s Zone, a renowned program in New York City that operates an integrated system of education, social services and community-building programs to help children achieve their full potential. The whole system being build by Southwest Key is called the East Austin Children’s Promise.

Sanchez has been following the Harlem Children’s Zone model for years, and in fact, raised the money to build and launch the middle school East Austin so badly needs. Even more has been raised to add a high school, with plans for an elementary school, preschool and more programs that integrate community-building and education.

5. Obama’s plan to grow more Promise Neighborhoods

Southwest Key recognized a strong model in Harlem Children’s Zone – and so did the Obama administration. In fact, earlier this year, Obama signed a law to create funding for more HCZ or “Promise Neighborhoods.” The initial funds will allow for up to 20 planning grants of $500,000 each. Southwest Key is ready to apply for that funding to take its already established “Promise” neighborhood to the next level.

Great, right? I mean, Austin will have to compete with other cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit and just about every other city in the county, all of which have a much bigger reputation for bad neighborhoods. After all, Austin is known for being a great place to party and listen to music, not really for the work its doing to improve its schools.

But here’s what makes me realize how complicated our little city can be.

There are two communities from Austin applying for the Promise Neighborhood planning grant. One proposal will come from Southwest Key, the other will come from a group called the Austin Promise Neighborhoods Planning Team, which focuses on the north east Austin neighborhood near Reagan High School. Think both efforts will receive a planning grant? Most likely, only one will. So the two proposals – and really neighborhoods – will, in fact, compete with each other.

Sorry? Why are there two? Wouldn’t you think they’d combine efforts to make one strong proposal from East Austin? And wouldn’t you think they’d rally behind Southwest Key because they have, in fact, already created a Promise Neighborhood?

The organization that does win the $500,000 planning grant “would then receive multiyear financing from the U.S. Department of Education to take the program to scale – if they are able to raise matching funds from private or local government sources,” according to the Statesman. Whatever neighborhood wins, it will need to funnel all the money through a single organization to administer the grants.

6. East Austin vs. East Austin?

Now, Southwest Key already administers millions of dollars in government grants. It already has programs in place modeled on the Promise Neighborhoods pilot. And it has established its commitment to the Govalle/Johnston neighborhood by locating its headquarters there. So when the other organizations in Austin decided to go after this funding, why didn’t they get behind the Southwest Key effort?

The other effort is a big one. Almost everyone in Austin is behind the Austin Promise Neighborhoods Planning Team: City of Austin, Austin ISD, University of Texas, Seton Family of Hospitals, Austin/ Travis County Health and Human Services, LifeWorks, Foundation Communities, Communities in Schools, St. John Community School Alliance, E3 Alliance, United Way of the Capital Area, Sooch Foundation, Webber Family Foundation, Capital Area Council on Governments, East Side Social Action Coalition, and many elected officials, according to the Sooch Foundation. But they do not have the foothold that Southwest Key has.

So is this really Austin versus Southwest Key? Are we really pitting one East Austin neighborhood against another? And can somebody give me a really good reason why we have two teams?

I know there was an initial contact made to go to Washington D.C. as a team. I know at some point there was a decision to not work as a team. I know both neighborhoods really need a concerted, well financed effort to overcome the terrible conditions they’re in. But both teams can’t win. Where’s the collaboration, Austin?