SAT DEC 11: Because toys make children happy, people

Look at these photos. Just look.

Did I tell you about the time I got the Barbie Dream House? It was amazing. I adore(d) Barbies, and getting that Dream House is one of my favorite memories — never mind that my grandmother actually pulled it out of a trash can to give to me.

I don’t mean to get sappy on you, because for me that’s still a happy memory. There’s no other way I would have ever had the Barbie Dream House; it just wasn’t in the budget for my family, you know? The point is, toys make a difference to kids. And YOU can help make that difference to kids this Saturday.

This Saturday is the 13th Annual River City Youth Foundation “Merry Memories” holiday event in Dove Springs, a community just southeast of Austin. More than 95% of the children living in Dove Springs receive federally subsidized lunch. (So in other words, ALL of them.) If they can’t afford lunch, what kind of Christmas do you think they’re going to have?

Here’s how you can help:



Merry Memories

13th Annual Toy Give-Away


Dove Springs Recreation Center
5801 Ainez Dr, Austin, TX 78744


Sorting of toys starting at 9 a.m. Event runs from 12-3 PM

Individuals and groups welcome!

To donate or volunteer contact
Oné Musel-Gilley (pronounced onay)
(512) 576-0219
or Mona Gonzalez at (512) 633-9708

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.

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
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.

Feria Para Aprender: The biggest Austin education event you’ve never heard of

Feria Para Aprender Austin

When I first heard about Feria Para Aprender, I was shocked. How is it that I don’t know about an education fair in Austin attended by 15,000 Spanish-speaking Austinites in its three years?

Am I the only one in Austin who didn’t know about this? Apparently it was brought to Austin Partners in Education by Hispanic leader Sylvia Acevedo, and it caught on like wildfire. Wow. Here’s some background about Feria from their Facebook page: (Become a FAN!)

Overview: Feria Para Aprender is an education fair for Spanish-speaking parents and students in the greater Austin community. This one-day event brings together over 75 non-profit organizations, school district departments and universities to spread the message that education is the key to economic prosperity.

strong>Mission: Over the last 3 years, Feria Para Aprender has reached over 15,000 Spanish-speaking parents and students by providing educational resources and materials entirely in Spanish. Feria Para Aprender has also raised awareness of the need for bilingual staff members in local non-profit organizations.

Feria Para Aprender spreads the “Para Una Buena Vida” message:

1. Graduate from high school and earn $1 million in your lifetime.
2. Graduate from college and earn an additional $1 million in your lifetime.
3. Learning English and Spanish fluently will give you more employment opportunities and higher salaries.

How you can get involved: Feria Para Aprender couldn’t happen without the support of hundreds of volunteers. Volunteers are need throughout the day on Friday, February 5 to help set up activities and equipment as well as sort the thousands of donated books. Spanish-speaking volunteers are encouraged to volunteer at the event to help guide parents and facilitate the numerous activities around the Expo Center grounds.

Please visit to register for as an exhibitor or a volunteer.

For more information, please contact Christin Alvarado at

Hundreds attend Vivir Unidos party…er, volunteer fair

Last week , we participated in the Vivir Unidos volunteer fair for Hispanics produced by the overworked and underpaid folks from United Way and Hands on Central Texas. Between all the amazing food, the music, the socializing, the dancing… seriously, weren’t we supposed to have been there to “improve Hispanic engagement?” Blah blah blah, this was a party.

There were at least 30 nonprofits represented, and every time I strolled by them I heard some genuine conversations going on. Sebastian Puente, who also helped plan the event and was there last night, and I estimated that there we at least 400 people there. It was a packed house. And everyone seemed to get the message of the night: Dig in and get involved. Si se puede.

Congratulations to everyone who helped plan and support the event! Below are some links to coverage from news outlets. Are there more?

Statesman: United Way Reaches Out to Area Hispanics with Vivir Unidos

Ahora Si: Buscan a latinos con ganas de ayudar a su comunidad

Ahora Si: Photos from the event

P.S. We’ll have tons of photos of the Vivir Unidos event in our next issue. Don’t forget to sign up for a free subscription!

FRI MARCH 27: Be a “real world” speaker to Travis High Students

Received this email from Linda Medina. I know there are lots of you out there who could expose a high school student to a career they might have never considered. This is a great opportunity to inspire Austin young people.

Dear Friends,

I hope this email finds you well.  Volunteers are needed to participate in the Travis High School “Real World Connections” Speaker Series on Friday, March 27th at 11:30 a.m. The time commitment for the event will likely be no more than 90 minutes. We would very much appreciate if you could serve as a special guest or help recruit speakers in Media, Engineering & Technology fields.
To prepare for the 21st Century, students need real-world experiences.   They need to hear first-hand from professionals about the skills that are needed to succeed in different career fields.   Most importantly, students need to understand the incremental steps it takes to prepare for careers.  This luncheon will provide students with a great opportunity to learn about Media, Engineering & Technology careers and what it takes to succeed in that field.
Friday, March 27th
Travis High School
1211 E. Oltorf
11:30 a.m.

If you are interested in participating or know people that would, please contact Courtney Bensch, School Improvement Facilitator for Travis High School, at 414-6355, or Raul Alvarez, Grassroots Community Coordinator for the Office of Redesign, 414-8729,
Seguimos Adelante,
Linda Medina, M.Ed.
Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
Education Foundation
512.462.4311 direct line
2800 South IH 35, Suite 260

Network while you work … at the Food Bank





If you’re going to put yourself out there, try to meet new people, find new opportunities… you might as well wipe some  cans and sort some peanut butter.

Scott Ingram of NetworkIn Austin and Austin TopGuns came up with this pairing of networking and giving/volutneering, and they’ve chosen the Capital Area Food Bank as the recipient. There are two ways to be a part of this effort:

1. First, you can make a donation. Between now and the end of the month, you can make a financial contribution (from $5 on up!) to the Virtual Fund Drive. Every little bit helps, and you’ll see that all dollars contributed to the Food Bank go a very long way. Please give generously!

2. Second, you can volunteer. They’ve set up 4 volunteer shifts (see below).  Their goal is to completely fill all 185 volunteer shifts, a contribution of 505 volunteer hours!

Thusday – 2/26: 6:00 – 9:00pm 
Friday – 2/27: 7:30 – 9:30am 
Friday – 2/27: 9:00am – Noon 
Friday – 2/27: 1:00 – 4:00pm

What a cool idea, huh? If you’ve never volunteered at the Food Bank before, you’re going to find it fascinating. They do a great job of training you, and eveyrone seems to enjoy the “Lucy Ricardo at the chocolate factory” atmosphere. Sign up, and bring a friend!

BLOG ACTION DAY: How you can reverse the downward spiral towards increasing poverty in Central Texas

In thinking about povery today and what I might post for Blog Action Day, I wanted to focus on actions we could take to reverse the downward spiral occurring in Central Texas towards increasing poverty.

What I’m learning more about is this relationship between education and poverty. I think we all know high school graduates earn more over their lifetime than non-graudates, and the same holds true for college grads.

According to Communities in Schools:

“Dropouts make up nearly half the heads-of-households on welfare.”
“One in three Central Texas ninth graders is not enrolled in the twelfth grade three years later.”
“With this school year, 8,000 Austin ISD middle School students will be at risk of not graduating high school.” 
“The dropout statistics promise to grow worse each year as the demographics in Texas begin their dramatic shift.”

So if you want to effect Central Texas poverty going forward, one of the best ways to do that is to help some of these kids finish school. (And definitely make sure your kid finishes school.)

The relationship between a child and a mentor or tutor has proven to help keep that child in school and even do well in school.  Which is not a surprise.  Good news is, there are a lot of mentoring and tutoring opportunities out there. Here are a few to consider:
Any Baby Can, which has been helping Austin’s youngest, sickest and poorest children for 30 years

Volunteer at the Saturday Learning Center… or Family Literacy Program Tuesdays and Thursdays…
Help tutor children and parents in literacy, math and English.

The Arc of Capital Area, which helps adults and children with developmental disabilities attain self sufficiency.

Academic coaching – Volunteers are matched with a Special Education student to tutor on various subjects and help the student reach obtainable academic goals.
Parent matches – Parents of a child with a disability are paired to discuss various care-giving topics and for moral support.

Caritas of Austin, which fights hunger, homelessness, poverty and fear – a great mission

5 hours a week you can Work with low-income working parents making the transition to financial stability by talking about money management skills, job interview skills, etc.

Communities in Schools, whose sole purpose is to keep Austin kids in school.

Lots of tutoring opportunities here. You can sign up for 1 hour a week for the school year.
OR this one starts in January 2009 – be a Tech Tots Mentor, which is where you mentor low-income families in their homes on how to use computers, software, printers, the Internet.

Big Brothers and Big Sisters, which offers long and short-term opportunities for you to mentor a child.

From what I understand, these are serious commitments. There are applications to submit, background checks, maybe even some fingerprinting. But I also understand there are serious rewards. In our first issue we included a story by Eva Schone who told us about her experience as a Big Sister. She said, “It was awkward in the beginning. We had to find the rhythm that was appropriate for this relationship. It took us about half a year.” Later, though, she said,

“The most important part of building my relationship with Courtnie was to figure out how I could assist her – in the context of her life circumstances – most effectively. That takes a little bit of time and getting to know each other. In the beginning you have a set of expectations, but you just don’t know what each child’s situation is going to be. And you’re going to have to work with whatever it is.”

Does this sound like something you could do? To download the story and our first issue, click here.