On why we do this

Before GivingCity came to the Austin Community Foundation, we produced a lot of content for a lot of other people. One of our favorite things to work on was and is 12 Baskets Magazine for Mobile Loaves & Fishes. We still do 12 Baskets now.

Here’s how we got that gig: I was standing in the lobby of Alamo Drafthouse, waiting to watch the first showing of Andrew Shapter’s film, “Happiness Is.” Alan Graham was also there to see the film, and we were chatting a bit about what it is I do, exactly. I gave him the overview (“You know, I just like working on magazines.”), and then he asked me if I could make him a digital magazine that was provocative and awesome.

Who’s going to turn that down?

So we made a 12 Baskets magazine. And then another. And they’ve had more than 11,000 views so far, which is not bad for what is basically a spiffed up-nonprofit newsletter. These two issues have included amazing stories, but they’ve spurred some amazing stories, too. Here’s one:

Two weeks ago we received an email from a woman asking us if we could tell her anything about Joseph Coleman.

We’d photographed him for a recurring story, “Everything I Own,” (above) in which we ask a homeless person to display the contents of his or her bag. Other magazines use this concept to offer insight into a person’s interests and personality. We use it to offer insight in to a homeless person’s hope and/or desperation.

Turns out the woman who emailed us is Coleman’s niece. And she’s been looking for him.

There wasn’t much I could tell her except that we found him around Woolridge Park. Coleman’s story was particularly sad: He owned two blankets wrapped in a scarf and a prayer card. That’s all.

She told us she’d go look for him, see if she could help him. Her family had taken care of him in the past, but hadn’t seem him in about 10 years. Coleman has addiction problems that keep him from staying in one place for too long. She sent me this photos of Coleman as a boy. I hope she finds him.


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What Austin philanthropists can do right now about the state budget cuts to nonprofits

Last night, Jason Sabo terrified a small group of philanthropists by describing the devastating effects of the budget cuts being considered by the current Legislature. Many of the cuts would put the neediest Texans in real life-or-death situations.

Sabo has been the United Ways of Texas man at the Capitol for more than 10 years, and represents the interests of nonprofits across the state. His message: Nonprofits need to decide and then focus on what’s most important to save, because we can’t save everything.

His talk was an updated version of the cover story of the current issue of GivingCity. Please read this story and share it with others. Thank you.

Here’s a link to download a PDF printable version of the story.

OR

Here’s a link to start reading the story right away in the magazine.

The more we know as a community, the smarter our decision-making will be. As Debbie Bresette, president of Austin’s United Way said last night, “Most people don’t want to come and hear this news.” But if you care about Austin, you must.

Have your day at the Capitol

Today is CASA Day at the Capitol, and here’s why this is important.

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) is taking a strong stand to stop budget cuts proposed for Child Protective Services, the agency charged with protecting children and caring for those in the Texas child welfare system and advocating for full funding for CASA.

Hundreds of CASA volunteers from across the state of Texas will gather at the Capitol to dedicate a memorial in honor of the 227 children who die from abuse and neglect each year in Texas. For more than 30 years, CASA has been speaking up for abused and neglected children in the Texas foster care system, often helping children who are in life-or-death situations. CASA programs recruit and train committed volunteers to help guide children through the foster care system and into safe and permanent home.

Tim for CASA storyIn our current issue, we have a story about Linda, a CASA volunteer who was assigned to Tim when he was just three years old. Linda has stayed by Tim (in photo, left) his whole life, protecting him from getting lost in the system and helping him become the productive and capable human being he is today.

We also have a story advising Austin nonprofits to step up to the Legislature and speak up for the children and people they represent.

There will be many more of these “Days at the Capitol” during this session. You don’t have to attend them to support the cause.

Send a letter or email today to your representative and let them know why they should work harder to keep these vital services intact. Just go to Texas Tribune to find your representative. Speak up for Austin this session.

Give… but don’t give… to help panhandlers. I think…

PERSONAL NOTE: I keep a few dollars in my cupholder to hand out to panhandlers at a red light. I “tip” panhandlers on the street better than I tip the waitstaff when I go out at night. And when I don’t hand out money, I try to smile and say hello. So all this below is my confused — and confusing – attempt to try to understand this “Know Before You Give” campaign. Geez, people!

Today there was a news story about the “Know Before You Give” campaign, which encourages people to give to social service agencies. Great idea! Please do give to social service agencies.

Need a beer sign

You ever hold a sign like this?

And if you feel like giving a few bucks to a panhandler on your way to drink beers with your friends, go ahead. Throw a few at the valet and the bartender, while you’re at it. Why not? Those guys could use a beer, too!

Wait. What I meant to say was, don’t give money to the panhandler, who probably has to sleep under I-35 (and who will probably just spend the money on beer).

The best way to help him is to give to a charity like Front Steps. Front Steps is a nonprofit that operates ARCH, the homeless shelter. The City of Austin provides the building and a grant to Front Steps to operate the shelter.

So if the city’s giving to Front Steps and you’re giving to Front Steps, these poor bar and club owners won’t have to worry about people outside their doors asking for money — and they can get more of your money inside!

Uh, and what I meant by that was that we should support local businesses and work together to keep downtown safe AND help the homeless. (Except that… well, studies have shown that most panhandlers aren’t homeless, and most homeless people don’t panhandle.* Hmmm.)

Anyway! That’s why we’re asking you, Austin partiers and beer drinkers, to take more responsibility. Know Before You Give partners created this campaign, now it’s your turn: Stop feeding the cats! They’ll just keep coming back! If we stop feeding them, maybe they’ll just go away!

Let’s educate ourselves on the importance of not giving to panhandlers. (At the same time, just in case, feel free to brush up on your own panhandling skills.)

* “Contrary to common belief, panhandlers and homeless people are not necessarily one and the same. Many studies have found that only a small percentage of homeless people panhandle, and only a small percentage of panhandlers are homeless.”  (U.S. Dept of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services)

Introducing 12 Baskets for Mobile Loaves & Fishes

12 Baskets Homeless Austin Danny Maggie IAMHERE T3Last fall I was chatting with Alan Graham at some event when he asked me, “So did I see something in one of your Tweets about custom publishing?”

And that’s how 12 Baskets started. Six months later, we’re about to launch the first magazine issue, timed to coordinate with the launch of a huge campaign to raise awareness about homelessness and put Danny & Maggie, a homeless couple from Austin, in a permanent home.

I wanted to thank all the people who contributed, but especially recognize Robin Finlay, who donated her time and talent as an art director to make the magazine…. well, it just works. That’s what great art directors do, and Robin — sitting across from me now, btw — is definitely one of the best art directors in Texas.

Please open it here. More importantly, get to know the people in this magazine and, if you’re so inclined, help them by donating or volunteering. You can even text “Danny” to 20222 to donate $10 to get Danny and his wife, Maggie, off the streets and into a permanent home.

Thank you, and let me know what you think.

P.S. Thanks, Alan, for the opportunity. We learned a lot and had a great time.

Why Austin needs Goodwill now

Thanks to your donations, Goodwill continues to change lives in Central Texas.

As Goodwill prepares for its Hall of Honor awards tonight, I thought it would be fitting to run the story we did about them in GivingCity Issue #3 (opens PDF).

Tonight they’ll honor clients who have overcome several obstacles to change their – and their families’ – lives for the better.

Congratulations to the Hall of Honor recipients!

FROM GIVINGCITY AUSTIN ISSSUE #3

For the past 14 years, Central Texas Goodwill has put people to work … but it’s not just the people who work in the stores.

“It’s important for people to understand what we contribute to the community,” says Gerald Davis, president of the Central Texas Goodwill, “and what we do is make people self-sufficient.”

Take Latisha Fisher, a young mother who didn’t have a driver’s license, worked nights, and had a second child on the way. And Willie Johnson who, after 20 years of working in the tech industry, found himself homeless, struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues. And James Fowler who lost his job and then had trouble finding another employer who could accept his disabilities.

Thanks to Goodwill, Fisher is now a heath specialist at a shortterm psychiatric facility, Johnson a custodian, and Fowler a busser at Luby’s.

Depending on each person’s situation, Goodwill’s case workers collaborate with area nonprofits, agencies, and employers to put their clients on the right paths.

First, case workers help them resolve some of their survival challenges like food, shelter, transportation, or child care. Next a case worker starts the client on training for job placement; things like interviewing, resume writing, and soft skills like how to deal with coworkers.

A client may need Goodwill’s services for a couple of months or a couple of years to gain that foothold.

“At any given time, we’re working with about 200 employers,” says Davis. “Where we place them depends on what the client wants.” Only a small percentage of clients wind up working at the stores.

Here’s how your donations help:

When you drop off your bags of stuff, workers inside the stores hustle to get the merchandise out on the floor to be sold, usually, within 24 hours of being donated. Goodwill takes the money from those sales to pay case managers, trainers, and other services that get people jobs.

“It’s a system that’s worked for more than 100 years,” says Gerald Davis, president of the Central Texas Goodwill. “The best we can do in our stories is offer good customer service.”

There at 18 donations centers across Austin. Click here to find a drop-off center near you.

New data reports status of Austin community conditions

This is not good news.

From an email sent by the Community Action Network:

(BTW, CAN’s marking Poverty Awareness Month, y’all! Which begs the question, Do poor people really need to raise their awareness of poverty… and for a whole month? I think they’re painfully aware, thank you.)

Travis County Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs has released its 2009 Community Impact Report on Community Conditions. The report provides a general overview of how our community is doing with regard to basic needs, housing, workforce development, education, behavioral health and other areas in which Travis County invests funds for services.

A few highlights…
•    Since the beginning of 2009,  Austin Energy has received 75% more requests for utility assistance than for all of 2008.
•    In November 2009, 107,288 Travis County residents received food stamps, up 68% from January 2008.
•    Foreclosure postings in Travis County rose 110% from 3,482 postings in 2007 to 7,309 postings in 2009.
•    There was a 28% increase in visits to local emergency rooms by individuals presenting primarily with mental health issues between 2006 and 2008.
•    Between 2003 and 2008, the Austin MLS median home price rose by 22% and the average home price rose by 24%, but median family income increased only by 3%.