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.

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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?

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.