2016: A Year In Review

January 20, 2017

One year ago at Caritas of Austin, we were looking toward 2016 with excitement and high expectations. 2015 was a strong year, and we knew that we had the strategies in place to make 2016  even stronger.

Thanks to the support of people like you, 2016 proved to be  even better than we hoped.

Here are just a few of the things that this community made possible:

  • Last August, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that the city of Austin has officially solved veteran homelessness, and Caritas of Austin was a leading partner in that accomplishment
  • Caritas of Austin smashed our fundraising goals at events like Words of Hope and the ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot, which raised $450,000 and $330,000 respectively.
  • Volunteers in our Community Kitchen logged a total of 20,450 hours and served thousands of meals to lunchtime clients
  • Our generous donors provided enough Welcome Home baskets, household supplies, and children’s items to make this holiday season an incredible one for the hundreds of clients in Caritas’ programs.

Last year was not without its challenges. We faced more uncertainty than ever around our work with refugees, and yet we remain committed to serving this resilient group of people. Our city is still struggling to find solutions to homelessness that are proportionate to the problem (watch the video below to hear something exciting news!). And Austin continues to be less affordable, making our efforts to help clients gain living wage jobs all the more important.

But as supporters like you demonstrated in 2016, we can accomplish great things together and tackle problems that once seemed insurmountable. We know that with your continued partnership, Caritas of Austin can accomplish even more in 2017.

Watch this two-minute video from our Executive Director to hear her highlights of 2016 and more specifics on where we are headed in 2017.

Thank you so much for being a part of this journey with us. None of this would be possible without you!

 

Stepping Stone School Students Give Back

November 21, 2016

Our partners at the Stepping Stone School sponsor the Stepping Stone Kids' K every year at the ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot. They also strongly believe that giving back should be a part of a child's curriculum as they move through school. On this guest blog post, Stepping Stone's Associate Director of Curriculum explains why this is a core value of their students' education

By Susan Brunk, M.Ed.

Associate Director of Curriculum at Stepping Stone School

Generosity and gratitude are fundamental cornerstones of character development behind Stepping Stone School’s comprehensive Platinum Learning for Life™curriculum.

As our faculty model, our efforts begin in the classroom, practicing and teaching the value of sharing and caring for others. We promote these attitudes through charitable giving events throughout the year and teach monthly character building with focused learning activities. 

Research demonstrates that children develop an attitude of charity and compassion when they experience opportunities for giving throughout their development.

Since 2003, Stepping Stone School has sponsored the Kids’ K and activity center at the annual ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot and we participate in canned food drives for Caritas of Austin and Central Texas Food Bank at each of our 19 area campuses. To date, almost $3 million has been raised for Caritas by the Turkey Trot. Rhonda Paver, Founder and Executive director of Stepping Stone School said, “Stepping Stone School is proud to have partnered with ThunderCloud subs for the last 13 years and we strongly support the efforts of this joyful and lasting partnership to support the wonderful work by Caritas of Austin. We always look forward to the annual Turkey Trot where our vibrant community comes together in the spirit of kindness, caring, gratitude and giving to others.”

During the month of October, Stepping Stone School partnered with Austin Diaper Bank and other local businesses for “The Great Central Texas Diaper Round-Up” by collecting over 5,400 diapers to help reach the goal of collecting 100,000 diapers for babies and seniors in the Central Texas area.

From selling refreshing lemonade, warm cookies and creative crafts, students put their business minds and giving hearts to work during the Young Entrepreneurs & Philanthropists™ summer camp program in support of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Texas (RMHC CTX). The students raised over $6,000 through the sale of their goods, effectively doubling the amount raised last year including additional monetary contributions and in-kind resources provided by Stepping Stone School. Together, they donated $10,000 this year and over $33,000 to date in support of the families with hospitalized children that rely on RMHC CTX.

Last but not least, every winter, school age children make cards and treats to bring to local area nursing homes and deliver them along with carols and hugs. 

Why?

Because we care about our local community.  These efforts reach out to our surrounding areas bringing a greater connection between children, families, our schools, and businesses.  We enthusiastically embrace opportunities to help make Central Texas a better place to learn, work, live and grow together.

 

A ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot Tradition

November 17, 2016

There is so much to love about the ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot. There’s no better place to be on Thanksgiving morning in Austin. And the event has raised nearly $3 million for Caritas of Austin since its inception. But in recent years, our new favorite tradition is the Caritas of Austin client team.

For the past four years, Caritas staff members have organized a team of 10 clients to walk together on Thanksgiving Day.

Timothy Rinn has participated on the Caritas team three years and said it’s helped him start a new Thanksgiving tradition. “Coming out together for the Turkey Trot has taken away the holiday blues of not being with family for me. It’s like a new family, a new tradition.”

Chris Kreizenbeck said he loves taking in the whole crowd on Thanksgiving morning at the Long Center. “I love all the people. There are so many different kinds of folks that come out for the Turkey Trot. It’s an event for everyone.”

After his mother passed away, Maurice was homeless for several years before being introduced to Caritas of Austin and using their services. “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired,” He has been stably housed with Caritas for four years and said the Turkey Trot is one way he is beginning a healthier and happier chapter of his life.

Luke’s Locker has partnered with the ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot for three years as a sponsor and packet pickup site, but they also go above and beyond to help make the event special for the Caritas team. Each Caritas participant gets a new pair of shoes from Luke’s Locker in advance of the race, free of charge.

 Sharon Ford has an extra pep in her step as she walks around in her new teal and purple running shoes. “I am not a shoe shopper, so this is special, and not paying for them is so nice. I love purple, so I had to get one that had purple.”

While many members of the Caritas of Austin team are participating in their third or fourth Turkey Trot, there are always a few newcomers. When Caleb walks into Luke’s Locker for the first time, he smiles and says, “It’s pretty awesome here.” Caleb has been stably housed for a year with Caritas and says it’s pretty special to be participating in the ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot since it benefits an organization that has done so much for him.

Caritas of Austin program manager Tanya Greenough has coordinated the team since it started. “Running is one of my passions, so it’s a perfect intersection of work and life. What keeps me involved with this each year is this,” as she watches each person excitedly pick out their new footwear. “Clients look forward to participating every year. It’s really meaningful to them.”

Thank you to ThunderCloud Subs, Luke’s Locker, and all who support the ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot each year. Your impact on the Austin community is greater than you know.

Register for the 26th annual ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot today, or purchase raffle tickets for a chance to win a brand new Honda Accord thanks to First Texas Honda.

 

Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week Gets Personal

November 16, 2016

Every week before Thanksgiving, National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is observed as a time to reflect upon what we have and what we are thankful for. It is also a chance for us to reach out to our neighbors and friends who may not be as fortunate. 

This year at Caritas of Austin, we have decided to make this year's National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week one of education and empathy. With the help of our staff, volunteers, donors, and community supporters we are challenging ourselves to not only observe Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, but experience it on a personal level. 

One way that we are doing this is by having our Executive Director, Jo Kathryn Quinn, take the SNAP Food Challenge. This means she will be limited to spend $1.27 on each meal she eats for the next week, which is the average amount a SNAP client spends per meal. Reflecting on this challenge, Jo Kathryn says, "In all fairness to those who face this challenge everyday, I recognize my experience is actually nothing like yours. I can at any point go back to my cushy lifestyle. My hope is to gain insight and abundant empathy that will ultimately translate into real changes for my fellow Americans experiencing poverty and hunger."

We'll also be getting input from Caritas of Austin Case Managers, volunteers, and donors as to why ending hunger and homelessness in America should be a priority. You can join us on this journey by following us on our social media pages, Facebook and Twitter

 

On The Road To Success With The Austin Yellow Bike Project

October 6, 2016

Mike, an Employment Specialist at Caritas of Austin, can think of many ways that not having access to consistent transportation impacts his clients as they look for a job.

“They may be late to appointments with their case manager or miss classes. But the greatest impact is when they start working because punctuality is essential.”

The majority of Caritas of Austin clients do not have cars, and rely on public transportation to get to work. As Mike points out, if the bus is not running on schedule it can impact their clients’ ability to find and sustain employment. Relying solely on public transportation can also prevent clients from finding jobs that pay better, or are more suited to their skill set. 

Local nonprofit The Austin Yellow Bike Project (YBP) recognizes this problem and aims to put bicycles on the streets of Austin to combat some of the major challenges our city faces in regards to public transportation. In addition to donating bikes to those who need them, YBP also teaches bike maintenance so that their riders can get the most use out of them. 

Last year, YBP was struggling to figure out how exactly to get bikes to people who needed them. At the same time, Caritas of Austin was looking for a partner to assist them with finding bikes for clients so that they could achieve a degree of independence. YBP volunteer, Conti, describes their relationship with Caritas as that of a matchmaker, with YBP bikes being connected with Caritas of Austin clients who need them the most.

“We see bikes as a tool for self-sufficiency, so we couldn't be happier that Caritas recognizes that value,” Conti says of YBP and Caritas’ similar missions in empowering others. 

One year later, YBP now donates at least ten bikes a month to Caritas of Austin clients. They also provide any bike accessories that clients may need such as lights and bike locks. Caritas’ Employment Team even visited YBP onsite to learn more about bike maintenance and repair, so that they can share that knowledge with clients.

Both Caritas of Austin and YBP understand what having one's own personal form of transportation can mean for a person’s independence. Caritas Employment Specialist, Ghassan, tells a story of one client spending two hours riding the bus to and from work every day before he got a bike. “Having a bike gives him an option to go to work unbound by someone else’s schedule,” Ghassan says.

Conti is also inspired by how the relationship between YBP and Caritas of Austin is changing lives. “It's really the best,” she says. “We've heard about bikes putting smiles on children's faces. We've heard about bikes that meant transportation to meant jobs that otherwise wouldn't have been. Every one of those stories is tough to beat.”

Caritas of Austin’s partnership with The Yellow Bike Project has impacted lives in positive ways that no one involved could have anticipated. It is another reminder of what wonderful things can happen when different community organizations come together with a common goal. Thanks to The Austin Yellow Bike Project, more Caritas clients are on their way to finding employment and independence, and are achieving self-sufficiency!

 

A Transition Made Possible

October 31, 2016

Rebecca has a college education, a great job in the legal field, and a duplex with her youngest daughter. It’s hard to believe that just a year ago she was homeless.

An Austin native, Rebecca was struggling to pay for college and decided to join the Army as a means to have her education underwritten in the 1980s. She was stationed at Fort Bragg and worked in Communications, spending two years deployed in Seoul, South Korea.

Rebecca said she never wanted to be stagnant. She was constantly taking classes toward her degree during her military service. While in the Army, she also got married and had her first baby. After nearly five years of active duty, Rebecca decided to transition to a career in government.

“I’ve always liked having a direct effect on state and local government,” she says of her career. Though Rebecca divorced and was a single mom of four, she always remained stable.

Two years ago, her stability took a turn when she moved to west Texas for what eventually became an abusive relationship. Early this year, Rebecca found the strength to leave. She came back to Austin, but she had nothing. She was homeless and without a job.

“It was so scary. I knew it was temporary and that I just needed to find a job, but I had no resources.”

She first went to the VA for help, who referred her to Caritas of Austin’s veteran program.

Rebecca focused her time on applying for jobs but was also just trying to meet her basic needs. She said it was hard sleeping different places each night, not having food, being separated from her youngest daughter, and having to board her dog.

Then Caritas of Austin called. “I started bawling. After that call, the wheels started rolling.”

Rebecca started a new job in May working in the legal field, which she loves. Caritas of Austin provided a financial bridge which helped her move her possessions out of storage, cover her first month and a half of rent before she got her first paycheck, and pay for outstanding utility debt that was preventing her from obtaining stable housing.

She also relied on the Caritas Pantry for food and toiletries in her transition period. “The Pantry was big for me. Caritas was one of the better places I could go to get quality food and toiletries.”

Rebecca can’t hold back the tears when talking about her case manager. “Maegan treated me with respect and dignity. She was kind, professional, caring, and available. There are people who come into your life for a short time but that you will never forget. She is one of them. We should have more Maegan’s in the world.”

She says Caritas of Austin gave her hope when she had none. “This agency has been the biggest blessing for me.”

Rebecca and her family are now closer than ever after the past two years of struggle. “My kids were so proud to watch me work my butt off to get back to where I am now.”

Because of you, Caritas of Austin has supported Rebecca and 220 other veteran families over the past two years in the goal to end veteran homelessness. Thank you!