GuideStar, Your Employer, and You!

Contributor: Kristin Davidson, Allies Board Member

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Does your employer participate in charitable giving or donation matching? Austin Allies is proud to announce our partnership with GuideStar, a service that many employers use to manage charitable donations. 

As a 501c3 organization, Austin Allies can be added to many employers charitable giving campaigns. Through your employer, you can set up a one-time payment or a regular payroll deduction, streamlining the giving process and giving donations directly to Austin Allies! You may even find that your employer offers donation matching through Guidestar, thus doubling your contribution! 

For example, my employer provides an easy website to designate specific 501c3 organizations to receive my donations through small recurring payroll deductions each pay period which is managed by GuideStar. Quarterly, GuideStar sends the accumulated monies directly to those charitable organizations. I’m thrilled to have such an easy way to support Austin Allies in their drive to provide wonderful volunteer opportunities that my family loves to participate in. 

Please, consider joining me and updating your giving through your employer today!


Little Allies, Big Hearts

Contributor: Beth Heyer, Little Allies Ambassador

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Little Allies provides a unique opportunity for littles (age 5 and under) to volunteer.  Most volunteer opportunities are directed at adults, or at least teenagers, but Austin Allies works diligently to find opportunities for children of all ages to give back.  It is never too early to become an Ally.  

Finding ways for the littlest Allies to volunteer isn’t always easy.  Some organizations, for safety or security, don’t let people under 18 even volunteer.  Or, when volunteering to cook a meal or work with animals, a volunteer may need to be over 12 or 14. 

Erika and I have worked closely together to find both age appropriate and meaningful ways for these littles to volunteer.  One thing I have found amazing about working with the littles is that the opportunity is so beneficial to them in such a variety of ways.

For one event, we sorted colored pencils for Austin Creative Reuse and put them in bundles of 8 and rubber banded them.  In the scheme of things, it’s kind of a silly way to volunteer, and something a grown up could have done in 1/10th of the time as a half dozen 3 year olds, but it opened up the conversation.  We talked about helping others, reusing materials, and colors and numbers and worked their fine motor skills trying to use the rubber bands and to hold 8 pencils at once in their little hands.  

At another event, we made treats for Veterans at the VA Center.  We measured flour, counted cupcake wrappers, scooped cookies, and talked about Veterans - who they are, what they do, who they helped, why they helped and why WE are helping them.  

These Little Allies events also provide such an amazing opportunity to bring all the big, sad and scary things in the world down to an age-appropriate level.  

We recently made cards for Austin Recovery.  Explaining drug addiction isn’t exactly something most 4 year olds understand, nor should they have to, but it opens up the conversation.  We talked about how people are sick and how they are trying to get better and working hard at it, and how our cards provide them with hope and inspiration.  In their own preschool way, they feel like they are helping and know that they are helping someone who needs it.  

I’ve been so lucky to work with Austin Allies over the last year and am grateful for the opportunity to continue to learn about such amazing local charities and find ways to support them, in our own perfect little preschool way.  

Donation Dos and Don'ts

Contributor: Erika Nowlin, Executive Director

Donation Do’s & Don’ts 

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If you’re anything like me, you occasionally get the bug to clean out all your drawers, closets, cabinets, etc. and pare down the ridiculous amount of items that clutter our homes. Once you come to terms with “how do we have so many things?”, the next question is always “Now what do I do with it all?”  

Many items can be donated or recycled, but some should really be thrown away; just do it - no one wants your stained Spuds Mckenzie shirt. We’ve compiled a handy little list of donating dos and don’ts to help you decide the best way to clean out your space and help others in the process.

Don’ts

  • No used underwear. Seriously. Just don’t do it.

  • No stained/torn/excessively worn/questionably themed (it happens, I have stories) clothing or shoes.

  • No used hair accessories (especially if hair is still attached!).

  • No chewed on pacifiers or teethers, stained cloth diapers, or toys that were recalled in the 80’s.

  • No toys or puzzles that are missing pieces - that’s disappointing no matter what age you are.

  • Torn bags or boxes that are falling apart should not be used to hold your items.  You know those commercials where the bag of groceries breaks and people stand there with their head in their hands in disbelief while their stuff rolls everywhere?  That has been me loading up my car more times than I can count. Please save me (and others) from this humiliation by packing your items in sturdy bags and boxes.

Do’s

  • Offer to bring furniture items to the organization rather than expecting them to come and get them (and always call first to make sure they need it!).  Bring a six-pack or some cookies to your neighbor with the giant truck that’s always blocking half your driveway and ask to borrow it to make the delivery.

  • When donating kitchen appliances, take the time to clean out the crumbs and stuck on food because . . . gross.

  • When donating toiletries (lotions, shampoos, etc.) they should be *new* and *full*.  Go ahead and toss that half full bottle of Drakkar or Electric Youth.

  • Clean/dust the item.

  • Sort items into “like” piles if possible (ex. kid’s clothing, men’s shoes, toys, kitchen, Star Trek memorabilia, etc.)

Do’s… somewhere else

  • Books that are water stained or torn are a bummer for everyone, especially kids.  Same goes for coloring books that have been colored in, regardless of your “artistic skills”, and sticker books with missing stickers or stickers already on the pages. These items can be donated to Recycled Reads and turned into cool things like traffic cones (really!)

  • Giant pieces of Grandma’s furniture are difficult for small organizations to store and use for their clients. Salvation Army and ARC will usually pick these items up from your house with a simple phone call.

  • Items that are personalized (embroidered, sharpied, etc.) should probably be given to the next Johnny or Susie if possible (ask on your neighborhood FB page - that stuff goes like hotcakes)

Remember that after you donate, someone has to go through your items and sort, clean, throw away (see: used underwear), etc.  If you can do this ahead of time, it’s extremely helpful! Please take a moment to think about the person and organization who may be receiving your items. It’s important for the individuals to retain their dignity and receiving items that are in poor condition does just the opposite. It also creates more work for the organization collecting your goods, so make it easy for them!

Bottom line: If you wouldn’t give it to your neighbor (or to your mom if you’re not a fan of your neighbor; or to your best friend if you’re not a fan of your mom), you probably shouldn’t donate it. 

Check out our Donations Database for info on where to take all of those goodies you no longer need.  Let us know if you have a favorite place to donate your items and we’ll add it!

Austin Resource Recovery and the City of Austin has a Reuse Directory that should come in handy when cleaning out your clutter.

Happy Donating!


Our Mission and Vision

Contributor: Daniel Diffen

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Our New Mission 

Earlier this year, Austin Allies’ Board of Directors met over a period of several weeks to strengthen the group’s mission in order to focus in on what makes Allies distinct from other volunteer organizations around Central Texas. With those meetings complete, we’re excited to detail our new Mission Statement that will act as both a framework and guiding mechanism for the group going forward. The Board wants to make it clear to all of you what triggered the changes, what they mean for the group moving forward, and what members can expect from Austin Allies in the future. 

The New Mission - Empathy is both our motivation and our goal 

Austin Allies is a volunteer organization for families that serves the Greater Austin Area. We believe in the transformative power of the volunteer experience and that engagement builds empathy. We welcome all who want to make a positive difference in our community. Austin Allies believes that all people are worthy, deserve respect, and should be treated with dignity. Our members are active learners and informed citizens who see the value in supporting underserved communities. 

Austin, Texas is a diverse and vibrant community that offers countless opportunities to volunteer and give back… opportunities that can be tricky to navigate or understand without someone to walk you through them. Our updated mission allows Austin Allies to remain committed to connecting families to the right organizations. 

We especially recognize the value that volunteering in-person offers, and firmly believe that it is the best way to make a difference not only in our community but also within ourselves. Volunteering in-person means that we will have the chance to work side-by-side with the people who need us the most. We believe firmly in the inherent humanity of those whom we serve and honor them by offering them what we can when we can. 

Our view for a better future can be summed up in a single word: Empathy. By teaching Empathy we can stamp out hatred and violence within our community. Experiencing Empathy can reconnect us with one another and strengthen our bonds. Building Empathy will help us make a better future for each and every person in our community.   

The New Vision - We are learners and partners, actively engaged in our community

Along with the new Mission, Austin Allies has developed four key tenets that further define what our expectations are not only for our leadership, but also what we want our volunteers to come away with every single time they spend time with us.

  1. “We Believe in Following the Example of our Partners.” As Allies, we do not determine the time or the place where we are needed. The organizations that we partner with tell us what they need, and we work to fulfill their wishes (and not the other way around). 

  2. “We Believe in Engaging with the Community.” We believe that in-person, shared volunteer experiences are the foundation to building empathy and stronger communities. Whenever possible, we will strive to serve in-person. 

  3. “We Believe that Service Builds Equity.” At some point in our lives, everyone needs help. Those of use who are lucky enough to have the support of others are responsible for making sure that everyone receives that same help when it is needed. 

  4. “We Believe in Building Future Citizens.” Children will always be the cornerstone of our organization. By providing future generations with path to service, we seek to eliminate the barriers and stigmas that keep many from giving back. 

    You can find even more details about these statements here

So what now? As members, what should we expect? 

From the volunteer point-of-view it might not be obvious how these changes will impact Austin Allies. We promise that we will continue to provide volunteer opportunities for families and children of all ages every single month. Established partnerships with organizations such as the Ronald McDonald House, Central Texas Food Bank, BookSpring, and Autumn Leaves will remain mainstays on our monthly calendars. Book Club and literacy education are and always will be the cornerstones of Austin Allies programming. Seasonal drives like our pajama and backpack collections to support St. Louise House, Communities in Schools, etc. will be available, too. 

But you’ll also begin to see new partnerships forming with organizations committed to serving Central Texas communities that are in need, underserved, or underrepresented. Our aim to provide in-person volunteer opportunities means that there will be increased chances to work side-by-side with the people and groups that we are trying so hard to support. We urge all of our members to join us in stepping outside of our comfort zones to recognize our duty to our fellow citizens. 

Because “we do not see ourselves as separate from the people we serve. In honoring and engaging directly with our partners and their clients, we see Allies as part of a larger community of people working together to build a city that is more welcoming and equitable.”

We will also be stepping up the educational aspect of volunteering. There will be short, age-appropriate presentations given prior to or at the conclusion of each and every service project, either by a member of the Allies Leadership Team or the group with whom we are working, so that everyone understands why we are there and whom we are serving.    

You will also notice that we will be stepping up our collection drives in an effort to improve local literacy and support groups that we cannot work with directly. Later this fall, our Executive Director Erika Nowlin will post guidelines for donating in order to help us streamline our processes and make Austin Allies an even more potent organization. 

Lastly, we would like to reiterate that Austin Allies is committed to providing free, equal opportunities to all of our members on a first-come, first-served basis. In the end, these changes to Austin Allies symbolize a rededication to the Central Texas community and our members as we continue to strive for a more equitable and humane world for all. Thank you so very much for being a part of our team! 

-Austin Allies Leadership Board

Kid Blog: Everyone Deserves Dessert!

Grace and her mom baked some truly delicious  sugar-free  cookies so that everyone, including those veterans with diabetes, could enjoy a treat!

Grace and her mom baked some truly delicious sugar-free cookies so that everyone, including those veterans with diabetes, could enjoy a treat!

Contributor: Grace Kennedy

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One of our dedicated Allies, Grace, has put together a presentation for her Girl Scout Bronze award. Grace and her mom have been avid volunteers since we met them at BookPeople a few months ago and one of their favorite activities is baking & handing out cookies at the VA Center. Please take a moment to check out Grace's presentation and learn a bit about why it's so important to us to provide sugar-free options to our diabetic veterans.

"Grace is creating public awareness about the importance of serving diabetics sugar-free cookies in order to complete her Take Action Project. A Take Action Project is a prerequisite for her Girl Scout Bronze Award and something you fulfill after you have individually worked through a Girl Scout Journey (which she has done). Completing her Take Action Project allows her to continue toward earning her Bronze Award. Please enjoy her public service announcement below:

"The first time my mother and I volunteered at the VA {Veteran Affairs} Center, we signed up to bake sugar-free cookies. I was confused on why we needed to make sugar-free cookies. My mother told me that it was because diabetics couldn't have too much real sugar because the carbohydrate intake in real sugar versus an alternative sugar would be too high. This could cause problems for a diabetic.

On the day we met with Austin Allies at the VA Center, we had so many treats and several veterans asked if any of them were sugar free. I'm glad we made the effort to make the sugar free cookies; It seemed to make the veterans happy. " - Grace

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1UXkX_orHN30R8xUGe02gcAl_hqmn3UOwaPErec2tovc/edit?ts=5d607258#slide=id.g6118955a7e_0_0

Kid Blog: All About Austin Allies

Contributor: Kassie Kercher (8)

Kassie recently helped us run our booth at AISD’s Summer Reading Splash!

Kassie recently helped us run our booth at AISD’s Summer Reading Splash!

Who are Allies?

Hi, I’m Kassie, and my family and I volunteer with Austin Allies, a charity organization. I’m a Girl Scout Brownie that does fun activities such as helping the Humane Society (Austin) and improving the environment. Austin Allies also helps the community in similar ways. They put together projects to deliver supplies to schools and donate to charity. The kids can help in activities, too! I’ve helped the group with projects for Carrying Hope, BookSpring and others. I‘ve had fun volunteering with Allies.


Who are their Leaders?

The Board of Allies is a group of leaders who help guide the Allies. My mom is included. They set examples to follow. Basically, they are the superheroes.


How can I learn more?

Austin Allies is a great organization that supports the quote: Keep Austin Weird. And also, love Austin! If you have any questions, keep looking on austinallies.org, and hopefully your questions will be answered. You can also ask me about volunteering with the team!

                                                           

Kassie and her family have volunteered with Austin Allies from the very beginning, and her mom (and SuperHero) Margaret, is an Allies Board Member.

Guest Blog: Mariela Rodriguez, Communications Director for BookSpring

Mariela Rodriguez

Mariela Rodriguez

We truly LOVE working with Austin Allies! Our partnership with this group has helped us engage more people in our mission - building early literacy in children and families through healthcare, education, and the community. Families from Austin Allies are passionate and truly dedicated to making an impact on the community. From running book drives and assisting with literacy events to helping gift books to children and families, Austin Allies are helping us build a community of readers. Through partnerships with healthcare providers, educators, and other community leaders like Erika and Austin Allies, BookSpring reaches families where they are.

Linking children and their families to diverse books, languages, and cultures is vital. Children’s books can serve as mirrors so that young people can see themselves and their experiences reflected in stories. Books are also windows through which kids can learn about worlds outside of their own lives. Parents can use books as tools to teach their children about diversity, inclusion and life. Diverse books help build communication and empathy between families.

Currently in Central Texas, 58% of families with children under the age of 12 have fewer than 20 books at home. Research shows that having 20 books in the home can make a difference in a child's future academic success. (People interested in monetary contributions can donate directly to our 20 Books by 2020 initiative, where $0.80 cents of every dollar goes directly to program costs.)

We encourage the community to recycle their children’s books by donating them to our programs. We welcome infant board books, children’s picture books, and elementary chapter books. Books can be dropped off at our office located at 2006 Greenbrook Parkway in Austin. Monday- Friday between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm. A drop box is also available for after-hours donations. Be sure to fill out an In-Kind form located to the right of the dropbox.

BookSpring programs not only distribute books, but we aim to provide engaging, informative activities, including read-alouds, discussions, and play activities to inspire and motivate young readers. Prospective volunteers are invited to register and signup for our monthly orientation the third Tuesday of every month at 11:00 am or 6:00 pm. You can register here: https://bit.ly/2NFurJJ. Signup is here: http://signup.com/go/YdrLNi

Volunteers are needed to assist with the essential function of sorting and bundling donated books, reading aloud and facilitating programs, and assisting with transporting books and other materials to program partners. People can also like, follow, and share our story on social media to help raise awareness about our work in the community.


Mariela oversees the BookSpring brand along with their public awareness campaigns and managing their social media. She also coordinates with organizations, schools, and corporate groups in the community to establish book drives that directly benefit children and families served through our programs. www.BookSpring.org


Spectrum News recently highlighted BookSprings Rx program which works with pediatricians to prescribe books to families! Check out the story HERE.


Volunteering: It’s Just What We Do

Daniel and his family enjoy cooking meals for the families at Ronald McDonald House.

Daniel and his family enjoy cooking meals for the families at Ronald McDonald House.

Contributor: Daniel Diffen

Like many of you out there who’ve found Austin Allies, my family and I were searching for opportunities where our children could volunteer with us. Growing up in Austin, I had an overwhelming amount of options for volunteer work, but I also found that I could always make an excuse to just not do it. Challenging academic burdens, swim team obligations, unfamiliarity with the organization… whenever the possibility arose I was able to pull out some reason or another not to attend.

The truth is that missing out on those experiences cost me, not just in terms of my college and future job applications, but also in my personal growth. Instead of taking a single step outside of my comfort zone, I chose to stay safely inside the bubble that I’d created and ignore the needs of my community. It was a selfish act, and not one I’m proud of. But I am proud to have recognized my mistake and made changes in my life to address it.

Once we’d found Austin Allies, my wife and I made a goal to join our children (ages 8 and almost 7) to volunteer at least once a month. So far, we’ve been out to the Ronald McDonald House, BookSpring, Blue Santa, the Diaper Bank, the VA Center, and have attended numerous craft/wrapping/bagging parties! My kids favorite place to work thus far has been the Ronald McDonald House because they both love to help out in the kitchen and really enjoy getting to volunteer at a place that serves kids their own ages. Our goal is to take away the stigma of volunteering for our children, and for them to come away with the understanding that volunteering with others isn’t something scary, special, unique, or strange...

Volunteering our time and energy is just what we do. We hope that our kids develop a lifelong appreciation for what it means to give back to our community, and begin to understand that our role in Austin starts with stepping outside of our neighborhood and appreciating all of the diversity and cultures that the city can offer.

If you’re interested in joining the Allies for an upcoming event, take a look at our Calendar page and find an organization that speaks to you! Our calendar of events for the month of April can be found HERE and sign-ups are available at the end of each event’s description. We hope to see your family out at an event soon!

Daniel Diffen is a local writer who serves as VP of Communications for Austin Allies. He organizes and edits blog posts for the group, and can be seen hosting Allies events around the city.

Kid Blog: We LOVE Book Club!

Contributors: Jack (11) & Nate (11) Lowe

The Austin Allies/Bookpeople Kids Book Club was started in September of 2017. The first book we read was Fish in A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. The book club is for kids who are 8-12 years old, but we welcome all ages to the book club as long as you are old enough to read the book! We meet once a month to discuss the books we read in the kids’ amphitheatre at Bookpeople, our favorite book store.

Jack and Nate visiting with Mayor Adler at an Austin Allies Book Club meeting!

Jack and Nate visiting with Mayor Adler at an Austin Allies Book Club meeting!

The books we read in book club are written by different authors about people living around the world. It is important to read these books because it changes the way we see the world. We learn about other people, what they are like, and the way they live. If we only read one type of book, by one type of author, then we won’t learn  about all of the different types of people that are in the world.


One of the fun things about book club is that you get to talk about something you love--reading--with other people who also love reading. It is also fun to have our meetings at Bookpeople. Bookpeople displays the books we read and lets us write book recommendations for the kids’ section. Finally, sometimes kids get to read the questions at book club. We are not just learning about the issues and the people in the book we are learning to lead discussions.


Jack: My favorite book club book  is Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli because it is very funny and is told in a way that makes everything more interesting


Nate: My favorite book club book is The Perfect Score by Rob Buyea because it is funny and the characters are relatable.


We hope you will join us at our next book club meeting!  We’ll meet on Saturday, April 20 at 12:30pm in the BookPeople Kids’ Amphitheatre to talk about The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.

Guest Blog: Rachel McInnes, BookPeople School Event Host and Allies Book Club Partner

Rachel McInnes

Rachel McInnes

In January 2018, Austin Allies partnered with our local bookstore, BookPeople, to host a monthly Book Club for kids ages 8-12. The books we choose to read focus on a diverse variety of authors, narrators, and themes, but all are geared toward gaining a new understanding and knowledge of people and cultures that we may not have had before reading the story. Rachel has been our BookPeople liaison from the very beginning and we are thrilled to work with her each month.

“I have really enjoyed getting to know Erika and Vanessa through my experiences with Austin Allies. The kids have been amazing as well and I really have learned from them and their insights! Having the kids write community recommendation cards has been a great addition to all of the staff cards you see around the store. When I can tell a young reader that someone their age has read and recommends a book it might carry a bit more weight in the decision making. 

When I started working at the store on Saturdays I realized that I needed to widen my range in order to make more qualified recommendations. The Austin Allies Book Club has introduced me to books I might not have otherwise read. And expanding our reading catalogue is so important, not just for kids but for everyone and it’s for the same reason! I only have my own life experience to draw on or reference. When I read a book written by someone that has a different life experience I am seeing the world through their eyes. Those books really are gifts to the world because my life is so much richer for having read them.”

- Rachel McInnes has worked at BookPeople for 3 years as a School Event Host (a BookPeople representative who supports schools that are hosting authors and illustrators who are touring for new books) and mans the kids’ section in the store on Saturdays.

Mayor Adler joined our August 2018 Book Club to talk about how Austin welcomes refugees and how we keep our water supply available to so many people!

Mayor Adler joined our August 2018 Book Club to talk about how Austin welcomes refugees and how we keep our water supply available to so many people!

Teaching Empathy is such an important aspect of what Allies strives to provide for our volunteers, and our Book Club and Rachel offer us another avenue to experience empathy.

If you haven’t had a chance to join us for a Book Club meeting, we hope to see you on Saturday, March 16 at 12:30pm when we’ll be discussing I Am Malala (Young Reader’s Edition) by Malala Yousafzai.