Today’s guest post is brought to us by Julie Hall, President, The Junior League of Austin, and Amy Hurt, President-Elect, The Junior League of Austin
Like a lot of things in life, it depends on how you look at it. That is definitely true if you are talking about the state of poverty in Austin.
This past March, the Greater Austin Chamber pointed out that poverty rates in the Austin metro area, Travis County, and the city of Austin have declined over the past five years, with the child poverty rate declining in all three areas. Just one month later, another study said that the number of high-poverty neighborhoods increased between 2000 and 2015 from 48 to 79.
Regardless of how you look at it, we know there are plenty of communities, families and children in need, which is why combating poverty is a core mission of The Junior League of Austin. And our three signature programs all share the same focus of providing essential resources to children in need, both in Austin and throughout Central Texas.
One program is Coats for Kids, which works to provide coats to kids in need so they can stay warm in the winter. The network of partners involved in the acquisition, sorting and distribution of coats is not only formidable, but also a reflection of our community—partnerships with Jack Brown Cleaners and media outlets KVET and KVUE, as well as the hard work of 2,000 community volunteers. When we host our 31st annual Coats for Kids Distribution Day next month, we will be able to say that we provided more than 34,000 warm winter coats to children in need.
Another program is FIT (Food in Tummies), now in its eighth year, where we provide backpacks with meals for weekend nourishment to children in grades K through 5th. During the previous school year, FIT provided roughly 1,400 backpacks each week for 34 weeks, encompassing nearly the entire school year. In the school district that FIT serves, it has been a critical source of food for much of the 90% of the student population that lives at or below the poverty line.
The final program will launch this Spring—Kids in Cool Shoes, or KICS. In addition to providing shoes, we will finally have a natural platform to teach children the importance of fitness as well as ways to stay fit, which will complement the work we are doing on the nourishment side.
Coats. Food. Shoes. Important to the children and families we serve, of course it is. But can coats, food and shoes be considered transformational change? Again, it depends on how you look at it. Take food. If a child goes hungry over the weekend, he or she won’t recover until Wednesday. That is two days of lost-readiness in school, creating a sinister multiplier effect where that child remains left behind academically. The same multiplier effect happens when students can’t go to school because they don’t have good shoes or a coat. And with each day that piles up, the hole these children must dig out of gets deeper and deeper.
So the coats, food and shoes we offer provide the hope of an opposite multiplier effect. Every day a child can get on the bus because of a coat we provided, every day a child can focus in class because of the nourishment they received over the weekend, every day a child who is able to be in better physical shape because they had good shoes, is one more day of learning they can experience. Pile up enough of those days, and it gives these kids a better shot at a good life than they would have had otherwise.
That doesn’t mean that what we provide is a silver bullet. We need more engagement, more resources and more focus from partners and community members. But our work in the aggregate has the potential to help change the course of a child’s future. The Junior League can play a real role in transforming the lives of needy children.
The ability to deliver that kind of effect is precisely what sets The Junior League apart. Yes, we may be global in scale, but we are local in impact. We are driving community engagement because we live in the communities we are engaging in. In the process, we are developing the women leaders of today and tomorrow. That’s the ultimate win-win, no matter how you look at it.