Somewhere in Central Texas, there is a nonprofit working with big hearts and limited funds. Many locals want to offer their money and time to these nonprofits, but they just don’t know where to start. Austin Involved is here to help.
As a program of I Live Here, I Give Here, an organization that connects philanthropists to nonprofits in need, Austin Involved is a member-based program that educates individuals on the needs of their community.
“I feel that it is a tangible way to get to know the nonprofit community,” Celeste Flores, director of community engagement for I Live Here, I Give Here, says. “Our hope is that they become aware of the needs of the community.”
Members of Austin Involved donate $25 monthly and earn the privilege to vote on what nonprofit will be impacted that month. During the process, members learn about three nonprofits of a particular focus area and choose where their money goes.
“Austin Involved really helps introduce a wide range of nonprofits to a group of young professionals,” Flores says.
Currently, Austin Involved is sitting at about 100 members. At $25 a month, that means over $2,000 is donated monthly to organizations serving the needs of Central Texas, totalling an impressive $24,000 a year.
So that members can follow their generosity, Austin Involved also organizes a three-hour service project for the chosen nonprofit. In the past months, members have repaired a lattice on a gazebo at AGE, an organization that caters to the needs of senior citizens, built a new play structure for lemurs at Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation, Inc. and renovated a house parent cottage at The Settlement Home, a nonprofit benefitting foster children.
Jacob Huereca, operations director of The Settlement Home, explained that their counselors work with children who live on the campus and have experienced significant emotional trauma. Screaming and fighting can often be heard from the therapy sessions with the foster children and the cottages are the one space house parents can retreat to when overwhelmed.
“They can go into a nice warm homelike environment that’s clean and new and detach themselves from some of the really tough therapeutic work they’re doing,” Huereca says.
The renovated cottage, originally built in the 1960s, received new flooring, new furniture and repairs to the windows. According to Huereca, the physical atmosphere makes a significant impact on the emotional well-being of the staff members.
“It completely changed the space,” Huereca says. “It was one of those extreme home makeover moments.”
According to Flores, Austin Involved is a “win-win” organization because not only are the nonprofits benefitted, but so are the members donating their time and money. Members “grow roots” in the community while being humbled by the hard work of the nonprofits.
Jennifer Baum, marketing manager for Palermo Wealth Management, had recently moved to Austin from Ohio and “wanted to really jump in and make a difference.” She became a member of Austin Involved two months later.
“If you’re not really sure what you’re passionate about, it’s a great way to learn about the nonprofits and eventually find your cause,” Baum says. “It’s been one the most amazing experiences since moving here.”
Baum was particularly moved by the project at The Settlement Home.
“It really opened my eyes that there are so many kids in the foster system that need someone to talk to,” she said. “That’s pretty memorable.”
Austin is used to being number one on almost every list but in 2003, the Chronicle of Philanthropy found Austin number 48 of the 50 largest cities in America on the generosity scale. It was this study that triggered the creation of I Live Here, I Give Here.
But there has been improvement; by 2012, Austin had moved up to number 32.
“We’ve gone up in rankings but we have a long way to go,” Flores says. “I really believe we are being a change agent.”