The daily interaction that the Austin Voices in Education and Youth (AVEY) staff had with the St. John’s Neighborhood came to an abrupt stop in mid-March. Like all of Austin (and the world!), AVEY had to close most of its operations, including all of its Family Resource Centers.
Since AVEY was already working with many of the most vulnerable families at the neighborhood schools, the organization had referral systems in place for teachers and other staff to use for family needs. As such, AVEY staff members have continued to do what they can – a key activity is distributing food. While food pantries at neighborhood schools are open weekly, some staff members – in emergency – have delivered food and other supplies to families’ homes. AVEY’s staff of nine social workers and 11 others has also continued to work with families by phone and virtually.
“Our staff members have continued to do drive-thru food distributions that have served over 6,000 families so far!” AVEY Director of Family Resources Julie Weeks said in late June. “Our Family Resource Center directors are doing Rapid Response assessments with families to identify their needs in this time of COVID-19 and our social workers have been busy distributing extra Austin Energy Plus 1 funds and $380,000 in grant funds for direct financial assistance to families in need. We do that through a City of Austin RISE grant and our partnership with the Assistance League of Austin that many Covenant members also participate in.”
Since mid-March, AVEY has supported Austin Independent School District (AISD) families in the neighborhood by:
- Partnering with the Central Texas Food Bank and AISD Police to distribute food to 6,089 families at AVEY drive-through food pantries at Burnet, Dobie, Webb and Navarro sites. Each distribution provides a family of four with enough food for three days. These distributions are continuing weekly throughout the summer and into the school year.
- Giving 3,500 books to neighborhood families: 2,500 high-quality new books from First Book and 1,000 used books from Bookspring.
- Supporting 305 high-needs AISD families with $276,452 in rent assistance and other crucial needs. AVEY will continue supporting families with assistance through the summer, taking referrals from campuses. A significant group of COVID-19-positive individuals are in these families. Austin Voices is coordinating funding through the City of Austin RISE program, All Together ATX and other donors offering direct support to families.
- Providing $195,035 in utility assistance to 511 AISD families through the Austin Energy Plus 1 program.
- Continued educating adults virtually through a partnership with Austin Community College (ACC), the Mexican Consulate, Phoenix House and other partners.
- Working with campuses to connect with difficult-to-reach families, including doing home visits to provide materials about virtual learning.
- Distributing resource sheets and posters throughout northeast Austin, with QR codes connecting families to the most up-to-date information on resource areas, including health, housing, food and adult education.
- Working with our campuses to call and visit as many families as possible to maximize enrollment. AVEY’s summer goal is to ensure as many students as possible show up in the fall, and to have schools ready to address their specific needs.
“We’re so grateful to Covenant for all the many ways you have supported and been involved in this work,” Julie said.
Covenant is spotlighting AVEY through the month of July. Find volunteer opportunities and more information about AVEY at covenant.org/austin-voices.