Archive for March, 2011

Listening Project Makes East Austin Stronger

Southwest Key Programs is interested in helping keep kids in school and parents in jobs – especially those families in the Govalle/Johnston Terrace neighborhood. Do you live in the Govalle/Johnston Terrace community and have ideas for making East Austin safer for all of our children? Do you want to have input into what your community looks like?

We are looking for people willing to open their homes to host neighborhood conversations about what they would like to see in their community. The information gathered will be used to as part of our Listening Project to organize the community to make improvements in education, safety, social services and more in East Austin. How it works:

1. We pay you $100 to host a meeting at your house for 2 hours.
2. You pick the date and time.
3. We bring the food and drinks and a person to lead the meeting.
4. You bring at least 10 of your friends or neighbors to the meeting.
5. All enjoy friends and fellowship while sharing ideas on how to make our community stronger!


If you are interested in hosting a house meeting, please call Valerie Joiner at 512-462-2181, 512-461-4360 cell or via email
* Only homes located within the Govalle/Johnston Terrace community borders shown here are eligible to participate.

March 30, 2011 at 9:23 am Leave a comment

Parent Academy: Educators and Parents Working Together for Student Success

The East Austin College Prep Academy is dedicated to engaging parents in their children’s education. Part of the model for East Austin Prep is acknowledging the importance of and integrating active participation and engagement in the children’s education. This means not only having teachers and staff who proactively engage with students about what they are learning, but that parents also be prepared to connect with their children about what they are learning.

Parent Academy Class

A class at the Parent Academy

Parents who enroll their child in East Austin Prep are required to participate in a nine-week Parent Academy. The Parent Academy is used to develop a parent network that empowers parents through personal growth and development. Parents are provided with informative educational workshops on a variety of topics that assist them in supporting their child’s academic growth. Topics can include child development, educational advocacy, and parenting skills – each designed to maximize the role each parent plays in their child’s education.

An example of the programming the Parent Academy offers is Math at Home; it allows East Austin Prep to continuously share with parents what their student is learning in the classroom and introduce to them possible career fields attached to the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The goals for the Math at Home program are to educate parents about the importance of STEM education and to discuss what they can do at home to assist in promoting the STEM fields – as both interesting fields of study, but also for potential careers.

This partnership between parents and educators to motivate and inspire children in their academic goals is critical for success.

- Narissa Johnson
External Communications Manager

March 28, 2011 at 9:23 am Leave a comment

OSHA Certification Can Help Keep Workers Safe

In 2009 more than 4,000 workers were killed in accidents while on the job. While the emotional effect on families when a loved one dies is devastating, for many families it can also create a financial hardship that puts their homes and futures at risk.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is part of the United States Department of Labor and was created to ensure safe and healthy working conditions for men and women by setting and enforcing standards, providing trainings, outreach, education, and assistance in compliance.

As part of the East Austin Children’s Promise initiative, through a partnership with the U.S. Dept of Labor, Workers Defense Project, Chase Bank, and Southwest Key Programs, the first OSHA training certified ten adults this month. The training, which lasted two days, included informative lectures about workers’ rights and safety and hands-on activities educating participants about the proper use of equipment and construction safety.  Attendees to the training included management and staff from various industries such as: construction, restaurants, janitorial services, green energy, and home building.

As the organizer of this training, and a participant, it is amazing to realize how quickly a situation can turn bad and in some cases, deadly. Surprisingly, most accidents that take place in the field or in the workplace are due to misinformation and negligence on the part of both the employee and employer. The OSHA training was an opportunity to raise awareness with both employers and employees about preventing major accidents from taking place in the workplace. But one of the other goals was to inform both employers and employees about the rights they are entitled to – one of which is safe working conditions that do not pose a risk of serious harm. Empowering the workforce with this right was the reason the OSHA Act of 1970 was passed.

In the end, no matter the industry or work you do, by law, your employer must provide a safe working environment. And empowering employees, through trainings that teach them their rights and how to be safe, they can demand a safe working environment. And that can save lives.

– Daniel Hinojosa
Career Services Coordinator

March 25, 2011 at 9:22 am Leave a comment

Bringing Workforce Development Resources to East Austin

Last Fall, Southwest Key Programs began construction on the Social Enterprise Complex at El Centro de Familia. This expansion of Southwest Key’s East Austin headquarters will incorporate a multitude of social entrepreneurship and workforce related activities.

Concrete is poured!

Concrete is poured! And, better yet, leveled!

The Southwest Key Social Enterprise Complex is a part of an ambitious neighborhood revitalization and community development effort, the East Austin Children’s Promise. This piece of the initiative’s overall goal is to offer people in East Austin with the jobs, skills training, and other workforce development that empowers them to build lives that allow them to better their families and community.

The frame for the Social Enterprise Complex is going up.

The frame for the Social Enterprise Complex is going up.

The complex will specifically host the expansion of our social enterprise, workforce development, and job skills training initiatives – including training in green jobs and construction. The addition of a three-story wing to Southwest Key’s current building will result in an additional 14,000 square feet of usable space that will house various business and social enterprise activities, offices for workforce development staff, a large community meeting center, job skills classrooms and training rooms, a computer technology learning room, and a career development center. The complex will truly be a community resource; it will be available for individuals to develop business enterprises, entrepreneurial endeavors, research employment opportunities, prepare resumes, and apply for jobs online. Ultimately the purpose of the Social Enterprise Complex is to create jobs.

This complex will assist in sustaining Southwest Key’s social enterprise companies, which help to support the nonprofit organization. And amenities and services will be available for public use as well as for use by collaborating partners. The effort has been recognized by The Meadows Foundation with a grant of $150,000 this year. The Meadows Foundation was established to support programs and services using innovative ways to solve community problems with projects that lead to self-sufficiency and enable non-profits to grow.

– Narissa Johnson
External Communications Manager

March 22, 2011 at 9:18 am Leave a comment

Public Charter & Traditional Public Schools – The Basics

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Community Meetings Open Dialogue About Education in East Austin, some of the misconceptions about charter schools are arising in some of the conversations about East Austin Prep’s plan to build a full service community school for the East Austin community in the Govalle/Johnston Terrace neighborhood. These misconceptions feed the idea that public charter schools and traditional public schools are at, or should be at, odds with each other. When in reality, they really are related and have the same goal: educating students in order to ensure success in life.

According to US Charter Schools, the original intent for the development of charter schools was to find new ways to educate kids. It was one version of the education reform we have been seeking for decades: “The term “charter” may have originated in the 1970s when New England educator Ray Budde suggested that small groups of teachers be given contracts or “charters” by their local school boards to explore new approaches.”

Interestingly, it was originally thought that the traditional public school system would benefit from innovative programs the public charter schools were given a level of autonomy to develop. And that when student success through the programs was demonstrated, it may be easier for traditional public schools to integrate a proven program into their curriculum.

But before we can embrace that type of opportunity, the misunderstanding about what role the public charter school plays in our education system needs to be cleared up. And perhaps some basic understanding about the differences between public charters and traditional public schools is a way to start.

Here is a bird’s eye view about similarities and differences between the two types of schools:

Public Charter School

  • Public school (receive state funds based on the average daily attendance of students).
  • Must meet the testing standards dictated 
by the state.
  • Take the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test.
  • Created by community members addressing a specific need in a neighborhood or community.
  • Accountable for academic results and for upholding their charter.

Traditional Public School

  • Public school (receive state funds based on the average daily attendance of students).
  • Must meet the testing standards dictated 
by the state.
  • Take the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test.
  • Receive funds from local tax revenue.  Receive state facilities funding.
  • Accountable for compliance with rules and regulations.
– Narissa Johnson
External Communications Manager

March 18, 2011 at 10:11 am Leave a comment

A Culture of Wellness

As a national nonprofit organization, headquartered in Austin, Texas, Southwest Key Programs is comprised of a 1,000-person workforce which closely represents the people we serve—nearly 91% minority. The belief that as an organization we must reflect the values we promote requires that we offer diversity as a norm in the communities we work in across the country.  But not only will you notice a culture of diversity at Southwest Key, you will experience a culture of “wellness”.

In 2010, Southwest Key’s CEO, Dr. Juan Sanchez, made the decision to invest in an employee wellness program and to make employee health a top priority.  To encourage ownership of the program, the name, logo and slogan were designed by employees and each wellness initiative begins with an idea from within the organization.

In striving to create a culture of wellness among the Southwest Key Familia, the program offers a variety of opportunities for employees to participate. Along with various contests and challenges, the Wellness Program also provides, at no cost, an Employee Assistance Program, annual health screenings, a fitness center reimbursement program, and financial assistance for smoking cessation. The program provides all employees, their families and retirees with unlimited face-to-face counseling, work-life services that assist employees with child care, elder care, academic services, personal Wellness Coaching, and unlimited access to an online portal that offers resources ranging from home mortgage calculators to diabetes education.

Southwest Key employees embrace this initiative with enthusiasm, resulting in stunning participation rates. Nearly 85% of employees took part in biometric screenings, over 300 individuals were involved in a company-wide weight loss contest, and more than 23 million steps were taken in our 30 day walking contest.

Fun Runs have become a regular occurrence at various Southwest Key Program sites. This past year, the Wellness Program sponsored four employee 5K walk/runs. Participants received medals and t-shirts with winners taking home Polar Heart Rate Monitors and iPod Shuffles. Not only have employees increased their physical activity, but sodas and unhealthy snacks at events and in the break rooms have been traded for healthier options such as fresh sandwiches and fruit/vegetable trays. In fact we see more water bottles then soda cans as well.

Our employees work hard every day to provide education, innovative safe shelters, and alternatives to incarceration for youth, while creating opportunities for their families to become self sufficient. In addition, Southwest Key works hard to present a culture of diversity as the norm for our communities; and through the Southwest Key Wellness Program, we present a culture of health and wellness as the norm by enabling all employees to continue to do their very best work by helping to keep them happy and healthy!

– Narissa Johnson & Jessica Dominguez

March 16, 2011 at 8:18 am Leave a comment

East Austin Prep Part of First SXSWedu

While SxSW historically highlighted the music and film industry in the last few years, SxSWi (Interactive) has also highlighted emerging technology and innovative use of those technologies. 2011 was the first year that innovation in education through the use of 21st Century content delivery and best practices for education professionals was highlighted during SxSW. Through SxSW’s support, the inaugural conference brought together innovative educators who shared the tools and techniques that they are using to provide quality education to kids in Texas. Want to see a great example? Here is what is happening at East Austin College Prep Academy.

– Narissa Johnson
External Communications Manager

March 12, 2011 at 9:49 am Leave a comment

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