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Author: Meg Costa

Offering Support to Ensure Mothers and Babies Thrive

Content courtesy of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas

Karen Caldwell sometimes worried new mothers and their babies might not be set up for success as she watched them leave the hospital.

Her passion for helping mothers and infants led her to nursing. But working in labor and delivery, Caldwell raced to care for one patient after another during long shifts. She didn’t have time to assess whether a new mother had the support she needed to nurture and care for her baby after they went home.

Caldwell, now nurse manager at Dallas nonprofit Metrocare, is providing the in-home care and support she knew mothers and babies needed to thrive after leaving the hospital. The agency’s Flourishing Family program offers in-home prenatal and postpartum support, including physical and mental health checks and parent education.

“We want to set up mothers and their babies for the best possible scenarios in their home,” Caldwell says. “It is so rewarding. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

A Partnership That Expands Health Access

In partnership with United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, the program was established in 2020 to increase healthcare access and provide resources to families, including referrals for mental health services, housing and public assistance, domestic violence shelters and primary care.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas (BCBSTX) has awarded Blue Impact℠ grants to Flourishing Family and other nonprofits across Texas to advance work addressing social and economic factors that play a role in health and wellness.

“It’s important that we support community-based organizations that are directly supporting children and families,” says Sheena Payne, BCBSTX community affairs director. “Our collaboration with United Way of Metropolitan Dallas allows us to strategically and directly target organizations that are focused on and moving the needle on health equity solutions.”

Flourishing Family’s’ nurses and social workers tailor the education and encouragement they provide, working with parents in the program to meet their needs rather than dictating how to help babies achieve developmental milestones, says Metrocare’s Carrie Parks, chief of intellectual or developmental disabilities provider and specialized services.

“Some of our clients are raising children alone,” she says. “Some moms feel so extremely isolated. They need to know what a good job they are really doing with their babies.”

The program enrolls up to 135 clients annually, providing up to 10 weekly visits. Families in need of additional support are referred to other programs, says Abigail Sharp, United Way’s vice president of early childhood initiatives.

“Our goal is to build a continuum of care in North Texas,” she says. “We’re connecting the dots in the community. We see that as a big piece of our role to help families learn about and access benefits, reduce barriers to care navigation and create awareness that programs like Flourishing Family exist.”

A Reliable Source of Support

As she suspected during her years in the hospital, Caldwell has discovered many new mothers don’t have the help they need when they get home with their babies. After work, she keeps her phone on because she knows some clients don’t have any other source of reliable information.

“I have a couple of moms who message me every night with questions” she says. “They are really happy to have a professional resource and help from our team.”

During home visits, Caldwell watches mothers interact with their babies. Conversations about postpartum depression and breastfeeding struggles are common.

“The families are just so appreciative when you’re reinforcing that they’re doing a good job,” she says. “This is an amazing time in their lives. I love being able to help.”

Vote for a Brighter Future for North Texas During Elections on May 4 and 28

This is a big election year, and we’re not just talking about November. Did you know there are two important elections in May that will directly impact North Texas?

Among other important items, these elections include two bond propositions that, if approved, would provide historic funding to support people experiencing homelessness and to prevent homelessness through the construction of affordable housing.

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we consider preventing homelessness and encouraging housing stability as foundational to our mission to improve access to education, income and health—because all North Texans need a safe, stable home environment in order to thrive in these three interconnected areas. We work in partnership with community organizations and our supporters to prevent homelessness, encourage the development of affordable housing and lift up our neighbors experiencing homelessness.

We encourage all eligible voters to learn about the bonds and seats in the May elections and make a plan to vote. And we hope every change-seeker in our community will support Dallas’ 10 bond propositions, which will address housing attainability and provide vital investments throughout the city.

Keep reading for more information about what’s on the ballot next month and what you need to know to cast your vote.

Key Voting Dates

May 4 election:

  • Early Voting: April 22-30
  • Election Day: Saturday, May 4

May 28 election:

  • Early Voting: May 20-24
  • Election Day: Tuesday, May 28

What’s on the Ballot

To see a sample ballot for your address, visit the Vote Texas website. Remember, you can print and fill out your ballot and take it with you to the polls so you can easily keep track of who you want to vote for!

There are three key things to look for on your May ballots:

  • May 4 election:
    • Bond propositions that would fund things like parks, libraries and affordable housing projects
    • School board elections in districts across North Texas
  • May 28 election: Runoff elections from the March primaries

Read on for more information on each of these important topics.

Vote ‘Yes’ for These 10 Bond Propositions

One of the most important pieces of the May 4 election is a $1.25 billion bond program, which would fund new and upgraded streets, sidewalks, parks, libraries, cultural facilities, public safety facilities, and homeless facilities. In addition, if passed, the 2024 bond program would fund public infrastructure to support economic development and affordable housing projects.

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we’re encouraging every change-seeker to vote “yes” for these bond propositions, because they encourage greater equity and align with our mission to improve access to education, income and health.

Here are details on each of the 10 propositions:

Proposition A: Streets and Transportation

If passed, Proposition A would fund:

  • Roads
  • Bridges
  • Sidewalks
  • Traffic signals
  • Safety projects
  • Railroad crossing noise reduction

Proposition B: Parks and Recreation

If passed, Proposition B would fund:

  • Parks
  • Recreation centers and trails
  • Specialty parks (ex: dog parks, skate parks)
  • Athletic fields
  • Golf center
  • Pedestrian bridges
  • Playgrounds

Proposition C: Flood Protection and Storm Drainage

If passed, Proposition C would fund projects for:

  • Flood protection
  • Storm drainage
  • Erosion control
  • Utilities relocation

Proposition D: Library Facilities

If passed, Proposition D would fund the construction of, repair to and land purchase for libraries, including the Preston Royal Library and the replacement of the North Oak Cliff Branch and the Park Forest Branch libraries.

Proposition E: Cultural and Performing Arts Facilities

If passed, Proposition E would fund the construction of, repair to and land purchase for cultural arts facilities. The project may include the Oak Cliff Cultural Center, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Latino Cultural Center, Majestic Theatre, Sammons Center for the Arts, South Dallas Cultural Center and the Bath House Cultural Center.

Proposition F: Public Safety Facilities

If passed, Proposition F would fund public safety projects, such as the repair of police substations, fire stations, police and fire administrative facilities, and police and fire training facilities.

Proposition G: Economic Development

If passed, Proposition G would fund economic development programs, such as grants and incentives for commercial, industrial, retail, residential or mixed-use development, infrastructure development, and land purchase.

Proposition H: Housing

If passed, Proposition H would fund affordable housing and neighborhood revitalization initiatives, including constructing affordable housing, infrastructure construction and land purchase.

Proposition L: Homelessness

If passed, Proposition I would fund the construction, repair and land purchase for permanent, supportive and short-term housing for North Texans experiencing homelessness.

Proposition J: Information Technology

If passed, Proposition J would provide funding for Dallas’ information technology facilities. The projects may include constructing a City Data Center and improving access control systems, power supply and fire alarm/life safety systems.

For more information on these 10 bond propositions,

For more information on these 10 bond propositions, visit the 2024 Dallas Bond Campaign website. If you live in Collin County, here’s a helpful guide to check out other local bond and city council elections.

Check Out Your Local School Board Candidates

Several North Texas school districts are running school board elections in the May 4 election. This is an opportunity to support candidates who align with your vision for your children’s school and education.

Leadership ISD has created a candidate evaluation tool designed to help community members make an informed vote for candidates who will put students first and remain laser-focused on student outcomes.

The tool presents each candidate’s responses to six outcomes-aligned questions and lets voters rate them based on proven, research-based criteria for effective school board leadership. When finished, the tool will show how you scored each candidate and provide links to their campaign websites and other school board election information.

Visit the Leadership ISD Candidate Evaluation Tool.

Remember to Vote in the May 28 Runoff Elections

March’s primary election resulted in dozens of runoffs throughout Texas, including five key runoffs in North Texas: U.S. House Districts 12 and 32 along with Texas House Districts 33, 61 and 64.

To find out if your district has any runoffs for the May 28 election, visit the Vote Texas website.

And for more information on each runoff race and the candidates involved, check out the Texas Tribune’s Texas 2024 May Runoff Ballot.

Learn More About Voting in North Texas

Visit our Voting Guide webpage for all the info you need to cast your ballot, including:

  • Where to vote
  • How to check your registration
  • What to take with you and more
  • Your rights as a voter in Texas
  • How to vote by mail

A Video Guide to Filing a Childcare Facility Property Tax Exemption

The City of Dallas and Dallas County recently approved a 100% tax break for childcare facilities serving low-income families—a move that will make childcare more affordable for North Texans and help advance our mission to improve access to education, income and health.

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we want to encourage every eligible childcare owner to apply for this tax break if your municipality has approved it. We’ve produced a helpful instructional video in partnership with the North Texas Early Education Alliance to guide you through the application process.

Learn More About Prop 2 and Encourage Local Implementation

At United Way, we’ve been closely following and reporting on Prop 2, the constitutional amendment that paved the way for childcare facility tax relief. Read our blog to learn more about this important policy change and how it impacts education, income and health.

Are you in a city or county that hasn’t approved childcare facility tax relief? Learn how to implement this tax relief locally.

Looking for Support in Filing Your Taxes?

United Way offers free tax preparation services to ensure our neighbors save money when filing their taxes and receive all eligible credits and refunds.

Read our new blog to learn more.

North Texas Leads the State in Child Abuse. Together, We Can Prevent It.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, an opportunity to call attention to the tens of thousands of incidents of child abuse reported every year in our community.

Throughout this important month of awareness, we’re calling on all North Texans to learn more about the prevalence of child abuse and neglect in our community, to help us raise awareness of this important issue and to join our efforts to prevent child maltreatment of every kind.

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we’ve identified education, income and health as the building blocks of opportunity. Child abuse prevention is one important component of our work that touches on all three of these areas—because a stable, loving home provides a foundation for children to live a healthy life, succeed in school and go on to achieve financial stability.

In honor of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, let’s take a look at the state of child abuse in Texas, how United Way of Metropolitan Dallas works to prevent child maltreatment and how you can get involved in this important work.

Child Abuse is on the Rise in North Texas

Although last year brought a sliver of good newschild fatalities decreased 34% between 2020 and 2023—unfortunately, there were still nearly 50,000 unique victims of child abuse reported in Texas last year.

How does our region fare? In 2022, more than 9,000 North Texas children were served by Child Protective Services (CPS). In 2023, that number rose to more than 11,000—far more than any of the state’s other metro areas. Unfortunately, these numbers are headed in the wrong direction.

These figures all indicate that our entire North Texas community must do more to prevent child abuse and neglect before it ever begins.

United Way Prevents Child Abuse and Neglect

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we provide support services and educational resources to parents to foster healthy, caring home lives. Together with our committed supporters, we give parents the tools and knowledge they need to ward off child abuse and neglect before it ever happens.

United Way has been the lead organization on home visiting in Dallas County since 2012. Each year, we serve thousands of caregivers in North Texas with parental education and support programming. Our work aims to empower parents and eliminate common parenting stressors that increase the risk for child abuse and neglect.

Two of our programs focus specifically on supporting families with young children:

Healthy Outcomes Through Prevention and Early Support (HOPES): HOPES helps local parents create home environments in which young children can thrive. Working with clinics, organizations and government agencies, the program seeks to reduce instances of child maltreatment by helping improve parenting skills through instruction, support and connections to community resources.

Texas Home Visiting Program (THVP): THVP supports people in becoming great parents. This free program for soon-to-be-parents and those with children under the age of 5 matches Dallas and Collin County families with a trained home visitor—a nurse, experienced parent, trained professional or volunteer—to answer questions, offer advice, provide support and teach parents how to prepare their kids for kindergarten.

During our last fiscal year, 955 local families participated in a home visiting program through HOPES or THVP, and 1,750 North Texans attended early childhood development community events to learn more about their children’s key milestones.

Programs like HOPES and THVP offer a variety of benefits to parents, children and the community as a whole. For example, preventing child abuse saves our state significant amounts of money. Serving a single child in the foster care system for a year costs the state of Texas $17,290, which is 17 times the amount our child abuse prevention programming costs to serve one family.

HOPES and THVP also have a profound impact on new parents, as well as any family that experiences stressful times. Take for example Karla, a client from our partner agency Lumin. Karla’s family came to Lumin when Karla was 18 months old. In her initial developmental screenings, Karla showed delays in communication and social-personal development. She also had numerous challenges during home visits: She would throw things across the room, she struggled with concentration and she had difficulty with expressive language. During some visits, Karla would hit herself in frustration. This made her mother uncomfortable and, as a result, she cancelled visits, would not take her children out of the house and became isolated.

This situation was understandably frustrating for both Karla and her mother. However, the parent educator at Lumin kept working with Karla’s mother, speaking with her about strategies and establishing routines. They worked together to create a home learning environment, to offer freedom of choice and to establish limits and routines for Karla. Since then, Karla and her mom have taken a 180-degree turn. Karla is aware of the visit routine, she sits patiently and waits until the materials are set up, and she listens attentively when mom reads her a book. Karla now goes to childcare with other kids where she is social, shares and knows how to take turns. When completing a Family Centered Assessment, Karla’s mother showed significant gains in parenting skills and building capacity.

With a little guidance and support, Karla’s mother learned how to support her daughter and create a positive learning environment in which she can thrive. This is the type of intervention that has been shown to prevent child abuse and neglect by empowering parents when they need it most.

Together, We Can Prevent Child Abuse

Child abuse cases remain high in North Texas, and we believe every child deserves protection. Join us as we work to prevent child abuse across our region. Here are three ways to get involved right now:

  1. Advocate for strong families. Sign up here to receive our Advocacy Alerts and sign up for our new Policy in Brief newsletter. We’ll let you know how and when to contact your lawmakers to advocate for initiatives that prevent child abuse—for example, HOPES and Texas Home Visiting Program.
  2. Volunteer during National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Support local children and parents this month through two volunteer opportunities: by helping out at our Health & Prevention Expo on Saturday, April 27, or by donating time to support the First3Years’ Safe Babies program.
  3. Make a donation to support child abuse prevention. When you invest in United Way, you create lasting change right here at home. Your donation will help support programs like HOPES and Texas Home Visiting Program and ensure all North Texas children have the opportunity to thrive. Click here to donate.

Suspect Child Abuse?

If you suspect abuse or neglect, contact the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services toll-free at 1-800-252-5400, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also file a report via their Abuse Hotline website.

Need Support?

If you are a parent who is struggling with keeping your children safe and healthy, please contact one of our partner agencies for resources and support:

United Way Supports Easier, More Affordable Options for Taxpayers

Tax season is a stressful time for many North Texans, due to the uncertainty and expense of filing taxes. But luckily there’s a growing movement to make filing tax returns easier and more affordable—or even free.

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we lead and invest in a variety of initiatives that enable more North Texans to achieve financial stability. We offer free tax preparation to ensure our neighbors save money when filing their taxes and receive all eligible credits and refunds. We also advocate for governmental programs that reduce the cost and complexity of the tax filing process, and we’re big supporters of a new free tax filing tool from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

These money-saving initiatives directly support our mission to improve access to education, income and health—the building blocks of opportunity. Because when individuals and families can hold on to more of their money, they benefit in every area of their life.

Read on to learn more about United Way’s free tax programs, as well as the IRS’ new free tax filing tool.

United Way Offers Free Tax Services

Taxes are due on Monday, April 15, and we want to encourage every eligible North Texan to take advantage of our free tax prep services to file their returns.

Each year, thousands of our neighbors use our free tax prep services to file their returns. With the help of volunteer tax experts who are IRS certified, the average filer saves around $200 in tax preparation and filing fees, plus gets an average refund of $2,400 by claiming all their eligible tax credits and refunds. As a result, these programs bring millions of dollars in refunds back into our community every year.

During our 2022-2023 fiscal year, 9,500 North Texas families filed their taxes through our free services and received a total of $13.2 million in refunds. A team of 168 incredible volunteers made this impact possible.

“Tax time is an important financial moment, but unfortunately many families miss the opportunity for a refund because they don’t realize all of the tax credits that they are entitled to, or they make a mistake when they file,” said Greg Mangum, vice president of economic mobility at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. “We encourage all eligible North Texans to use our Free Tax Programs so they receive all their eligible tax credits and refunds—because when families can hold onto more of what they earn, they’re in a better position to achieve financial stability.”

File Your Taxes for Free

To get started with one of our free tax services, explore your options below:

In-person, drive-through or drop-off tax prep assistance

Foundation Communities operates seven Community Tax Centers in the Dallas area that return millions of dollars to the local economy by helping families take better control of their finances. During the tax season, IRS-certified volunteers offer free tax help to individuals and families who earn less than $64,000 a year. Clients can file current and previous year tax returns, file non-resident returns and obtain ITIN renewals. Virtual and online services are also available through the Community Tax Centers.

Who’s eligible? Households that earned $64,000 or less in the last tax year are eligible for services including current and previous year tax returns, non-resident returns and ITIN renewals. Services are available in English and Spanish.

For updated information, service locations, or to sign up for text alerts, visit www.dallastaxcenters.org or text TAXCENTERS to 833-939-1387.

Online tax prep help

MyFreeTaxes is an online tax filing program that enables people to file their federal and state taxes for free while getting the assistance they need. United Way provides MyFreeTaxes in partnership with the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program to help filers prepare their tax returns on their own or have their return prepared for them for free.

The benefits of MyFreeTaxes include:

  • Free federal and state returns
  • Available to everyone—no restrictive eligibility requirements (No geography or age limits)
  • Mobile friendly
  • Available in English and Spanish
  • Staffed by IRS-trained specialists

Who’s eligible? Households with an income at or below $79,000 can access fully online, self-directed tax prep services that are not subject to fees or paid add-ons. Visit www.MyFreeTaxes.com. Services are available in English and Spanish.

Learn more about both of these services, including what you’ll need to bring with you, on our Free Tax Prep resources page.

IRS Direct File Available to Texans for the First Time in History

This year the IRS rolled out a new tool to make filing taxes more affordable and accessible for Americans.

Direct File is a free, public and online tax filing tool that enables Americans to file taxes directly to the IRS. The IRS is rolling the Direct File pilot out in phases, and Texas is one of the 12 states with access to the new tool.

Direct File allows tax filers to:

  • File a 2023 federal tax return—for free—in English or Spanish
  • Add your tax information with step-by-step guidance
  • Connect with real-time online support from IRS customer service representatives
  • File your taxes from smartphones, laptops, tablets and desktop computers

Who’s eligible? Direct File requires a valid ID and a social security number or ITIN, and there are household income limitations for filers making $125,000 or more. Direct File supports standard deductions, but not itemized deductions. And, it only works for people with certain kinds of health insurance, and for people without health insurance.

It’s important to note that Direct File is designed for tech-savvy taxpayers that have internet access to support a video call, a working camera on a phone, tablet or computer, and a U.S. phone number that accepts texts or phone call.

IRS Direct File will enable nearly 4 million Texans to file their taxes for free this year. To celebrate and spotlight the new IRS tool, on March 21 Mangum joined Angela Williams, president and CEO of United Way Worldwide, as well as local and federal officials to host a press conference at Dallas’ MLK Jr. Community Center.

During the event, Deputy Secretary of Treasury Wally Adeyemo said 3.8 million Texans would be eligible to file their taxes for free with the IRS this filing season and urged all tax filers to learn more about the new tool.

Find out more here about eligibility and how Direct File works.

Support Financial Stability in North Texas

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we believe every North Texan should have the opportunity and access to achieve financial stability. We invite you to join the Live United movement to ensure North Texans can get and keep better jobs, establish savings and hold on to more of what they earn.

Ready to start making a difference right here at home? Here are three ways to improve financial stability in our community:

Using Advocacy to Create Greater Community Impact

On Thursday, Feb. 15, leaders from across North Texas’ nonprofit sector joined United Way of Metropolitan Dallas for Advocacy for Greater Community Impact, a special webinar that explored the role of advocacy in improving access to education, income and health in our community.

2024 is a critical year for public policy in Texas, as we approach the November election and prepare for next year’s legislative session. United Way is encouraging every individual and community organization to speak up in support of policies and candidates that will benefit our region.

Our advocacy webinar explored key topics designed to empower community organizations to add advocacy to their strategies for the year, including:

  • The various types of nonprofit organizations and what kind of advocacy and lobbying activities are permitted under the law
  • How nonprofits across Texas can mobilize our collective advocacy and impact, especially at the state level
  • Tips and strategies for developing an advocacy agenda
  • How nonprofits can partner with lawmakers to advance policy for greater community impact

Hillary Evans, vice president of policy and advocacy at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, opened the event by explaining why United Way is focused on and enthusiastic about advocacy—particularly during a big election year.

“Here at United Way, we believe and the power of unity and equity to create lasting change,” she said. “As a social change organization entering our second century of impact, we are leading a movement to improve education, income and health—what we call the building blocks of opportunity—so all North Texans can thrive. One of the critical ways that we can create greater access to opportunity is through our advocacy efforts at the federal, state and local levels.”

The event featured a panel discussion with some of our community’s leading change agents, each of whom has extensive experience with the power of advocacy:

  • Ashley Harris, director of public policy and advocacy, United Ways of Texas
  • Vince Leibowitz, legislative director and fiscal analyst for the office of State Sen. Royce West
  • Natalie Roetzel Ossenfort, program director for Bolder Advocacy at Alliance for Justice

Lindsey Hughes, finance counsel at Haynes and Boone and co-chair of the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas Advocacy Committee, served as moderator.

View a video for the full event below, or read on for highlights from the Q&A.

Lindsey Hughes: Natalie, could you go into detail on what kind of activities might be acceptable and how organizations can remain nonpartisan, especially when we’re in an important election year?

Natalie Roetzel Ossenfort: You are not allowed as a 501(c)(3) to support or oppose candidates for public office. This does include public offices that are not party specific. So for example, when people run for city council in Dallas, they’re not declaring what party they’re affiliated with—these are non-partisan offices. But because they are public elected offices, we should not suggest who people should vote for or against or what parties they should vote for or against. This also includes things like school boards. When we have school board elections, you don’t want to chime in as a 501(c)(3) in terms of who the best candidates are.

Obviously under these rules you can’t endorse a candidate. That would be a clear violation of the 501(c)(3) rules. But you can do things like nonpartisan voter engagement work—for example, if you want to get out the vote, educate voters about how to find their polling location or what type of ID they need to bring with them to the polls. That’s something that is going to be 501(c)(3) safe, but it has to be done in a non-partisan way. So it’s really this balancing act, and you’ve got to figure out what risk level you’re comfortable with as a 501(c)(3).

Hughes: Ashley, United Ways of Texas represents individual United Way organizations all across the state, including working with us in North Texas. Can you talk to us a little bit about ways your organization leverages collective advocacy?

Ashley Harris: Advocacy really is a pillar of United Way, as it’s a key component to making lasting change and communities. As a network of Texas United Ways, we really believe in the power of community voices in policy and advocacy. We believe that state leaders need to hear from local nonprofits and their partners, as you are uniquely positioned to speak up on behalf of your community. You’re doing this work every day, and we believe your voice is essential to policy discussions.

I think it’s important to remember that advocacy is a continuum that can also include lobbying. Where a lot of our United Ways focus their advocacy is on educating and creating awareness among legislators and other decision makers about particular issues that their communities are facing.

As an example, we host a Capitol Day every year where our United Ways bring their networks, partners, volunteers and donors together around critical issue areas to remind policy makers what’s most important to Texas communities. It’s an opportunity to highlight the power of our network and the power of community voice.

Hughes: We will now move on to chat with Vince, whose kind of got the opposite perspective working in a public office. Texas is unique, in that we have our legislative session every other year. Could you talk to us a little bit about the timeline in the legislative session and what to think about in terms of advocacy in an off-session year?

Vince Leibowitz: The first thing you would probably ask is who exactly am I advocating to? You’re advocating to more than one person at once: legislative staff, committee chairs, legislators themselves. And then you ask, where does the advocacy happen? Most of it’s going to happen in Austin, but some legislators do not maintain an office presence in Austin during the off years and their entire office is centered within their district. So you may find them within their district. The last question is how you reach the people, and I’m about to tell you the most important thing about that.

Please make appointments. Legislative staff, particularly during legislative session, sometimes take up to 15 meetings a day, dozens and dozens of phone calls on top of all of the actual duties that we’re doing on the floor of the ledge of the Senate with our boss or in committee meetings. So the best way to get staff’s attention is actually to make an appointment and not just to drop by. The ways to reach folks are by phone, by email and in person. I recommend you do in person after you have set things up by phone and email.

When do you start your advocacy in advance of the next legislative session? You always start the day after the legislative session ends. It doesn’t matter if the legislature rolls on into special sessions. The legislature has a two-year lifecycle with the interim and session, and you have a limited window during that time to prepare to accomplish your legislative goals.

I also encourage everyone on this timeline to start narrowing your focus to specific areas of advocacy. We have some organizations that will come and hand us a legislative agenda that has 400 items in it. No organization can handle working on 400 items. Make certain that you are realistic and narrow your advocacy to specific areas that actually match your organization’s mission. For example, if your organization is an animal welfare organization, you do not need to be advocating on things that are outside of animal welfare unless it affects animal welfare.

Add to Your Advocacy Toolbox

Interested in ramping up your advocacy efforts this year? Check out these resources for additional information on allowable advocacy activities, courtesy of the Alliance for Justice:

Advocate with Us

Whether you are part of a North Texas nonprofit or simply a community-minded resident, we invite you to advocate with the Live United network. When we speak up, united, we have the power to drive lasting change in our community.

Sign up for our Advocacy Alerts, and we’ll let you know how and when to contact your representatives to have the biggest impact possible.

Your Guide to the March 5 Election

It’s that time again: Election Day is fast approaching. This year’s primary and general elections could have a significant impact on North Texas, as our elected officials determine policy that charts the future of education, income and health in our region.

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we encourage every eligible North Texan to turn out for our community and vote in the March 5 primary election. That’s because casting your ballot during every election is one of the easiest, most effective ways to have a meaningful impact on life in North Texas.

This Year’s Elections Are Extremely Important

While it’s important to vote in every election, this year’s primary and general election are especially significant.

That’s because a variety of powerful positions are on the ballot—including president, U.S. senator and Texas Board of Education members—each of whom will make policy decisions that will most likely have an effect on your day-to-day life.

The candidates elected to these seats also have the power to directly impact education, income and health in North Texas, which means this is not an election you will want to sit out. Voting is one of the simplest, yet most powerful, duties we as citizens hold. And it’s a surefire way to advocate for policies and changes that are important to you.

Want to have a say in how property taxes are spent? Eager to help decide who is on the school board? Be sure to cast your ballot in every election.

Your vote has the power to improve the quality of life in North Texas and drive positive changes that affect the education, income and health of our community.

A Look at What’s on the Ballot

During the March 5 primary election, voters will select their party’s candidate for numerous local, state and federal races, including:

  • President
  • U.S. senator
  • Three Texas Supreme Court justices
  • Five Appeals Court justices
  • Seven Texas Board of Education members
  • 15 state senators
  • Texas railroad commissioner
  • A variety of local county offices, including sheriffs, district attorneys and tax assessor-collectors

Your district may include additional races. To see all the races and issues on your ballot, visit Vote411.org and type in your home address.

And for more detailed information about what will appear on your ballot, visit your county’s election site:

Primary Elections and Party Affiliation

The Republican and Democratic parties are both holding their primary elections on March 5 to choose nominees for the November general election. On that day, voters can only vote in one party’s primary election. But you don’t have to vote for the same candidate or party in the general election.

How does party affiliation work in Texas?

When you sign up with a party, that affiliation is good until Dec. 31 of that year. You can do this by voting in a party’s primary, swearing in at a precinct convention or taking a party loyalty oath. Once you’re affiliated with a party, you can’t vote in another party’s primary in the same year.

If you haven’t affiliated with a party yet this year, you’re basically a free agent and can vote in either the Democratic or Republican party. But once you’ve hitched your wagon to a party, you’re affiliated with them until the year runs out. You’ll have to wait until next year if you want to switch parties.

Know Before You Go

Verify your registration. If you’re unsure whether you’re registered to vote, you can check on the Texas Secretary of State website. (Not registered? Unfortunately, you missed the Feb. 5 deadline. But you can visit VoteTexas.gov to register now for the November general election and for any run-off elections.)

Avoid delays by voting early. During a presidential cycle, election day can be extremely busy. Luckily, in Texas early voting runs Tuesday, Feb. 20 through Friday, March 1. You’ll be able to find early voting locations by using the search site Am I Registered?, which will be populated with voting sites a few days before early voting begins.

Bring a photo ID: You must present one of the seven acceptable forms of photo identification before you can vote:

  • Texas driver’s license
  • Texas election ID certificate
  • Texas personal ID card
  • Texas handgun license
  • U.S. citizenship certificate with photo
  • U.S. military ID card with photo
  • U.S. passport (book or card)

Your voter registration card is not mandatory to vote, but it’s a good idea to bring it if you have it. If your name is spelled differently on the official voter list than on your ID, showing your registration card may resolve the issue.

Voting locations: Polling locations may be different for early voting and Election Day, so visit your county’s election website—Dallas, Collin, Rockwall or Denton—to make sure you’re headed to the right location.

Be an educated voter: Save yourself time at the polls by being prepared. Do your research on candidates, and determine how you want to vote before getting to the voting machine. You can bring notes or a sample ballot with you to vote, but you’re not allowed to have partisan flyers with you in the voting booth. Create your own personalized ballot by visiting Vote411.org.

Encourage your network: Make a plan to vote. Then, invite your neighbors and friends to go vote with you.

Vote by mail: To be eligible to vote early by mail in Texas, you must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Be 65 years old or older
  • Be disabled
  • Be out of the county on Election Day and during the period for early voting by personal appearance
  • Be confined in jail, but otherwise eligible

You can request the application for a mail-in ballot from the Texas Secretary of State’s office. The deadline to submit a vote-by-mail application is Friday, Feb. 23. To learn how to request a vote-by-mail application and to submit your application, visit your county’s Elections Office website: Dallas, Collin, Rockwall or Denton.

If you decide to vote by mail, be sure to have your ballot postmarked by 7 p.m. on March 5.

Voter Rights in Texas

As a voter, it’s helpful to understand your rights so that you feel comfortable and confident in voting this year. Check out our Texas Voter Bill of Rights before you cast your ballot.