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Author: Meg Costa

Education’s ‘Long COVID’ Continues as Student Test Scores Backslide

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools across the country to shut down, students lost months’ worth of learning. Over the past three years, parents, teachers and community organizations have united to ensure kids get back on track as quickly as possible, working overtime with students and launching new initiatives to close the learning loss gap.

Unfortunately, new research indicates that students across the country are still struggling to get back to pre-pandemic learning levels.

According to NWEA, a research organization that deploys student assessment tests across the U.S., achievement gains during the 2022-23 school year fell short of pre-pandemic trends in nearly all grades. The research indicates that learning loss created by the pandemic still has not been resolved; in fact, learning gaps may still be widening for many students.

This is a critical situation that impacts our entire community—and requires a community-wide response. At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, supporting local students is one of our top priorities as we work to improve access to education, income and health. As kids and their families strive to catch up from COVID-era learning loss, we unite the North Texas community to ensure students have what they need to succeed.

Read on to learn more about the most recent learning loss research, how United Way supports students and teachers in North Texas, and how you can be part of our movement to create opportunity in education.

Students Are Struggling in Reading and Math

This spring, NWEA assessed the reading and math skills of about 3.5 million public school students in third through eighth grade. Students in nearly every grade showed slower-than-average growth in reading and math skills, when compared with pre-pandemic learning growth.

Most students are so far behind that they need the equivalent of an extra four months of instruction in reading and 4.5 months in math to catch up to the typical pre-pandemic student.

Older students are generally the furthest behind, with sixth graders’ reading achievement sliding 19% compared to the years before COVID-19 and fifth graders’ math skills falling by 15%.

Black and Hispanic students fared worse than other ethnicities and would require another month or more of supplemental learning to catch up. “This implies that marginalized students, who have been hardest hit by the pandemic, did not experience any additional catch-up, despite being the intended primary focus of academic recovery efforts,” the researchers wrote. “All students face a lengthy road to recovery, and our estimates indicate that road will be longer still for historically marginalized students.”

The Enduring Legacy of COVID

These statistics reflect the severity and disruption of the COVID-19 crisis. It’s not surprising that, three years later, students are still feeling the effects.

As Susan Hoff, chief strategy and impact officer at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, explains, “This has been an incredibly disruptive couple of years, with the pandemic and so many other things that have affected all of our lives, but most particularly the lives of students. With the disruption in learning—our brains can only do so much when we’re stressed.”

Teachers, parents and community organizations have done a commendable job supporting children through the height of the pandemic, and an influx of federal funding helped to prevent even greater learning loss. However, NWEA’s research indicates that this work isn’t over and that local students need our entire community’s support now more than ever.

Education Takes a Village

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we’ve led a community-wide movement to improve access to education—as well as income and health—for nearly 100 years. We recognize that education is one of the building blocks of opportunity, affecting everything from how much a student will go on to earn in their career to the quality of health insurance their family will one day enjoy.

When COVID-19 hit North Texas, we quickly saw the importance of supporting students throughout the pandemic and beyond. We ramped up existing programs that promote early literacy and launched new initiatives aimed at reengaging students with school. Through this and other work, we gave the entire North Texas community an opportunity to lift up students who were at risk of falling behind.

Examples of these efforts include:

School supply drives

As back-to-school time approaches, each year we host a series of Stock the School drives, giving the North Texas community an opportunity to show their support for local students and teachers and make sure they have everything they need for a successful school year. Each year, we work with hundreds of donors and volunteers to provide thousands of school supplies to local educators and students.

This type of community support is especially important this year, as inflation has increased the price of nearly everything and the average family now spends $660 on school supplies. These drives also prevent educators from having to use their own funds to teach in an effective, engaging way.

Early literacy programs

Initiatives like Once Upon a Month encourage young North Texans to fall in love with reading, which supports kindergarten readiness and ongoing success in school. A partnership with Ferst Readers and The Boone Family Foundation, Once Upon a Month provides children ages 0-5 with one free children’s book every month for a year, along with parent guides in both English and Spanish. The resulting interactions stimulate curiosity, language development and the learning skills needed for kids to succeed in both school and life. In our last fiscal year alone, nearly 9,400 North Texas children enrolled in the program and more than 108,000 books were mailed out.

STEAM programs

Throughout the year, we organize initiatives that promote learning in science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM). One example is Heal Play Learn, which is designed to encourage students’ social and emotional wellness, physical activity and engagement with STEAM. Following 2021, the first year of Heal Play Learn programming, participating students showed improved retention rates in DeSoto schools, as well as significantly higher projected STAAR test scores.

These and other United Way programs actively combat COVID-19 learning loss by ensuring students and teachers have the resources necessary to thrive, re-engaging kids with learning, sparking an interest in subjects like reading and math, and setting students up for success at every age.

Together, We Can Ensure Local Students Thrive

Interested in being part of the change? This summer we invite you to invest in local students by supporting programs like Stock the School to ensure every child has what they need to thrive.

Here are three donation options that enable change-seekers like you to make a meaningful impact right here in North Texas:

  • Make a one-time donation: With a gift of any amount, you can make a holistic investment in our community and create opportunity and access for your fellow North Texans. Simply visit our donation page, click the “one time” tab and select your gift amount.
  • Set up a recurring donation: Become a monthly donor and create lasting change on an ongoing basis. Your investment will be there for North Texans continually over time, providing reliable financial support for our programs and partnerships that improve education, income and health for our neighbors. To get started, visit our donation page, select the “monthly” tab and choose your donation amount.
  • Join a United Way Giving Society: These inspiring and impactful groups are a great way to invest in North Texas while connecting with fellow change-seekers and engaging directly with the community impact work that is transforming our community for the better. Learn more about our Giving Societies.

Hundreds of Thousands of Texans May Lose Health Coverage This Year

This year, as many as 700,000 Texans—most of them children—are at risk of losing their health coverage because of a federal change to Medicaid coverage requirements. Many Medicaid recipients aren’t aware of the change and likely won’t realize they have been removed from coverage until they seek out medical care.

Meanwhile, there are additional changes to Medicaid on the horizon that could strip almost $9 billion out of the system and leave hundreds of thousands more Texans uninsured.

Texas’ Medicaid population is around 5.6 million individuals—about twice the population of Arkansas. A large percentage of our state’s Medicaid recipients live in North Texas, and these changes could have an immediate impact on their health and financial stability.

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, improving health care access is one of the key ways we create access and opportunity for all North Texans to thrive. One of our Aspire United 2030 goals—our North Star for driving transformational change in education, income and health over the next 10 years—is to increase to 96% the number of North Texas families with access to affordable health care

With the support of change-seekers like you, we’ve made significant progress toward this goal, thanks to programs like Healthcare Navigators and our advocacy efforts. However, this year’s Medicaid changes present a significant challenge for our low-income neighbors and for our community as a whole.

Keep reading to learn more about these important changes to Medicaid, how United Way is increasing health care access and coverage, and how you can get involved.

Tens of Thousands of Texans May Lose Medicaid Coverage

Medicaid recipients in Texas face two unique challenges this year.

First, the federal government has ended a rule called the continuous Medicaid coverage requirement, which means that all Medicaid recipients must have their eligibility redetermined. The rule originally came about in 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Congress sought passed legislation enabling recipients to be automatically re-enrolled every year.

The continuous Medicaid coverage requirement officially ended March 31. Since early in 2023, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission has been sending notices to recipients alerting them to the change in federal requirements and asking them to look for renewal packets or requests for information in the mail.

However, an estimated 700,000 Texans have moved since 2020 or can’t be found, according to The Dallas Morning News, and those recipients risk losing their coverage altogether. This mass loss of coverage could impact Texas children particularly hard, since a majority of kids in our state are insured through Medicaid.

As Joan Alker, founder of Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families, told The Dallas Morning News, “There may be hundreds of thousands of children becoming uninsured in Texas if the process doesn’t go well. Any gap in coverage is a problem for families who could face crushing medical debt if they have to take a child with a broken arm or in need of stitches to the ER.”

The second challenge to our state’s Medicaid system comes from a potential change to the program that could reduce funding by almost $9 billion and leave hundreds of thousands more Texans uninsured. The federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services indicated in February that it was seeking to end payment agreements between Texas and its hospitals, which would mean hospitals couldn’t care for as many low-income patients as they have in years past.

What These Changes Could Mean for North Texans

With 5.6 million Medicaid recipients residing in Texas, it’s clear that this program is extremely important to our state. It would be catastrophic if hundreds of thousands of our fellow Texans were to suddenly lose their health coverage, and that loss of coverage would impact every area of their lives.

Health coverage is vital for maintaining good health. Studies have shown that coverage has three important benefits:

  • It supports positive health outcomes, including an individual’s sense of their own health and wellbeing.
  • It incentivizes appropriate use of health care resources.
  • It reduces financial strain on individuals, families and communities.

Without health coverage, it’s likely that a person’s health would be affected. They would have to pay more for care, so their financial stability would suffer. And the countless children who would lose coverage could feel the effects at school if they get sick or injured.

How United Way Expands Health Access

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we’ve identified education, income and health as the building blocks of opportunity—the three interdependent and interconnected pillars that enable all individuals to thrive. We believe that good health creates is foundational, affecting everything from how well a child can learn to how much an adult will earn.

To move closer to our goal of near-universal health coverage, we lead and invest in programs that improve health access for all North Texans.

One of our most successful health programs directly enrolls North Texans in affordable health insurance. We lead the North Texas Consortium, a network of community organizations dedicated to increasing health insurance coverage. Through this program, our Healthcare Navigators assist uninsured North Texans as they compare and enroll in health plans through the Marketplace, Medicaid or CHIP. Navigators also work to get clients signed up for all eligible subsidies, which saves many North Texans hundreds of dollars a month.

Daniel Bouton, senior director of family and community health at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, says many North Texans don’t enroll in health insurance because they think they can’t afford it. Most Healthcare Navigator clients are surprised by how affordable many of the health plans are.

“About 80% of our clients talk about not being able to afford a premium,” Bouton said in an interview with The Dallas Morning News. “I enrolled one woman whose premium was $3 a month. She had a zero co-pay to see a primary care physician and a $10 co-pay to see a specialist. We had people who didn’t believe it.”

The Healthcare Navigators initiative is having a measurable impact on health coverage in our community. From September 2022 to May 2023, Navigators assisted nearly 5,000 North Texans as they enrolled in CHIP or Medicaid, and an additional 1,100 individuals who enrolled in a qualified health plan. Those impact numbers contributed to the fact that Texas led all states in newly insured people during 2022-2023 open enrollment.

Advocating for Improved Health Policies

During the recent legislative session, our team worked closely with hundreds of dedicated change-seekers to speak up and speak out for meaningful change in our focus areas of education, income and health. Over the 140 days of the session, advocates stood up for our community, educated lawmakers and called attention to policies that will have a real impact in the lives of our fellow North Texans.

We joined with hundreds of partners throughout the state to call on lawmakers to expand Medicaid coverage to 12 months after childbirth. Health care advocates have been pushing this for multiple years, and this session, the bill finally passed.

Previously, postpartum Medicaid only extended two months after childbirth, which has contributed to Texas’ dire maternal mortality rates. One in four Texas women of childbearing age have no access to health insurance outside of pregnancy, according to The Texas Tribune, which makes postpartum health coverage a life-or-death situation for many. By extending Medicaid coverage to a full year postpartum, the new law will better protect new parents at a critical time when health insurance is extremely beneficial.

How You Can Expand Health Access in North Texas

Access to health care is foundational for every individual and family in our region. Join us as we work to ensure more of our North Texas neighbors have access to the health resources necessary to thrive.

Here are two ways you can be part of the change right now:

  • Make a donation to support United Way health-related programs, our community impact partners and our advocacy efforts that focus on expanding access to healthcare.
  • Sign up for our Advocacy Alerts. Health care is always a hot topic in the Texas legislature. Sign up for our Advocacy Alerts, and we’ll be in touch when our Live United network is contacting lawmakers about a particular topic.

This Summer, North Texas Children Face a Variety of Challenges, Including Food Insecurity

Home to leading businesses, a steady stream of new residents and seemingly endless prosperity, North Texas was just named the fastest growing region in the U.S. But it’s also home to staggering inequality.

Nearly 700,000 North Texans are food insecure—meaning they lack consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life, according to North Texas Food Bank. This translates to one in eight people, including one in five children, going hungry at least part of the time.

Food insecurity and childhood hunger in particular are significant issues that prevent individuals and families from truly thriving. After all, a child who is distracted by hunger is less likely to succeed in school, workers without reliable access to food can’t be at their best and anyone who frequently experiences food insecurity is more likely to see their physical and even mental health suffer.

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, our focus areas—education, income and health—are inextricably linked to food security. That’s why we address the root causes of hunger and advocate for improved food accessibility as we drive progress toward our Aspire United 2030 goals.

The summer months are a particularly important time for preventing childhood hunger, because it’s when many North Texas children miss out on federally funded school nutrition programs. But together, we can take key steps to improve access to quality nutrition. Read on to learn more about food security challenges during the summer, how United Way prevents childhood hunger and how you can be part of this life-changing work.

Summer Is ‘The Hungriest Season’

In some local school districts, 90% of children rely on federal nutrition programs during the school year. When the school year ends, tens of thousands of North Texas students lose access to regular nutritious meals.

For many families, the added expense of one to two meals every day for each child is difficult to absorb. And in recent years, the situation has only been made worse by the cost of food itself. The price of food increased about 11% from 2021 to 2022, due to inflation and supply chain disruptions, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. And while food prices have started to stabilize over the last few months, local families are still struggling to afford necessities.

Fighting Childhood Hunger

With our focus on improving access to education, income and health, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas makes it a priority to address hunger in our community. We lead and invest in innovative programs that support communities and families and address systemic challenges like food insecurity. A large part of that work involves partnering with dozens of local school districts, nonprofits and other organizations to provide nutritious food to hard-working families throughout the summer.

The North Texas Summer & Supper Council (NTXSSC) is our longest-running and most impactful hunger advocacy program. In 2013, United Way teamed up with Baylor University Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty to launch NTXSSC, which supports summer meals programs as they provide millions of meals and supplemental programming to local children when school is out. These programs are run by local school districts, such as Dallas and Garland ISDs, and nonprofits like CitySquare and Equal Heart.

Over the last three years, the pandemic and rising food costs have pushed the demand for summer meals to unprecedented levels. Prior to COVID-19, in a typical summer, NTXSSC would work with more than two dozen groups that serve more than 2 million meals to 55,000+ children. Since 2020, demand has continued to rise, and NTXSSC and our partners have stepped up even more. In 2022, our meal provider partners served a record 56 million meals to North Texas children within Dallas and Collin counties alone.

Across 86 program sites, these organizations also provided fun and engaging programming that keeps kids excited about summer meals programs and takes a little pressure off of caregivers each day. With activities such as crafts, games, bounce houses and water balloon fights, children get to have a little summer fun without the stress and uncertainty that comes with food insecurity.

Nutrition Programs Are Just One Piece of the Puzzle

While improving access to nutritious food is paramount, supporting North Texas children this summer goes well beyond summer meals programs.

When we come together, we can ensure that all children get the support they need in every area of life. This includes keeping them well-fed, providing families with fun educational resources to keep kids’ minds engaged and setting them up for success after they finish school.

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we create and invest in a variety of programs that support children’s educational attainment, overall health and even their future work prospects. In addition to our work supporting summer meals programs, here are just a few of our programs and partnerships that ensure kids can thrive:

  • Dollars for College, a partnership with Communities Foundation of Texas that seeds college savings accounts for low-income students, putting them on a path to attend and graduate college. Children with at least some college savings are three times more likely to attend college and four times more likely to graduate. In our last fiscal year, parents opened 229 new savings accounts through Dollars for College and, with community support, made $191,500 in deposits—more than double the previous year.
  • Once Upon a Month™, which delivers free age-appropriate children’s books to families every month, encouraging early literacy by stimulating curiosity, language development and learning skills. In our last fiscal year, 9,397 children received books from Once Upon a Month and 94% of parents read more to their children thanks to the program. And thanks to support from The Boone Family Foundation, we’re moving closer to our goal of distributing 1 million books by 2027.

Together, We Can Support Children Throughout the Summer

When school lets out for the summer, many families struggle to keep their children well fed and engaged.

With local families struggling to make ends meet, it’s more important than ever that we come together as a community to support kids. This year, we invite every North Texan to invest in the education, financial security and health of local children by donating to United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.

A gift of any amount makes a meaningful impact in our community:

  • $25 can support the North Texas Summer & Supper Council, enabling summer meal sponsors to increase their impact and feed more students.
  • $36 could provide a child with 12 books a year through Once Upon a Month, preparing them for school and early reading. Students who read on grade level by third grade are five times more likely to graduate ready for success in college or career
  • $45 can ensure every student goes back to school with the supplies they need to succeed, including school uniforms.
  • $50 could seed a child’s college savings account through Dollars for College, which can grow to nearly $500 by high school graduation.

Together, we can ensure every child has the access and opportunity to thrive this summer and throughout the year.

Our Collective Impact This Legislative Session

The regular session of the 88th Texas legislature has come to an end, and we are overwhelmed by the level of engagement and enthusiasm we saw from our fellow North Texas advocates this year.

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, our team worked closely with hundreds of dedicated change-seekers to speak up and speak out for meaningful change in our focus areas of education, income and health. And over the 140 days of the session, advocates like you stood up for our community, educated lawmakers and called attention to policies that will have a real impact in the lives of our fellow North Texans.

Thank you to everyone who was part of our advocacy efforts over the last several months. Here’s just a snapshot of our collective impact this session:

Engaging Directly with Lawmakers

We identified several opportunities to connect lawmakers directly with our advocates, our United Way team and the people in the North Texas community:

  • To kick off the legislative session, on March 1, United Way team members and supporters gathered in Austin for United Way Day at the Capitol, our largest and most impactful advocacy event during Texas’ legislative session. Throughout the day, our 24 advocates met directly with 30 local state legislators and their staff and voiced their support of our legislative priorities.
  • Over the past year, city, state and federal elected officials or staff attended United Way volunteer events to see our community impact work in action. More than a dozen local officials joined us at events that included Lunch with Legislators, Digital Connections laptop distributions and United Way Reading Day.
  • During the session, the United Way advocacy team worked directly with legislators to file two bills—the first time we have taken the lead on bills. We partnered with Rep. Yvonne Davis to file HB 4846, which sought to improve transportation options for individuals in job training programs. We also worked with Sen. Nathan Johnson to file SB 1822, which would seal evictions records if a tenant wins their case or their case is dismissed, and worked with two offices that filed similar bills in the Texas House. Although bills related to both of these issues failed to pass this session, together with our advocates and statewide partners, we helped to build interest and awareness on these important issues.

Tracking Hundreds of Bills

Lawmakers introduced more than 11,800 bills this session. Our team closely tracked 166 pieces of legislation that would directly impact our Aspire United 2030 goals so we could quickly and efficiently rally our advocates when these key bills were being considered.

Bringing Together Hundreds of Advocates—Many for the First Time

Throughout the legislative session, the Live United movement truly united around the issues that matter most in our community. Our group of dedicated advocates grew to 907 this year—and many of these change-seekers were advocating for the first time. We are so grateful to everyone who was a part of this inspiring effort.

Advocating Collectively at Key Moments

Our team sent a total of 17 Action Alerts this session, notifying our subscribers of important updates on our legislative priorities to let advocates know exactly how and when to contact their representatives to make the biggest impact possible. This collective advocacy is the best way to call attention to specific bills that may otherwise get overlooked.

Meanwhile, we also developed Action Alerts for the various coalitions we help lead, especially the Texas Fair Lending Alliance to protect the payday and auto-title lending ordinances. And we highlighted and directed calls to important legislation that our partners were championing, including HB 12 (which extends Medicaid coverage to postpartum mothers to 12 months) and HB 77 (which decriminalized a child voluntarily running away from home).

Informing North Texans About Important Policy Issues

Our advocacy work also involves providing North Texans with context about our legislative priorities that enables them to have a full picture of complex issues around education, income and health. Over the last year, that involved:

  • Organizing three regional pre-session webinars in partnership with four other local United Ways, with about 70 people in attendance at each event.
  • Hosting our annual Lunch with Legislators with Dallas Citizen’s Council, which was an opportunity for business leaders and community leaders to hear from local legislators about the 2023 session.
  • Co-hosting Dallas Delegation Day with the Dallas Regional Chamber and Dallas Citizen’s Council before session, which included five robust panel discussions with community leaders on key community issues.

Lending Our Expertise to Important Topics of Debate

Through our community impact work, our team at United Way has extensive experience and expertise on the challenges and opportunities impacting education, income and health in North Texas. This year, we were able to leverage that expertise in several ways:

  • By providing a unique perspective to the housing policy landscape based on our experience providing rental assistance. Through testimony and one-on-one meetings, we provided insight into the efficacy, administration and benefits of certain policies to help give legislators a well-rounded understanding of the obstacles facing tenants, and benefits and disadvantages of varying solutions.
  • By convening our local partners connected to home visiting programs to discuss how our region should collectively address proposed changes to the state’s approach to these programs.

Helping Achieve Several Legislative Victories

Thanks to dedicated advocates like you, this session we had key wins in education, income and health:

  • We helped secure an additional $65 million in funding for prevention and early intervention programs that help prevent child abuse and neglect.
  • We helped secure an extra $1.8 million in funding for Texas’ 211 Referral Helpline, which is an important community resource for low-income North Texans.
  • We pushed back against legislation that would have allowed more high-interest loans in our communities. These bills ultimately died.
  • We joined with hundreds of partners throughout the state to expand Medicaid coverage to 12 months post-partum. Advocates have been pushing this for multiple years, and with your help, it finally helped!

What’s Next?

Gov. Greg Abbott has until June 18 to sign or veto legislation passed this session. Advocates are waiting to celebrate their wins until after this veto period, so let’s try to not call attention to our issues or wins just yet.

Gov. Abbott called a special legislative session last week, which is already underway and deals with property taxes and border security. The governor has indicated that he will likely call several special sessions, though the topics are unknown at this time.

At United Way, we’ll continue to monitor education, income and health issues that are raised during these special sessions. Please watch for additional Action Alerts from United Way in the coming months so we can continue to speak up and speak out together to improve access to education, income and health in North Texas.

United Way Tocqueville Society Drives Community Change and Welcomes New Members at Bench & Bar Boo-Ray Tournament

The verdict is in, and the First Annual Bench & Bar “Boo-Ray” Tournament hosted by United Way of Metropolitan Dallas was judged guilty—a guilty pleasure that is! Best of all, the event was also a great success that ultimately will benefit the North Texas community by supporting United Way’s mission to improve access to education, income and health.

A Society of Supporters Committed to North Texas

The Bench & Bar event, sponsored by FTI Consulting and held May 16 at the Crow Library, is United Way’s initiative to bring together the North Texas legal community and encourage their support of United Way’s programs, as well as individual membership in the United Way Tocqueville Society.

The North Texas chapter of the Tocqueville Society was founded in 1986 by the late Ruth Sharp Altshuler—a legendary member of the Greatest Generation of community volunteers in Dallas—and includes the most committed and generous supporters of United Way.

Leaving Their Briefs at the Office

The Bench & Bar event was a night for the North Texas legal community to leave their briefs (legal briefs!) at the office and join in some fun and fellowship during a tournament of Boo-Ray (Bourré), an exciting, fast-paced trick-taking card game primarily played in the Acadiana region of Louisiana. Thirteen of North Texas’ largest firms joined in the games, and by the end of the night, United Way’s recruitment efforts added 20 new Tocqueville members, double the goal for the evening!

A Docket of Bold-Faced Names

The chairs of the Dallas Tocqueville Society are legal heavy-hitters Erin Nealy Cox, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District and now partner at Kirkland & Ellis; and her husband, Trey Cox, co-managing partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Co-chairs of the Bench & Bar Cabinet hail from North Texas’ corporate titans: AT&T’s General Counsel David McAtee and Toyota Motor North America’s General Counsel Sandra Phillips Rogers.

This fearsome foursome recruited an all-star host committee that included general counsels ripped from the pages of the Fortune 500 ranking and beyond:

  • Cynthia Trochu, Texas Instruments
  • Leeanne Oliver, PepsiCo Foods
  • Jeff Melucci, Kimberly-Clark Corporation
  • Stephanie Zapata Moore, Vistra Corp.
  • Sarah Decker, McAfee
  • Von Hays, Comerica Bank
  • John Henrich, Sally Beauty
  • Rachel Morgan, Nexstar Media Group
  • Julia Simon, Mary Kay, Inc.
  • Bryan Stevenson, Arcosa
  • Marc Kesselman, Purdue Pharma
  • Sarah Teachout, Trinity Industries
  • Lynne Puckett, Celanese
  • Van Beckwith, Halliburton
  • Rudy Rodriguez, CEC Entertainment
  • Tasha Grinnell, The Container Store
  • Ellen Farrell, Toyota Financial Services

A Three-Year Goal to Beat ‘Bama

Proving that Southern rivalries aren’t only on the football field, the Cox co-chairs have a bold goal for the North Texas Tocqueville Society: to lead the country in the number of donors who live and work here. Those bragging rights are currently held by United Way in Birmingham, Alabama. With a three-year chairmanship, the Coxes used the Bench & Bar event as one way to make progress with their goal, chipping away at Birmingham’s leadership and getting one step closer to earning North Texas its eventual place as the leader of the pack.

What’s Next?

Look for more innovative efforts to grow the Ruth Sharp Altshuler Tocqueville Society across the board in the months to come. The Coxes are joined by Tocqueville $25,000 Circle co-chairs, Laura and Jason Downing, and Women of Tocqueville chair Mandy Austin.

Together, the Tocqueville Team is planning other events during their chairmanship, with nationally recognized speakers, influencers and change-makers highlighting the impact of United Way as the organization marches toward its Centennial celebration in 2025.

How United Way Enables Businesses to Achieve Their Corporate Social Responsibility Goals

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we lead a community-wide movement to improve access to education, income and health. We bring together the corporate, philanthropic, civic and nonprofit sectors, as well as individual change-seekers, to achieve strategic goals for North Texas.

This collaborative approach to community impact work is unique—in fact, it’s why we’re called United Way.

An important part of our strategy involves partnering with corporations that are committed to improving the communities in which their employees live and work. Our corporate partners, companies like Texas Instruments, PepsiCo and AT&T, are deeply invested in our mission to improve access to education, income and health and bringing greater equity to North Texas.

Kelem Butts, United Way’s vice president of CSR strategy

Indeed, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas is the trusted corporate social responsibility (CSR) partner for dozens of corporations across North Texas. And together with these leading businesses, we’re making a meaningful impact in our communities.

This year, our team welcomed its first vice president of CSR strategy, Kelem Butts. Kelem was previously with AT&T as a member of their CSR team for more than 13 years. In his new role, he’s working closely with local companies to align their CSR goals with our Aspire United 2030 goals—our 10-year roadmap for advancing racial equity and driving lasting impact in education, income and health for our community.

Read our Q&A with Kelem as he describes the basics of CSR, why it’s an important focus for North Texas businesses and how United Way works with our corporate partners to meet their CSR goals.

Tell us a bit about your background and how you came to join United Way.

Kelem: I started my career in 1989 right out of college. Until now, I was 100% corporate. I spent the previous 22 years with AT&T, the last 13 of which were with the CSR organization. Then, two things happened. First, I became retirement eligible and was ready for a career change. Secondly, I had done work with United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and realized that this would be a great landing place for me. I believe in the mission, I love how United Way has evolved over time and it’s great to be able to make an impact in the Dallas area.

How do you define corporate social responsibility, and what do you believe are the key components of an effective CSR program?

Kelem: If you ask 10 CSR people to give a definition of CSR, you’ll get 10 different answers. Here’s how I think about it: It’s the work that a company does that impacts both the company and society. Think of a Venn diagram with two overlapping circles—one is the needs of society and the other is the needs of business—and the intersection area in the middle is where CSR is focused.

An effective CSR program should truly align with the company’s goals, otherwise it’s difficult to get full buy-in from the company. Many companies do materiality assessments to determine alignment with all stakeholders, which generally includes the communities where they live and work. The materiality should influence those CSR initiatives.

Why is CSR increasingly important for North Texas companies?

Kelem: I would argue that well-run companies have paid attention to CSR for a long time, it just wasn’t called that. Today, many investors look at a company’s focus on CSR as a proxy for a well-run company. In other words, a robust CSR program indicates they are addressing the needs of their stakeholders, including the communities where they are, the broader society, investors, employees and more. Additionally, a well-run company wants to ensure their long-term viability, and they understand you’ve got to support your communities—it’s the right thing to do and the smart thing.

In your opinion, what role should nonprofits play in promoting CSR, and how can organizations like United Way best work with businesses to drive positive change?

Kelem: In my opinion, nonprofits work best to drive positive change by clearly understanding their mission and working within the community to address the needs of their constituents. This does not always align perfectly with the needs of the company. But I think honesty and clarity are always best practices, so it’s important to make sure both sides understand up front what is possible and what is not.

Timelines are important to understand as well; companies and nonprofits may have different ideas of when an initiative can be completed. And lastly, a nonprofit must be willing to work with the company on stories of how the work is making an impact. Frequently, companies want to tout the work they’re doing in the communities where they’re located.

Why is United Way of Metropolitan Dallas such a strong CSR resource?

Kelem: How much time do I have? First of all, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas has such a long history of working with corporations and a great understanding of their needs. And no one has a stronger connection to the broader community than United Way: We have relationships with hundreds of other nonprofits in our area, so we can connect the priorities of almost any company to a nonprofit.

United Way’s intense focus on long-term impact through our Aspire United 2030 goals is so appealing to companies. So is our mission around improving access to education, income and health—the building blocks of opportunity—and the way we’ve formulated our goals. (At Procter and Gamble I was trained about the importance of SMAC objectives—specific, measurable, achievable, concise—and that’s exactly what United Way has done).

Furthermore, United Way has compiled a board of directors with some of the greatest corporate minds in the area, including vice chair Charlene Lake, SVP of CSR and chief sustainability officer of AT&T, who I would argue is one of the best CSR leaders in the country.

How do companies measure the impact of their CSR efforts?

Kelem: Many companies measure different impacts, but the well-run ones are indeed looking at measurable impact. They look for return on investment (ROI) on their business investments, right? For CSR they are looking for “social ROI.” When I was at AT&T, Charlene Lake used to ask a very simple question: “What are we getting for our investment?” In other words, she wanted to be able to tell the board for every $100 invested in society, we’re seeing some sort of positive societal return. That is hard to do and to quantify, but a lot of companies are really starting to think about measurement in that way. Of course there are other metrics, but everyone should be thinking of that concept of social ROI, in my opinion.

Examples of Our Corporate Partnerships in Action

Industry leaders across North Texas have chosen to invest in United Way’s community impact because we understand that corporate philanthropy is a key driver in achieving business continuity, productivity and profitability goals. In the last year alone, we’ve partnered with organizations big and small to drive measurable, meaningful impact in ways that directly align with the corporate and philanthropic goals of our partners.

Consider the social innovation and impact represented by these programs:

  • With AT&T, we created the Digital Connections program to support our neighbors in Southern Dallas who lack a computer to narrow the digital divide. This investment has resulted in the distribution of more than 2,000 laptops to families, as well as bilingual digital training and support.
  • For Texas Instruments, building stronger communities through employee engagement is a top priority. As the overarching sponsor of our annual volunteer series, TI and its employees dedicated hundreds of volunteer hours to improving access to education, income and health in North Texas.
  • With PepsiCo/Frito-Lay, place-based investments in Southern Dallas to support historically under-resourced neighborhoods led to the creation of Southern Dallas Thrives, a partnership with United Way. The goals of the initiative include providing families with nutritious meals, improving the quality of preschool education, preparing high school students for college or career, and providing supportive services and workforce development training in high-growth industries to women.
  • Together with Hilti, which faced a growing shortage of skilled workers, we created the Women in Construction program, which trains and places women into high-wage construction jobs and develops a pipeline to fill critical job openings for the company.

Learn More About Partnering With Us

United Way of Metropolitan Dallas is proud to partner with companies of all sizes and industries to advance racial equity and drive lasting change in North Texas. We have the relationships, data and expertise to help you build and strengthen your culture of good citizenship and corporate social responsibility.

Interested in learning more? Visit our Partner With Us page to discover some of the ways we work with corporate partners and to connect with our team.

Women of Tocqueville Support a Brighter Future for Women and Children

United Way Women of Tocqueville members gathered virtually on April 28 for their third-annual baby shower, celebrating 71 expectant and new moms from our partners Abide Women’s Health Services, Lumin Education and Parkland Nurse Family Partnership.

The Women of Tocqueville are a group of passionate United Way supporters who work to advance our mission of improving access to education, income and health in North Texas. Each year, the group hosts a virtual baby shower to support new and expectant moms to ensure their babies get a strong start in life.

During this year’s shower, moms and volunteers played baby shower games, such as Animal Gestation, where they matched the animal with the average number of days they are pregnant, and The Price is Right, where they guessed the cost of baby items such as diapers, baby bottles, bibs and pacifiers.

During the shower, moms shared what they were most excited about, including:

  • “Being his mommy.”
  • “I can’t wait to hear his voice.”
  • “Having a little best friend.”

Then, Women of Tocqueville volunteers shared tips and words of inspiration, such as:

  • “Remember to sleep.”
  • “Take time for yourself.”
  • “You got this!”
  • “You’re amazing!”

Gifts for the shower were made possible by donations from the WOT Joy! event in December and by the generous support of Smocked Auctions. These gifts impacted 71 expectant and new moms who gave birth in the last three months. Moms expressed many heartfelt thanks for the shower, the baby items and words of encouragement and support.

Abide Women’s Health Services, Lumin Education and Parkland Nurse Family Partnership are important partners of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. Their early childhood services bring trained parent educators, nurses and birth workers to the homes of pregnant moms and new families to promote maternal and child health, advance school readiness, and prevent child abuse and neglect.

These partnerships align with the Women of Tocqueville mission to give, advocate and volunteer in support of the community through United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, and to leverage the collective power and leadership of women to produce visible impact in education, income and health in North Texas.

Thank you to everyone who generously supported the WOT Joy! event, as well as the expectant and new moms who joined our Women of Tocqueville members for this year’s baby shower.

And a special thank you to Stephanie Bird, Joan Cetera, Hayley Krahl, LaTara Moore, Katie Rose and Ashley Sink, who make up the Women of Tocqueville Volunteerism and Engagement Subcommittee, for your leadership, service and dedication to our mission. Finally, a special thanks to Natalia Mundo, a fellow Women of Tocqueville member, for translating in Spanish throughout the event for our Spanish-speaking moms.

6 Ideas for Preventing Evictions in a Post-COVID World

In the years since COVID-19 hit North Texas, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas has worked with civic, corporate and community partners to provide support to our neighbors facing the threat of eviction. However, now that the worst of the pandemic is behind us and federal eviction protections have expired, the rate of evictions is once again on the rise.

Eviction prevention is a key component of our work to prevent homelessness and encourage financial stability. We recognize that a stable home environment is foundational to our three focus areas—education, income and health. That’s because without a safe, comfortable place to live, children are less likely to succeed in school, adults often struggle to maintain steady work and families face greater threats to their physical and mental health.

Through the Dallas Rental Assistance Collaborative, the Targeted Eviction Prevention Program, advocacy work and other initiatives, United Way brought the community together to support thousands of families through the height of the pandemic, helping to prevent an eviction crisis in our communities.

As we look ahead, it’s important that our community unites once again to encourage housing stability on an ongoing basis. Working with other members of the Dallas-Area Eviction Prevention Task Force, our team has developed a set of recommendations for ongoing eviction prevention efforts across North Texas.

Our Recommendations for Preventing Evictions

In a new report, “Recommendations for a Permanent Eviction Prevention Infrastructure,” United Way and our partners detail a series of steps that our community can take to ensure more families can stay in their homes.

The recommendations cover several high-level elements of eviction prevention, including:

  • Give tenants opportunities to access rent relief.
  • Provide legal aid to tenants facing eviction cases.
  • Ensure tenants can easily access eviction navigation and other resources.
  • Improve data gathering and sharing to infuse more transparency in the eviction process.
  • Adjust eviction policies to give renters an “opportunity to cure” back-rent and to protect tenants who have resolved an eviction case.
  • Create a tenant education program to ensure renters know their rights.

In the full report, we explore how to best achieve these goals and which agencies would need to be involved.

Of course, making these recommendations a reality would take time and community-wide buy-in. However, we saw during COVID that eviction prevention measures such as these have a profound impact on people’s lives, enabling children to stay in their schools, empowering parents to maintain steady work and creating a more stable, healthier environment for all.

Read the Full Report

Click below to read the report with our full recommendations for sustaining a local eviction prevention infrastructure to minimize housing instability and prevent homelessness:

Download “Recommendations for a Permanent Eviction Prevention Infrastructure.”