He doesn’t ask; he tells. If you’re one of Chuck Winkley’s friends or competitors, you’ll likely get a call every year that will sound something like this: “Hey, I need to pick up a check – and this year I need more.” He has a funny, strong personality and the response is good. Chuck raises about $6,500 each fall to give low-income kids a Christmas they’ll never forget. He’s no full-time philanthropist, he’s the co-owner of downtown Austin’s Metro Realty, but he helps Child Inc with their Responsible Parenting Awards ceremony, a collaboration of many Austin businesses that gives to a few very deserving, low-income families in Travis County. It’s a very small part of a larger mission to break the cycle of poverty and make dreams a reality.
Child Inc is a large organization that serves very low-income families in Travis County Texas, focusing on “high-risk” children under the age of five to prepare them to be ready when they start kindergarten. They are mostly funded by the Project Head Start grant-program begun in the mid ’60’s as part of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” Head Start is one of the few of his programs that have lasted, targeting a very real cause of poverty: lack of readiness for school. By supporting children very early in their lives, kids will gain a better education, be more self-confident and healthy, and the cycle of poverty can be stopped.
“We pursue a strong, clear, and comprehensive focus on all aspects of healthy development, including social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development, which all are essential to children getting ready for school” (Child Inc website).
In 2010 their program reached out to nearly 2,300 kids. In that year there were a little under 20,000 children ages 0-5 at or below the poverty line in Travis County. Child Inc serves 10.6% of them. They have prepared over 40,000 children and their parents, and their impact is measurable. For example, their average 4-year old starts the program 10% behind the national average in terms of reading readiness and completes the year 3.5% ahead. (Annual Report)
With over 40 years of experience in child development, Child Inc has learned some valuable lessons, the most important of which is that they must involve the parents if they want to be successful. They believe—and have shown—that more parent-child interaction means better preparation for school, learning, and life, and that the only way to have a long-term impact is to make sure the parents are closely involved in their children’s schooling. They want to help parents maintain their role as primary educator and role model.
Parent-child interaction affects everything in a child’s life; even something like more communication around a child can make a difference. “Our typical child hears an average of 616 spoken words per hour, compared to 2,133 spoken words per hour for children of professional-class parents” (2010 Annual Report) They have implemented an array of programs to help parents get involved, including having parents help in classrooms, relationship counseling for couples, a weekly radio show for dads (the “Dad Show on KAZI, 88.7 FM), screening parents for depression or other psychological issues (a significant amount of the mothers they serve are clinically depressed), and rewarding parents who show an exemplary commitment to helping their kids achieve.
Responsible Parenting Awards – the best Christmas ever
Local car dealerships, body shops, paint suppliers, and insurance companies come together, donate their time and supplies, and prepare re-built vehicles for a few deserving families each year at Christmas-time, asking for nothing in return but to see the look in the parent’s eyes when they receive their gift. Around ten families are selected each year, not by Child Inc, but by the business owners who donate. Families prepare a letter describing their situation, what they have done to help their children, what they plan on doing in the future, and Child Inc divvies the letters out to the businesses. Business owners and their teams then decide which families they’ll sponsor and get to work preparing the cars, looking for families who have demonstrated accountability, a desire to be self-sufficient and less dependent on public aid, and a commitment to their children’s education. Along with vehicles, families are given six months of auto insurance, car seats, and a $75 gas card.
Some of these parents work two jobs and have to ride the bus because they can’t afford a vehicle. That means less time to spend with their kids and makes everything from buying groceries to taking their kids to sports’ practice more difficult. These are hard working parents who are doing their best to improve their situation, they are very grateful for the new set of wheels; it means mobility, time, safety, and, ultimately, helps them get past a huge barrier in their path to progress. Since the program was started 10 years ago over 64 vehicles have been awarded.
What about the kids?
I would be happy to have my parents get a new car too, but if I were a kid I would love to get something for me. That’s where Chuck comes in. Seven years ago he watched as his neighbor, Joe Leewright of Ellis & Salazar Body Shop (one of the vehicle donators), became overwhelmed with the number of things to do for the Responsible Parenting Awards program, so Chuck asked if he could help by taking care of the kid’s gifts. He has been hooked ever since. The money he raises helps buy children everything from bikes to dolls to computers, with gifts customized for each family’s needs. Last year there were 26 children involved, each receiving around $125 worth of gifts. The families all come together in an auditorium, receive their cars, and then the children are unleashed to run at their piles of presents specially marked for them before driving off together as a family.
Chuck explains the feeling, “To see the joy in those kid’s faces as they get things they wouldn’t normally get, it’s very humbling and makes you appreciate what you have more.” He harasses his competition and business contacts for donations, joking around that he doesn’t give them a choice, has his employees get together for a gift-wrapping party, and then helps set-up the auditorium, preparing for something that makes the Christmas season unforgettable every time.
Do you want to be a part of this Christmas’s awards? You can donate through Chuck: send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Chuck has invited me to be a part of this year’s ceremony, so your very own Weekend Philanthropist will be there at Christmas-time, taking pictures and reporting back to you here on TWP and individually to each person who donates. Just let me know if you donate by commenting and I’ll keep you posted!
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