Fellow Austinites, We Have a Problem

07 Mar 2018 11:32 PM | Michael Harman

Fellow Austinites, We Have a Problem

Written by Erica Gordon

Chief Executive Officer

Austin Sunshine Camps

In Austin Independent School District alone, nearly 60% of students are low-income, meaning their family of four earns $44,000 a year or less.  An additional 20% are thought to qualify as low-income, but never complete the district’s application.   

And did you know that more than half of the achievement gap between low and middle//high income students is due to unequal access to high-quality summer learning opportunities?

In Central Texas, one in four children are at risk of hunger, a number that is 25% higher than the national average. 

Enter Austin Sunshine Camps 

Summer Camp Program: Since 1928, every single summer camper has been low-income and has attended our week-long, residential summer camps -- free of charge. 

When a child arrives at Austin Sunshine Camps, they enter a completely different world. They enter a world of new and friendly faces, where fun and unlikely friendships define each day.  For a majority of our campers, many born in Central Texas, it’s the first time they’ve ever seen Zilker Park or felt the water of Lake Travis.  They get three square meals a day, discover self confidence in the treeline of our ropes courses, and experience the unfamiliar warmth of caring mentors like you.

Sunshine Afterschool Program: Since 2014, every single student has been low-income and has received programming five days a week for three hours a day -- free of charge. 

Our Sunshine Afterschool program focuses on outcomes related to STEM, life skills, and outdoor learning.  90% of our students improved their math grades from the beginning to the end of the year. Perhaps more importantly, 70% of parents reported that they saw a decrease in behavioral issues since their child began attending Sunshine Afterschool.

While the mission of our organization is to engage and empower youth through education and outdoor experiences, I know first hand that the full impact we have on a child’s life cannot be measured.

I was a low-income kid myself, the first person in my family to go to college.  In the sixth grade a friend invited me to a week-long overnight summer camp.  Her parents paid my way.  The experience I had that week changed my life forever.  My worldview was expanded, my curiosity was sparked, and I haven’t looked back since.  It has become my life’s work to give to others what many people gave to me along the way -- support, time, and a belief in me that I didn’t have in myself.

This is Where You Come In

Many Austinites have already taken the first step by joining the Young Men’s Business League. In doing so, they have made a statement to their community:

They value connecting with others, fostering leadership and serving those who are less fortunate. 

And our community needs you. The summer campers and afterschool students of Austin Sunshine Camps need you. 

They need your support - both financially and by sharing our story. 

They need your time - as a volunteer and as a mentor. 

They need for you to believe in them - as a student and a person. 

The research is clear, children are much more likely to become successful adults if and when they have trustworthy and successful role models in their lives.  With every dollar raised and every hour spent with a student, you help weave together a fabric of strength and belief in the less fortunate youth in our community.  You give them hope and you give them a chance for a bright future. 

How Will We Measure Success?

Now that our beautiful Zilker Lodge is up and running (deep bow to all of you who were involved), we must create a future-focused financial model that is both achievable and sustainable.  One that accounts for quality, impactful programming.  One that attracts rockstar talent and inspires them to make a career at our organization.  And most importantly, one that aims to serve as many children as our facilities and programming will thoughtfully allow.    

It will take the work and dedication of each one of us.  It will take all of our connections, perseverance, and determination.  And it will take smart, calculated decisions, and innovative, steadfast strategies.  I am honored to lead us into our next 90 years, and build upon the inspiring work that has come before us.  Austinites, these children -- our community -- deserve our very best.

On behalf of every child whose life has been or will be impacted because of your service, thank you.

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