Chronic Absenteeism Down, Grade Level Reading Up in United Way’s Square One Project

Three years after United Way California Capital Region launched its Square One Project, more students at its partner Robla School District are attending school consistently and improving their reading, according to United Way’s recently released annual report. These are key indicators of success toward the project’s 20-year goal to decrease poverty in the region by increasing the number of kids graduating from high school ready for success in college or career.

United Way’s Square One Project aims to end poverty by focusing on the one place that reaches all families – schools. With a focus on education and a community-based approach, United Way is working with community partners, schools and families, to help kids attend class every day, stay on track with educational milestones, set high expectations and have strong support for their community.

“If we are to make progress on this audacious goal of ending poverty in our region, then we need to work together to address the systemic issues that our communities face,” said Stephanie Bray, president and CEO, United Way California Capital Region. “Schools often are the center of communities, so Square One starts there. But our work and support go beyond education and the school campus to address the whole family. By focusing on our next generation, we are creating lasting change for our region.”

Kids who are not reading at grade level by fourth grade are more likely to fall behind in all subjects, including math and science. Last year, United Way and its partners helped 415 students with reading – 62 percent of those who were reading below grade level improved their reading and literary performance. In 2018, Robla School District reported that more students were meeting and exceeding standards in English Language Arts compared to 2017 – the rate of annual increase was three times higher than state and county averages.

One in five students in the Sacramento region is food insecure – higher than the national average – making them less healthy and less likely to attend school every day, which is key to academic success. Since the Square One Project began, United Way has served 935,772 free meals to students after school and in the summer. Last year, Robla School District saw a drop in the rate of chronic absenteeism by 26 percent.

“We know that Robla students experience barriers to learning before they even set foot inside the classroom,” said Erica Lee, coordinator of student wellness and nutrition, Robla School District. “Daily stressors including inadequate nutrition, unstable housing and limited access to medical care can all impede a student’s ability to learn and be successful in the classroom. United Way understands the whole child approach and works collaboratively with the district to draw upon resources from the whole community in order to serve the whole child.”

Other results announced included helping 9,000 families with free tax preparation this last year – resulting in $11.3 million in refunds and $1.8 million in tax preparation savings – and an expansion of United Way’s Kindergarten to College savings program helping families of local kindergarteners start saving for college. To view the full report: YourLocalUnitedWay.org/post/square-one-philosophy.

For nearly 100 years, United Way California Capital Region has brought local people together to make community change happen. Today, the nonprofit is bringing people together across Amador, El Dorado, Sacramento, Placer and Yolo counties for its Square One Project. To learn more and make a donation: YourLocalUnitedWay.org.

Free Tax Help Still Available This Summer for Late Filers

Households that missed the April 15 tax deadline can still receive free help filing their 2018 taxes this summer at several locations across the Sacramento region, thanks to United Way California Capital Region’s Free Tax Prep program, supported by Citi. IRS-certified volunteers will provide free basic tax return preparation with electronic filing and help guests claim the maximum tax credits for which they are eligible, saving filers an average of $200 in preparer fees and often earning thousands of dollars in credits.

Help is available by appointment only at South Natomas Community Center, Yolo County Children’s Alliance in West Sacramento, and three Asian Resources locations across Sacramento. To receive help, households must have earned $60,000 or less in 2018. Services are available in several languages. To make an appointment, call 2-1-1 or (800) 500-4931 (toll free). For more information, visit YourFreeTaxPrep.org.

More than $11 million in credits have already been claimed across the Sacramento region this year through United Way’s program, up more than $1 million from last year. More than 9,000 local households have received free help from nearly 500 volunteers, saving a total of $1.8 million in tax preparation fees.

“It’s not too late to take advantage of this service that can help families receive hundreds, even thousands, of dollars in refunds to help them become financially stable,” said Stephanie Bray, president and CEO, United Way California Capital Region.

Households that earned $66,000 or less in 2018 are eligible to file their taxes for free online at MyFreeTaxes.org through a partnership with United Ways of California. The site provides households with free tax help they can trust and guides users through federal and state filing, including tax credits, with software powered by H&R Block. Users need a valid email address, income forms and Adjusted Gross Income from 2018.

This year, more households are eligible to claim federal and state Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC and Cal EITC), Child Tax Credit, and Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled. Age qualification for Cal EITC has been expanded to include ages 18-24 and working adults ages 65 and up, giving more taxpayers the opportunity to earn up to $6,500 in credits, including those who are self-employed. Many Cal EITC-eligible households are not legally required to file taxes due to very low incomes; however if they do file, they can claim the state and federal credits for which they are eligible. For more information about available tax credits, visit YourFreeTaxPrep.org.

“The Earned Income Tax Credit is a vital tool that provides families with a much-needed cash infusion, one that can help them pay down debts, cover expenses, and even get on the road to saving and planning for the future, ” said Mary Hogarty, vice president, Citi Community Development. “Through our support for United Way California Capital Region, we aim to help them expand access to tax credits like the EITC and free tax preparation for eligible people that help enable more working families to build resilient financial futures.”

Other sponsors of United Way’s 2019 Free Tax Prep program include the IRS, the State of California Department of Community Services and Development, and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

For nearly 100 years, United Way California Capital Region has brought local people together to make community change happen. Today, the nonprofit is bringing people together across Amador, El Dorado, Sacramento, Placer and Yolo counties for its Square One Project, a 20-year promise to significantly increase the number of students in our region who graduate from high school ready for success in college and beyond. United Way believes ending generational poverty starts in school and is working to ensure kids meet important milestones and their families receive support and resources. To learn more and make a donation: YourLocalUnitedWay.org.

United Way Announces Summer Meals, Launches Summer STARS

Summer can bring food instability and learning loss for low-income students. This summer, United Way California Capital Region will help local kids fuel their summers with free healthy meals and fun educational activities to prevent the learning achievement gap known as “summer slide.”

Starting in June, United Way will operate 16 summer meal sites throughout the region, providing nutritious meals for children who may otherwise not have access while they are out of school. Local students will get an added boost with the Summer STARS program at select summer meal sites. Summer STARS will offer free early literacy curriculum and fitness activities designed for kids in addition to healthy meals.

On average, kids can fall behind by two to three months over the summer unless they have learning opportunities to help close the gap. By the time they reach fifth grade, this achievement gap compounds and low-income students can fall up to three years behind their peers.

“Our Square One Project is working to make sure all kids are able to graduate from high school, college or career-ready. We know that grade-level literacy is key to reaching those milestones. Our AARP Experience Corps volunteers tutor students to help them read at or above grade level. We’ve been successful in improving literacy during the school year, but summer is critical to maintaining that momentum,” said Stephanie Bray, president and CEO, United Way California Capital Region. “With Summer STARS, we’re able to nourish kids’ minds and bodies and ensure they are ready for school in the fall.”

United Way leads the Healthy Meals program throughout the school year, as well as the Summer Food Service Program. Since 2014, United Way has served 935,772 meals during the school year and summer to help kids learn, play and grow. For summer meal locations across the Sacramento region, visit YourLocalUnitedWay.org/fuel-your-summer.

Summer STARS builds upon this foundation by offering educational enrichment programming at select summer meal sites from June through August. For more information, visit YourLocalUnitedWay.org/SummerStars.

For nearly 100 years, United Way California Capital Region has brought local people together to make community change happen. Today, the nonprofit is bringing people together across Amador, El Dorado, Sacramento, Placer and Yolo counties for its Square One Project, a 20-year promise to significantly increase the number of students in our region who graduate from high school ready for success in college and beyond. United Way believes ending poverty starts in school and is working to ensure kids meet important milestones and their families receive support and resources. To learn more and make a donation, visit YourLocalUnitedWay.org.

United Way Brings Together 130 Leaders for Foster Youth Summit

United Way California Capital Region gathered 130 foster youth and community leaders working on foster care issues for its inaugural Foster Youth Summit on April 5 at the Sacramento State Ballroom. Participants in the summit identified opportunities to increase the number of foster youth who graduate from high school and go on to complete post-secondary education. Initial opportunities identified include a need for trauma-informed training for service providers, permanent relationships that last into adulthood, financial resources to assist with housing, employment training, and mental and physical health care. United Way is convening an action group from interested attendees and will release a summary report of findings in late spring that will determine the direction of United Way’s foster youth programs.

“This summit uncovered significant gaps between the needs of Sacramento-area foster youth and the services being provided,” said Stephanie Bray, president and CEO, United Way California Capital Region. “We heard reoccurring themes from former foster youth about the challenges they face when they age out of care. We need to disrupt the systems we are currently using to care for our foster youth, and the outstanding participation in this summit was an important first step in our action plan to bring our community together on this issue.”

Nonprofit service providers, state and county foster youth advocates, school districts, foster youth and other supporters came together for a deep dive into community level data, a foster youth panel on real-world implications of the data, breakout sessions and a keynote speech by Jennifer Rodriguez, JD, executive director of Youth Law Center and a former foster youth.

For nearly 100 years, United Way California Capital Region has brought local people together to make community change happen. Today, the nonprofit is bringing people together across Amador, El Dorado, Sacramento, Placer and Yolo counties for its Square One Project, a 20-year promise to significantly increase the number of students in our region who graduate from high school ready for success in college and beyond. United Way believes ending poverty starts in school and is working to ensure kids meet important milestones and their families receive support and resources. To learn more and make a donation: YourLocalUnitedWay.org.

United Way Announces Foster Youth Summit in April

United Way is gathering foster youth and community leaders working on foster care issues for its inaugural Foster Youth Summit on April 5 from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Sacramento State Ballroom, 6000 J Street. The summit will identify opportunities to increase the number of foster youth who graduate from high school and go on to complete post-secondary education. Summit findings will be released as a report that will determine the direction of United Way’s foster youth programs. For more information and to sign up: YourLocalUnitedWay.org/FosterYouthSummit.

Stephanie Bray, president and CEO of United Way California Capital Region, announced the summit to 300 supporters at United Way’s 17th Annual Women United Luncheon on March 21. More than $78,000 was raised through the luncheon for United Way’s programs that are preparing foster youth for success in college and career. Since 2002, United Way’s Women United action group has raised more than $2 million for programs for local foster youth.

“It’s time to take our work to the next level,” Bray said at the luncheon. “For far too long, we have talked about the drop-out and homelessness rates for foster youth. We know that no one person or organization can do this alone. So we are convening a public forum to discuss how we move the needle on high school graduation and college or career attainment for foster youth so that fewer struggle as they transition into adulthood.”

Nonprofit service providers, state and county foster youth advocates, school districts, foster youth and other supporters will come together for a deep dive into community level data, a foster youth panel on real-world implications of the data, breakout sessions and a keynote speech by Jennifer Rodriguez, JD, executive director of Youth Law Center and a former foster youth.

At the luncheon, Bray cited a 2018 Annie E. Casey Foundation report that noted without any support, California foster youth drop out of high school at a rate of 24 percent, 30 percent do not have stable housing and 51 percent are unemployed.

“That is so much lost potential,” Bray said. “We at United Way believe that every child, including each foster youth, has the opportunity to achieve. Imagine the impact if we don’t invest in our foster youth’s potential.”

Bray referred to luncheon keynote speaker September Hargrove as an example of how foster youth achieve success, not only for themselves but for communities across the country. Hargrove, a former Sacramento foster youth who volunteered with United Way a decade ago, is now VP of global philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase & Co., leading the company’s $150 million commitment to Detroit through neighborhood revitalization, small business, financial capability and workforce development.

For nearly 100 years, United Way California Capital Region has brought local people together to make community change happen. Today, the nonprofit is bringing people together across Amador, El Dorado, Sacramento, Placer and Yolo counties for its Square One Project, a 20-year promise to significantly increase the number of students in our region who graduate from high school ready for success in college and beyond. United Way believes ending poverty starts in school and is working to ensure kids meet important milestones and their families receive support and resources. To learn more and make a donation: YourLocalUnitedWay.org.

Women United Luncheon to Raise Funds for Local Foster Youth

Women across the region will gather for a spring-themed luncheon to celebrate and raise funds for local foster youth at United Way’s 17th Annual Women United Luncheon from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on March 21 at the Sheraton Grand, 1230 J Street, Sacramento. The event will feature a heartfelt program with personal stories from foster youth, successes from United Way’s programs and a fashion show with local foster youth. To purchase tickets or become a sponsor: YourLocalUnitedWay.org/Luncheon.

“For the last 17 years, our United Way has brought women together to help change kids’ lives,” said Stephanie Bray, president and CEO, United Way California Capital Region. “This year’s luncheon will bring together women from across our region to raise funds for local foster youth as part of our Square One Project. Together, we are investing in the potential of kids in the Sacramento region so that they graduate from high school prepared for success in college and career. Foster youth in our community deserve the same investment, and our Women United action group is providing the tools those young people need to realize their potential.”

Keynote speaker will be September Hargrove, a former foster youth in United Way’s program who spoke at the Women United Luncheon 11 years ago and is now vice president and program officer for global philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase in Detroit. She is responsible for leading the firm’s $150 million commitment to Detroit across the firm’s priority areas: neighborhood revitalization, small business, financial capability and workforce development.

Hargrove grew up in foster care, separated from her five younger brothers, and graduated from Grant Union High School in Sacramento. She received her bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley and returned to Sacramento to volunteer in a leadership capacity with United Way, among other organizations. She then attended Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government where she received her master’s degree in public policy and urban planning. Prior to her work with JPMorgan Chase, Hargrove was a White House Fellow with the National Economic Council and a senior advisor at the U.S. Department of Commerce during the Obama administration, chief operating officer for the New Orleans Startup Fund and an economic development program manager for former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. She began her career as a California Senate Fellow and gubernatorial appointee under former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“September is an incredible example of how foster youth here in the Sacramento area have the potential to make a difference on a national scale for people in underserved communities,” Bray said.

For nearly 100 years, United Way California Capital Region has brought local people together to make community change happen. Today, the nonprofit is bringing people together across Amador, El Dorado, Sacramento, Placer and Yolo counties for its Square One Project, a 20-year promise to significantly increase the number of students in our region who graduate from high school ready for success in college and beyond. United Way believes ending poverty starts in school and is working to ensure kids meet important milestones and their families receive support and resources. To learn more and make a donation: YourLocalUnitedWay.org.

United Way Offers Free Tax Help Across Sacramento Region

Households throughout the Sacramento region are eligible for free help preparing their taxes and claiming credits this year, saving an average of $200 in preparer fees and often earning thousands of dollars in credits. United Way California Capital Region’s Free Tax Prep program, supported by Citi Community Development, kicked off in early February and continues across the region through April 15 at weekend community events and dozens of weekday sites throughout Amador, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic tax return preparation with electronic filing and help guests claim the maximum tax credits for which they are eligible. To receive help, households must have earned $60,000 or less in 2018. Services are available in several languages, and many locations require appointments. For locations and events: YourFreeTaxPrep.org. To make an appointment: call 2-1-1 or (800) 500-4931 (toll free).

“This is an important time of year for families in our community. They could be eligible to receive hundreds, even thousands, of dollars in refunds to help them become financially stable,” said Stephanie Bray, president and CEO, United Way California Capital Region. “We encourage every eligible household to check out our locations offering free help throughout tax season and see how much money you are eligible for through the many tax credits available.” 

Households that earned $66,000 or less in 2018 are eligible to file their taxes for free online at MyFreeTaxes.org through a partnership with United Ways of California. The site provides households with free tax help they can trust and guides users through federal and state filing, including tax credits, with software powered by H&R Block. Users need a valid email address, income forms and Adjusted Gross Income from 2018.

This year, more households are eligible to claim federal and state Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC and Cal EITC), Child Tax Credit, and Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled. Age qualification for Cal EITC has been expanded to include ages 18-24 and working adults ages 65 and up, giving more taxpayers the opportunity to earn up to $6,500 in credits, including those who are self-employed. Many Cal EITC-eligible households are not legally required to file taxes due to very low incomes; however if they do file, they can claim the state and federal credits for which they are eligible. Due to federal law, those who file for EITC, Cal EITC or Child Tax Credit should plan for their refund to be delayed until end of February, no matter who prepares their taxes. For more information about available tax credits, visit YourFreeTaxPrep.org.

Nearly 8,500 households in the Sacramento area took advantage of United Way’s Free Tax Prep services for the 2017 tax year, resulting in more than $10 million in money claimed through credits and refunds. With support from Citi Community Development, free tax help was significantly expanded across the region last year in Amador, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties, increasing the number of households helped by more than 2,500 and resulting in more than a $3 million increase in refunds for the region compared to last year.

“The Earned Income Tax Credit is a vital tool that provides families with a much-needed cash infusion, one that can help them pay down debts, cover expenses, and even get on the road to saving and planning for the future, ” said Mary Hogarty, vice president, Citi Community Development. “Through our support for United Way California Capital Region, we aim to expand access to tax credits like the EITC and free tax preparation for eligible people that help enable more working families to build resilient financial futures.”

Other sponsors of United Way’s 2019 Free Tax Prep program include the IRS, the State of California Department of Community Services and Development, and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

For nearly 100 years, United Way California Capital Region has brought local people together to make community change happen. Today, the nonprofit is bringing people together across Amador, El Dorado, Sacramento, Placer and Yolo counties for its Square One Project, a 20-year promise to significantly increase the number of students in our region who graduate from high school ready for success in college and beyond. United Way believes ending generational poverty starts in school and is working to ensure kids meet important milestones and their families receive support and resources. To learn more and make a donation: YourLocalUnitedWay.org.

United Way to Hold Beer and Trivia Night Fundraiser

Sacramento-area young professionals can show off their knowledge of early 2000s trivia while raising funds to help local kindergarteners save for college at United Way’s Young Leaders Society’s annual Brews & Brains trivia night on Feb. 8 from 5:30-8 p.m. at the Sacramento Masonic Temple, 1123 J Street. Guests, who must be age 21 or older, will enjoy beer, food and chances to win prizes. Guests who register as a team of six by Jan. 28 will receive the early bird rate of $135, which includes a Brews & Brains pint glass, and food and drink tickets for each team member. Individuals and couples can register for $25 each to be placed on a team and receive food and a drink ticket. To learn more: www.yourlocalunitedway.org/brewsandbrains2019.

“Whether you want to show off your useless knowledge, enjoy beer, help kids or all of the above, this is the event for you,” said Creston Whiting-Casey, chair of United Way’s Young Leaders Society. “The energy in the room is always a lot of fun as we tackle questions ranging from pop culture to politics – all to help kids in our region get excited early about going to college.”

Research shows that children with even modestly funded college savings accounts are three times more likely to attend college – and four times more likely to complete college – than those without a college savings account. Parents and guardians who attend two free financial education and empowerment courses earn a $200 college savings account for their kindergartener. Parents, relatives and friends may make additional contributions to help grow the student’s account. The program recognizes that early intervention and continued parental involvement dramatically increase the probability that children will achieve higher education.

“We want to create the expectation very early in every child’s life that higher education is both a desirable and achievable goal,” said Stephanie Bray, president and CEO, United Way California Capital Region. “It’s fantastic to see young professionals coming together to make sure all kids have the same access to education beyond high school.”

For nearly 100 years, United Way California Capital Region has brought local people together to make community change happen. Today, the nonprofit is bringing people together across Amador, El Dorado, Sacramento, Placer and Yolo counties for its Square One Project, a 20-year promise to significantly increase the number of students in our region who graduate from high school ready for success in college and beyond. United Way believes ending generational poverty starts in school and is working to ensure kids meet important milestones and their families receive support and resources. To learn more and make a donation: www.yourlocalunitedway.org.

Donate Gifts and Stockings for Foster Youth Through United Way

Many Sacramento-area children uprooted from their homes this holiday season and placed in foster care will enter the system too late to sign up for gift donations through Sacramento County Child Protective Services. To fill this need, United Way California Capital Region has expanded its Holiday Gift and Stocking Drive focus to include these children. Local residents can join United Way’s Women United and Young Leaders Society action groups in spreading holiday cheer to foster youth by purchasing gifts from United Way’s Amazon wishlist, donating $25 for a filled holiday stocking, or giving the Ultimate Gift Package – a $100 donation that provides a filled stocking and gift for foster youth, as well as a donation to United Way California Capital Region. To learn more about United Way’s Holiday Gift and Stocking Drive, visit www.yourlocalunitedway.org.

“Most nonprofits have to begin creating gift donation drives in the fall. That means many children uprooted from their homes through no fault of their own in the last couple months of the year will not receive a gift or stocking – that is unacceptable, so we’re filling that gap,” said Stephanie Bray, president and CEO, United Way California Capital Region. “All children in our community deserve to feel cared for during the holidays, no matter where they live.”

A donation of $25 purchases one holiday stocking filled with personal items, a gift card, gloves and a blanket. Holiday gifts purchased through United Way’s Amazon Wishlist must be new, unused, unwrapped and received by Dec. 10 at 4:30 p.m. at United Way’s office, 10389 Old Placerville Road, Sacramento.

For nearly 100 years, United Way California Capital Region has brought local people together to make community change happen. Today, the nonprofit is bringing people together across Amador, El Dorado, Sacramento, Placer and Yolo counties for its Square One Project, a 20-year promise to significantly increase the number of students in our region who graduate from high school ready for success in college and beyond. United Way believes ending generational poverty starts in school and is working to ensure kids meet important milestones and their families receive support and resources. To learn more and make a donation: www.yourlocalunitedway.org.

Thousand Volunteers Needed for United Way’s Day of Caring

One thousand local residents are needed to spend a day caring for the community Sept. 21-22 by signing up for more than a dozen volunteer projects happening at nonprofits and schools across the region during United Way’s annual Day of Caring, sponsored by Nationwide. As part of Day of Caring, United Way and Robla School District will host the Robla I Care Fair for families on Sept. 22 at Robla Community Park, 625 Bell Avenue in Sacramento. The event will include family activities and resources for United Way’s Square One Project that is working to increase the number of students who graduate from high school prepared for college or career. To sign up to volunteer for a Day of Caring project or become a sponsor: http://www.yourlocalunitedway.org/day-caring.

Since United Way California Capital Region held its inaugural Day of Caring in 2013, 3,692 volunteers have donated 18,054 hours of service for 182 projects benefiting nonprofits and schools across the region.

“This is the single largest volunteer day in our region,” said Stephanie Bray, president and CEO, United Way California Capital Region. “This is our opportunity to volunteer our time and energy as we dig our hands in to help the nonprofits and schools that do so much for our community every day.”

Day of Caring is part of United Way California Capital Region’s Square One Project, a 20-year promise to significantly increase the number of local students who graduate from high school ready for success in college and beyond. Through nine decades of work and research across Amador, El Dorado, Sacramento, Placer and Yolo counties, United Way believes ending poverty starts in school and is working to ensure kids meet important milestones for success in college or career. To donate or volunteer: www.yourlocalunitedway.org.