On April 8, Ruthless Good: The Great Austin Scavenger Hunt will dispatch dozens of teams from the Long Center to crack clues, solve trivia challenges, and discover photo-worthy landmarks and locales. But the rolicking hunt’s true aim is problem solving on a much grander scale–bolstering equitable community-wide access to health, education and work.
I’m serving as honorary chair for the hunt, because I love the way this event shows that every Austinite can be a philanthropist and that giving is fun. Each one of us can leave the comfort of our homes, join a team, cultivate curiosity about our community, and give time or money (however limited) to support the causes we care about. And when we do it together we can have a huge collective impact.
Those who join the hunt will raise awareness and funds for the United Way for Greater Austin, a powerful force for good. Each year, thousands of community members contribute to United Way through workplace campaigns and special events like Ruthless Good. United Way then pools those resources to make transformative investments in vital community programs.
When you show up on April 8th or encourage others to do so, you help important initiatives that United Way funds, such as Success By 6, which launches Austin’s youngest citizens into bright futures. The early years are crucial for preparing children for school and life beyond, yet in Austin high-quality childcare often runs $10,000 or more per year, pricing out those who need it most. Success By 6 fills the gap by providing a system of support for our most vulnerable children, including childcare services and parent education classes. Importantly, it supports families with rigorously designed and measurably effective programs to ensure that they get the life-changing results they came for.
Still, fewer than a quarter of children who need early education interventions receive them, because service hasn’t kept pace with the incredibly rapid growth of low income families with young children in our region. Success By 6 Director, Sue Carpenter, says almost every program they work with has a long waiting list, demonstrating the need. “It’s really about building the infrastructure so that we can help all of our partner agencies grow and help all of the families,” she says. “That’s the challenge that keeps me up at night.”
There is no stronger return on investment than if you invest in young children, she observes. If children enter school with strong pre-literacy skills, they are less likely to need expensive interventions and they are more likely to have positive experiences that lead to better educational outcomes. This, in turn, leads to other cascading benefits, from better mental and physical health to employment success.
“If you can start young, so that we start to close that opportunity gap prior to school entry, you just get the benefits of years and years on investment,” Carpenter says. “There is that economic argument, but I also think it’s just important for our community to say: We value children and we value families. How do we make sure young children are growing up in our community with hope, with happiness, and with health? For me, there is almost a moral imperative that we wrap around kids because they have value.”
I couldn’t agree more. By leading initiatives like Success By 6, giving grants and publicizing critical services, the organization makes a difference for every Austinite, everyday.
Now imagine what it could do with a little help from us. Join me in Ruthless Good, a scavenger hunt with social justice and equity in its sights.
Maya Payne Smart is a book lover, literacy advocate and the honorary chair for Ruthless Good: The Great Austin Scavenger Hunt.