The Aunt Bertha Blog

A Year to Remember

2012 was a crazy year. A good year. A great year.

Yesterday, our team had a little holiday party. We did some race-car driving. There was an incident. It involved a fast car, a pole, and a grin on Carly's face. I'm okay, but I can't look to my left just yet.


That's our Austin team. We couldn't be more excited to have recently added +Stu Scruggs to manage all data issues. He's our CIO in the truest sense (although we don't like titles). He brings a wealth of data analysis experience, non-profit experience, jokes (most of them good), but more importantly experience solving what +Unreasonable At Sea founder +Daniel Epstein refers to as BFP's (Big F*%'n Problems).

That's what we're trying to do here, solve BFP's. And I think, with +Carly Levy+Shea Sulkin and +Stu Scruggs's hard work we're going to make a big dent in making human service information accessible to people in need in 2013.

While at lunch, I was asked what our biggest accomplishments were this year. That's a hard question, primarily because I don't remember this year. It seemed each week flew by faster and faster. Here are a few highlights, though:

Aunt Bertha's Program Search was launched in every zip code in Texas.
If you're ever in need in Texas, you can find out, in a few seconds where the closest food pantry is, whether or not it's open, and even if your kids qualify for the Children's Health Insurance program.

We launched the Open Eligibility Project.
We learned a lot this year about how we organize human service programs. There's many complicated relationships between program types, provider names, coverage areas, office locations and eligibility rules. We get that. And we're going to share it.

The Open Eligibility Project is an open framework for classifying human service programs, organizing data models and eligibility rules. We want you to be involved because we think it's a pretty big deal and an important first step to organizing the world's human service information. +Carly Levy worked her butt off on this project and continues to do an amazing job with it. Come join the Open Eligibility Project on Google+.

We stood on the shoulders of giants.
Aunt Bertha was accepted (and still offices at) the Austin Technology Incubator in January. We're proud to be a part of what has become an Austin establishment. It's a collective between the City of Austin, the State of Texas and the University of Texas.

Aunt Bertha was also selected to be one of seven startups as part of  Code for America's Accelerator Program. We won a $25,000 grant and we spent time with people like +Tim O'Reilly , +Jennifer Pahlka , +Ron Bouganim and other brilliant minds. We came away with some great ideas, some great contacts but most importantly a clear picture of what we needed to focus on. We know what parade we want to get in front of, thanks +Tim O'Reilly. Most importantly, it's about execution now, thanks +Ron Bouganim.

And finally, I had the true honor of going to this year's Unreasonable Institute where I spent six weeks in Boulder, CO with some amazing people like Sheikh TurayJamila AbassRobyn Scott and Shalabh Aruja. Imagine living in house with 21 of the most inspiring people you'll ever meet. We worked incredibly hard. I know we're going to be friends for life and I can't wait to see what the Unreasonable Class of 2012 goes and does. It was pretty much one of the best experiences of my life so far. And I hope that someday I can go back and be a mentor. A big congratulations to +Daniel Epstein , +Cesar Gonzalez , +Teju Ravilochan and +Tyler Hartung. What they have been able to accomplish in just three short years is something short of a miracle. Books will be written about these four, I promise you.

Here's my final pitch at the Unreasonable Climax:

 
Unreasonable Climax 2012: Erine Gray - Aunt Bertha from Unreasonable Institute on Vimeo.

We launched a new product: Application Processing.
We launched Application Processing: a simple way to accept applications online. People looking for help shouldn't have to worry about chasing down a fax machine in order to get help. That's why some great organizations are now giving people a modern way of applying online through our platform+Shea Sulkin and +Carly Levy did an amazing job designing such a beautiful user experience.


What's next?
We know that we've only made a tiny dent. We believe we can do more. It's what motivates us when our eyes are so tired we can't see straight, but we persist anyway even though it's 3AM.

A great boss I once had said:
"The more people that own something, the harder it is to kill." 
That's why we're so excited about efforts like Markets for Good. We need serious conversations that include disrupters, established players and most importantly, the people we're trying to help. We're tackling a big problem, but it starts with a few people ready to rustle things up.

Here's one of my favorites:
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. "
by Margaret Mead
Would you like to be part of this small group of thoughtful, committed citizens? Join our Google+ Community today: Aunt Bertha's Entourage. We need you to be involved. We need your ideas. We need your passion.

I'm optimistic.

Let's have an amazing 2013, everyone.

Mental Health and Sandy Hook

There are a lot of people in the world today, over 7 billion, in case you missed the National Geographic special.  And rarely, are our jaws dropped in unison over anything.  After an event like that at Sandy Hook, we desperately look to each other for some kind of explanation.  Who can we blame to resolve this mess and be done with it?  How can we guarantee something like this will never happen again.

My Kung Fu teacher always says, when you're knocked down and in a bad position, don't expect to get out in one move.   Chances are, it took more than a couple wrong moves to get there in the first place and chances are it'll take more than a couple moves to get back out.

Perhaps the only thing we can do is start changing the way we think about and interact with mental health services as we move forward through this tragedy. 
  
At Aunt Bertha, we help connect people in need with appropriate programs in their community. Programs like Youth and Adult Counseling administered by LifeWorks that provides free counseling to help individuals and families deal with mental health issues like depression and anxiety.  And the CARE Program by Any Baby Can that helps families with children who have physical, developmental or behavioral special health care needs learn coping skills, receive emotional support and get connected with the right services to meet their needs.

Mental health matters.  And while we can't say for sure that more awareness and access to mental health services would help prevent something like Sandy Hook from happening again there's  probably not a better place to start. 

We're ready to see what happens when people can find mental health and other critical community services in seconds. Finding help is the first step.   

Do you know of a great mental health service?

Do something about it now.

Tell us about a program in your community.
Topics: Mental Health helping people find services Sandy Hook

Spotlight: Skillpoint Alliance (Part 2)

At Aunt Bertha our mission is to make human service information accessible to people and programs. Along the way we learn about people doing awesome things. The first organization we are featuring as part of this series is Austin's Skillpoint Alliance.

About the Author:
Rachel Nitschke has served as the Communications Coordinator for Skillpoint Alliance since July 2012. She graduated in May with a degree in Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin with the hope of pursuing a career in fundraising and communications for an organization that makes a true impact in the community. She is so happy to have found that in Austin at Skillpoint Alliance. Her heroes are her siblings-- Ryan, Tommy and Molly-- whose support and friendship make every day worthwhile.

The Gateway Program
For 18 years, Skillpoint Alliance’s Gateway program has successfully provided employment skills training for Central Texans with 84% of Gateway graduates obtaining employment. At an average cost of $2,900 per participant, our results are unmatched in training and cost effectiveness. Gateway is designed as a rapid training, four- to -ten week program intended for participants to earn an industry-recognized certification and gain an entry-level, sustainable occupation. Through a traditional matriculation program these trainings would normally take 9 months to a year and a  half to complete and instead are completed in 4-10 weeks. The program is treated as a full time job, Monday through Friday 8am to 5pm to mirror the work environment and prepare trainees for success on the job. In addition to the intense nature of the program and industry-recognized certifications each Gateway program includes in-depth employment readiness, hands-on practice, job specific skills training, and a powerful graduation experience. 

By listening to industry partners Gateway trainings are identified and modified to meet the need and demand of today’s businesses. Currently, Skillpoint’s Gateway Programs offer 8 disciplines: Construction, Electrical, Plumbing, HV/AC, Certified Nurse Aide, Certified Medication Aide, Office Administration, and the Juvenile Culinary program. As industries evolve and economic needs change, Gateway modifies, deletes, or adds new trainings. 

The Gateway program is not for every client - it is a rigorous program that is aimed at preparing individuals for employment. That said, in 2012, of the 90% of trainees that graduated from the Gateway program, 84% of them found relevant employment within 30-45 days. The Gateway program works! Gateway is able to serve up to 250-300 individuals with current funding, so space is limited. In fact, Gateway is only able to accept approximately 19% of all applicants. To get your client involved and employed, you'll first need to direct them to complete an application which can be found at any of the Workforce Solutions offices in Austin, Round Rock, Bastrop and San Marcos or on our website. Once the applications are received, each applicant is invited to an assessment and depending on their results an interview. All the while their commitment, communication, and prioritization skills are all being evaluated. When a candidate is accepted into the program they will then attend an enrollment meeting and then the training begins. Case managers are highly encouraged to be involved in the process and definitely welcome to the graduation ceremony. For more information, check out this video of trainees discussing their experience in the Gateway program: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtNMMupizvs.

Spotlight: Skillpoint Alliance

At Aunt Bertha our mission is to make human service information accessible to people and programs. Along the way we learn about people doing awesome things. The first organization we are featuring as part of this series is Austin's Skillpoint Alliance.

About the Author:
Rachel Nitschke has served as the Communications Coordinator for Skillpoint Alliance since July 2012. She graduated in May with a degree in Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin with the hope of pursuing a career in fundraising and communications for an organization that makes a true impact in the community. She is so happy to have found that in Austin at Skillpoint Alliance. Her heroes are her siblings-- Ryan, Tommy and Molly-- whose support and friendship make every day worthwhile.

The Empower Computer Literacy Program

Empower. That’s the name of our program because that’s what we try to do with every client. Whether it is empowering them with how to write a resume that stands out from the pack during Professional Development Week or mastering the art of the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, we provide our clients with the knowledge and skills they need for today’s job market. Classes cover everything a citizen needs to know to become computer literate: email, internet, document creation, Microsoft Office products and so much more. If you find yourself uncomfortable or unsure around computers and technology, you’re not alone. Since 1999, we have helped more than 5,300 Central Texans join the ranks of digitally fluent and computer literate. In 2013, thanks to our partnership with the Housing Authority of the City of Austin, we will be holding classes at the Georgian Manor Housing Community, as well as Travis High School, and our downtown location. The mobile learning center will spend some time in North Austin near Dobie middle school for the first quarter of the new year. To enroll in class, please call us at 512-323-6773, or email us at empower@skillpointalliance.org, and we will sign you up for the next available orientation.

What Holiday Gift Giving Do You Know About? Spotlight: Skillpoint Alliance

Aunt Bertha loves to see people help others and there’s no better time of year to witness so much giving than christmas!

Okay, it’s not just Christmas.  Kwanzaa, Hanukah, the Winter Solstice; there’s just something in the air that gets people excited about giving.  And while donating cash is cool, at AuntBertha.com we think there is something beautiful about giving physical gifts. 

Here in Austin, programs like Coats for Kids give winter coats to children and teens in need every year. Austin Sustainable Swap, a monthly gathering for folks to exchange home-grown produce, home-made crafts and more has a special Sustainable Swap and Toy Drive that collects toys for kiddos at SafePlace and Austin Children’s Shelter.  Programs like these make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Do you know of any programs, big or small, that will give someone in need food, clothing, toys, gifts or free meals during this 2012 Holiday Season?  Tell us about it!

Topics: gift giving tell us about it holiday season