Sierra Ridge Resident Soars into Higher Learning

June 15, 2021 | Posted in Uncategorized |

As we mark the return of in-person instruction at all Foundation Communities learning centers this week, we highlight a true FC education success story. Andrea Arias- Zarate was a regular participant in the After-School program at the Sierra Ridge Learning Center. On June 3rd, Andrea graduated from David Crockett High School, decorated with an array of honor cords! She graduated with high honors and was in the top 10% in her class. Andrea was also awarded the Texas State Merit Scholarship, University of North Texas Excellence Scholarship and the University of Texas at San Antonio Distinguished Presidential Scholarship. She will be attending UT Austin in the Fall majoring in journalism.

Growing up with her mother and sister, Giselle, Andrea had plenty of challenges. Her mother worked hard to provide for her daughters, and they found an affordable home at Sierra Ridge through our Children’s Home Initiative (CHI).

“ I am proud of my daughter , she works so hard and think it is important for other Hispanic families like us who may not have much like us but we also have many accomplishments. I am very proud.” said Andrea’s mother Mirtha Lugo.

The family was featured in the Austin American-Statesman’s Season for Caring campaign in 2018. You can view their story here.

Congratulations, Andrea on seeing all your hard work paying off!

Miguel Stoupignan – Austin Gives Generous Business Awards Honoree

May 26, 2021 | Posted in Uncategorized |

Foundation Communities has many awesome volunteers, but sometimes a volunteer goes so far above and beyond that they deserve special recognition. One such volunteer is Miguel Stoupignan. Miguel has been with us for eight years helping clients complete their taxes and learn how to manage their household finances better… in English and Spanish! And, his friendly demeanor helps clients feel comfortable from start to finish. That’s why we are so proud that Miguel Stoupignan has won the “Individual Volunteer of the Year” award by the Austin Chamber of Commerce’s Austin Gives Generous Business Awards. This honor “recognizes an outstanding individual who exemplifies how through their example, coaching and willingness to work with others, they are helping forge the next generation of volunteer leaders in our community and beyond.” Miguel will receive the award at the Austin Gives event July 22nd. Here’s what we wrote to the Chamber, when we nominated Miguel for this honor.

What volunteer activities does the nominee participate in on an ongoing basis?

Miguel Stoupignan is motivated by the opportunity to build transformative and positive relationships with others and leads with heart. He began volunteering with Foundation Communities (FC) in 2013 out of a desire to help others achieve their financial, professional, and personal goals, while also further developing his own skillset. He says he’s constantly learning as a volunteer! Given his commitment to relationship building, he gravitated towards two FC volunteer opportunities: volunteering as a Tax Preparer with FC’s free tax preparation program and serving as a Financial Coach for individual community members whose goals may range from setting up a budget to reducing debt to starting a small business for the first time. 

As a Tax Preparer, Miguel helps ensure that Austin-area households with low-to-moderate income can access free tax preparation services, avoid costly preparation fees, and maximize their refund. He has prepared more than 550 tax returns during his volunteer tenure, which means he’s saved the community more than $137,000 in tax preparation fees. Beyond the numbers, Miguel ensures each client feels empowered and understands their tax situation. He is especially interested in helping self-employed folks understand tax law nuances related to their unique situation. Additionally, nearly one-third of FC’s tax clients speak Spanish as their primary or preferred language, and Miguel’s ability to provide them with linguistic and culturally responsive service is invaluable.  

As a Financial Coach, Miguel provides 1:1 mentorship that meets the needs of individual clients. He is one of our most popular coaches and is especially committed to ensuring Spanish-speaking clients receive quality services. Additionally, when the pandemic necessitated switching from in-person to on-line coaching, Miguel remained committed and adaptable. He even took on extra appointments, as other financial coaches were unable or preferred not to switch to the virtual format. During his financial coaching tenure, he’s also led tax-related workshops for small-business owners and local musicians.  

As both a Tax Preparer and Financial Coach, Miguel shines in his ability to create a comfortable and nonjudgmental space for clients to talk about highly sensitive topics. He understands the emotional and psychological ties that accompany financial-related decisions and conversations.  

  1. In what ways has the nominee taken on volunteer leadership roles?

Miguel became a member of our Tax Volunteer Leadership Team in 2018. As a VLT he provides guidance, support, and encouragement to fellow volunteers at our tax-sites (especially less experienced volunteers) and stays up-to-date with the latest tax law and procedures. At our tax sites, he’s happy to jump in wherever the greatest need exists, conducting intake interviews, preparing returns, and/or translating. He’s also served as a Rover during our tax training sessions, assisting fellow volunteers in navigating the tax software and concepts during class.  

In addition to Financial Coaching, Foundation Communities invited Miguel to take on a leadership role by leading Money Management classes for clients: an interactive class series that offers an introduction to money management and covers the 101’s of debt, budgeting, and saving. 

  1. How does the nominee engage others in volunteer experiences?

Beyond volunteering, Miguel participates in outreach and fundraising efforts for Foundation Communities. He served as a Table Host for three of FC’s annual Welcome Home Luncheons from 2013-2016. This role involved inviting individuals from his network to fill a table at the event and reach a fundraising goal to contribute to the organization’s mission of ensuring everyone has an affordable and attractive place to call home.  

Additionally, he’s hosted an Open House, which is another way for current volunteers or donors to invite their friends, family, and community members to learn more about Foundation Communities’ work and how they can get involved, whether via volunteering, donating, corporate engagement, or word-of-mouth outreach.  

His outreach is also personal. His granddaughter will be part of the upcoming 2021 Financial Coaching training group. She shared in her volunteer interview how Miguel has helped educate her about the ins and outs of financial wellness, and she’s motivated to give back in the same way as he does to the community.  

  1. Does the nominee share their story and the story of the organizations they serve?

Miguel was instrumental in introducing Foundation Communities to a contact he had at the Consulate of Mexico in Austin. This connection ultimately led to a partnership between FC and the Consulate in offering and administering the MexAustin scholarship, a yearly $1,000 scholarship awarded directly to more than 60 Latinx high school seniors across Central Texas. 

Miguel is highly relational and exceptionally personable. He is a natural personal and professional connector. He organically shares his volunteer story and the work of Foundation Communities throughout his personal and professional interactions. He always mentions how much he loves FC, our work, and his volunteer work, and we’re appreciative of the depth of his dedication and commitment to creating equitable housing access and support services for both residents and community members to thrive. 

Internship Helps St. Edward’s Student Nourish her Love for Helping Others – Vivian Phillips

May 14, 2021 | Posted in Uncategorized |

I knew I wanted to gain more experience in the nonprofit sector and my internship at Foundation Communities helped me do just that. I was the volunteer engagement intern and I helped with the Holiday Assistance Program and Tax Help. My favorite project was the Holiday Assistance program since I got to help organize the family photos that would be sent in and read the stories of the residents. Given that we are still in a pandemic, it was nice to be able to interact with residents this way, virtually.  I also enjoyed making thank you calls to the donors to the Holiday Assistance Program to let them know that we appreciate them caring and supporting their neighbors!

Through this internship, I learned more about how I work as an individual and was able to develop better time management skills. I loved working with my team on different projects, DEI meetings, and weekly check-in meetings. After my internship at Foundation Communities, I plan to teach English in Spain for one year and then hopefully attend law school. – Vivian Phillips

St. Edward’s Student Discovers a Diversity of Experiences through FC Internship – Taylor McGee

May 13, 2021 | Posted in Uncategorized |

Throughout my internship with Foundation Communities on the Corporate & Volunteer Engagement Team (CVET), I had the opportunity to work on various components of DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), specifically, navigating DEI in a professional environment. Throughout these conversations I was able to assess my own relationship with DEI, as well as gain insight into others. I appreciate the CVET for creating a safe environment for me to process these topics. Additionally, as a major in Religious and Theological Studies, I was able to understand that the conversation of DEI is not just limited to race. It has so many parts – sexuality, religion, age, etc. Prior to the internship my understanding was so limited. It provided me the opportunity to understand the interconnectedness of it all. With this understanding, I’ve been able to apply it to my leadership positions at St. Edward’s, and I intend to apply it to my career in education and daily life as well.

During my time at FC I had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects. My favorite project at FC was a DEI presentation over code switching with my co-intern Vivian Phillips. It allowed me to apply skills that I had been working on throughout the year such as teamwork, presentation skills and navigating difficult conversations.

Specifically, with my position as volunteer engagement intern, I was able to understand the importance of community. FC has some of the most enthusiastic volunteers. Even with limited interaction, I noticed this from their constant attendance for programs and events and from families sharing about the impact volunteers have made on them. I can see that what they do means something. It has been a pleasure to have the opportunity to assist them in little ways through creating tools like Zoom guides, or creating spaces for them to interact like the St. Patrick’s Tax Social.

This internship taught me so much about myself. I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity, especially during the pandemic. I will definitely miss the CVET, and I can’t wait to see what comes from my experiences with FC! – Taylor McGee

Communications Intern Rewrites the Story of Her Future – Nina Martinez

May 12, 2021 | Posted in Uncategorized |

It’s been a hectic year, to say the least, switching from in-person classes to remote learning, and then all of a sudden, I found myself interviewing on Zoom for my first internship. Internships are meant to teach us, to learn from, and throughout this experience I’ve learned some hard lessons that helped shape my values and make me a better writer. Throughout these two semesters, I rekindled my love for storytelling. As a journalism major and news editor, I’m used to strict, point-blank reporting. As the Communications Intern at Foundation Communities (FC), I learned to tap into a different kind of a reporting, a humanizing form of reporting – storytelling.

There is one project that not only helped me advance my writing and interviewing skills, but also served as a learning opportunity. My supervisor for part of my time at FC, Amy Jacobs, walked me through creating the newsletter and sharing a story. It was with the utmost pleasure that I shared the story of resilient resident Deja. I learned there will always be trials and tribulations, even in a nonprofit. Despite those trials, I set a goal of telling the residents’ stories and painting them as the resilient, beautiful people they are. I learned how to respectfully ask sensitive questions and create a safe, welcoming environment for interviewees to share. Following this project, Amy and I also created a trauma-informed guide for communications in not only storytelling, but everyday occurrences.

Before this internship, I struggled with the idea of being a hard news reporter or editor, always surrounded by and reporting on the most pressing issues and never seeing the change. At FC, I learned I could still report, and report on the change that is made. I learned that nonprofit work isn’t only about bettering the community outside of you, but improving the one in the office as well. Some of my mentors at FC like Amy, Anne Chamberlain, Olivia Rodriguez, Megan Sappenfield, Meghan Hein and April Richard fostered an environment for me and other interns to speak up when we had an idea for change, and to address issues we noticed could be improved within FC. I found myself using my voice a lot to better the way we wrote stories at FC. Although a tough lesson and troubling journey, through much self-advocacy encouraged by my supervisors, many others and myself were able to change the way we tell people’s stories. Overall, I learned I want my writing and communications skills to be a part of something bigger, part of change.

I never imagined myself working in a nonprofit. Now, though, as a rising junior, I find myself applying to not only editorial internships but other communications internships at nonprofits. All thanks to my experience at FC, I am able to broaden my horizons and see where else I can take my work. I’m looking forward to my fall semester as I take on a new role on campus as Editor-in-Chief at our student newspaper, Hilltop Views. Until that time arrives, I’ll be working at a small local restaurant in my hometown saving up for my future and preparing to be an aunt! – Nina Martinez

A Firsthand Account of a Valuable Internship – Marc Esquivel

May 11, 2021 | Posted in Uncategorized |

My time at Foundation Communities has been life changing for me, at the very least. I was an accounting intern and learned all sorts of information that will help me in my career. I was in charge of the general ledgers of several of the FC properties, and I took on a project with the replacement reserves accounts. I learned the most from this as it was the first time I had dealt with a project of that magnitude. It also made me feel very good knowing I was helping the organization get some funds back from their purchases.

Looking back at my internship, I learned how to operate Excel better, as well as NetSuite, which are valuable skills in the accounting field. I also got a glimpse of how an organization runs and all the little pieces it has to make sure are running smoothly. For my next step, I plan to accept a tax internship from RSM in Houston and finally starting my career as a tax professional. This opportunity would have not been possible if I hadn’t had this internship. This internship allowed me to put my foot through the door, and have a feel for what it’s like to be in the accounting profession.

I recommend this internship to my fellow accounting students because this opportunity will give you the skills you need if you wish to pursue a career in accounting. You will also meet some great people and learn from their many years of experience. – Marc Esquivel

Grant Writing Intern Receives a Wealth of Knowledge about Storytelling – Sammy Jo Cienfuegos

May 10, 2021 | Posted in Housing, Education |

I was introduced to Foundation Communities through the SERVE Austin program at St. Edward’s University at the beginning of last year. I served as a volunteer for the afterschool program at Sierra Vista. I’ve always loved working with kids, but Foundation Communities just did things differently. Their programming touched on all aspects of the children’s wellbeing. They were allowed time for physical activity, received plenty of academic support, and were simply given a safe space to share anything their hearts desired. Every child was genuinely cared for and was clearly happy to be there.

Unfortunately, my time as a volunteer was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The good news is, my time with Foundation Communities wasn’t done yet. One of my former professors, Beth Eakman, connected me with Julie Candoli, Director of Institutional Giving at FC, and Anne Chamberlain, their Senior Grant Writer. After a few media hurdles, I applied and received the position as the Grant Writing Intern.

During my year with FC, I learned about various programs across the organization and wrote several one-pagers for the grants team to refer back to when composing their proposals. I also got the opportunity to work on three separate grant proposals for FC’s education programming. I enjoyed working on every assignment I was given and was able to not only learn more about Foundation Communities, but also about how nonprofits work.

My favorite thing about working with FC this past year was learning about ethical storytelling. As a student journalist, I had baseline knowledge about ethical reporting and knowing how to serve your specific audience, but my supervisor, Anne Chamberlain, showed me that there was much more to it. Ethical storytelling is about listening to the voice of the people the organization is serving and inviting collaboration. It’s also about understanding the importance of transparency, and of sharing diverse perspectives. Ethical storytelling is an invaluable skill that I will carry with me in all of my future endeavors, whether it be writing a play or reporting on local news.

Before my internship at FC, I never fully considered grant writing as a career choice. After this past year, I don’t think I want to stray too far from the grant writing world after falling in love with it.

I plan to continue working with nonprofits and now have the skills necessary to help amazing organizations continue their important work.- Sammy Jo Cienfuegos

Internship Reflections – St. Edward’s University Students Write about their Experiences with Foundation Communities

May 7, 2021 | Posted in Uncategorized |

Foundation Communities has enjoyed the opportunity to work with interns from St. Edward’s University for many years. In the 2020-2021 academic year, we were excited to pilot a partnership in which we hosted a cohort of paid interns across several departments, including Accounting, Communications, Institutional Giving, and Corporate & Volunteer Engagement. As a result of the ongoing pandemic, interns worked with us remotely, using tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom to connect with their colleagues and each other. Each month, interns took part in a professional development activity as a cohort, so they could learn about the nonprofit sector beyond their role and network with professionals outside their department.

We’re very proud of all the students who served with us this year. Please scroll down to read their reflections on their internships and what goals lie ahead for them.

Free Minds Alumna Delivers NeighborGood Kindness During the Winter Storm

April 21, 2021 | Posted in Volunteer, Uncategorized |

Shilda Fresch Calvin

Foundation Communities would like to highlight Shilda Fresch Calvin because of her incredible community service during Winter Storm Uri. Shilda is an alumna of Free Minds, Class of 2018. She is currently a student at Austin Community College majoring in Education and participating in the College Hub’s Succeed program. At a time when Central Texas was struggling immensely with the power outages and lack of access to water, Shilda and her husband immediately went out and braved the brutal conditions to purchase bottled water, food and other necessities.  They drove door-to-door taking these resources to our neighbors in need.

“We put out a post online and folks put in their requests. (We) went around to individuals, folks who were impacted by the storm, and delivered them water and food and even baby meals — even things like Pampers and milk,” Shilda said.

Additionally, during the storm, Shilda put out a list of daily resources for the Central Texas community on social media. She took information shared through her program at Dress for Success and made it public on a shareable doc to forward the resources widely throughout the community to those impacted.

The news of her community service spread all the way to Chicago, Illinois, the home of the faith-based community Everlasting Love Ministries, prompting them to donate funds directly to Shilda. With this additional support, she was able to make 100 care packages, distributing them to unhoused individuals recovering from the storm over the course of the following weeks.

Thank you, Shilda Fresch Calvin for your incredible service to our Central Texas community!

It’s Saving Season!

January 27, 2021 | Posted in Financial Stability, Uncategorized |

By Dinorah Lopez, Financial Wellness Program Coordinator

W-2’s, 1099’s, 1095’s arriving to your mail/email? It’s time for tax season! Be sure to check out the Prosper Center Tax Help (ProsperTaxHelp.org) on how they can assist you in transmitting your tax return.

There are many components to tax time but this is the perfect time to start saving! If you are planning on receiving a refund here are some options for you:

  • Pay down your debt. This could be the perfect opportunity to pay down your credit card or a loan that you have. Starting small could help reduce the debt you have and overall pay it all off!
  • Work on financial goals. You can continue to work on existing goals you have for yourself or something you developed for your money resolution for 2021 (check out January’s blog post, if you haven’t done so!). Our Financial Coaches are here to discuss your goals and be your accountability partner.
  • Save your refund. With your goals, you can save your refund for a rainy day or start a savings account for a specific goal you have. For example, saving for your child’s education or for a large purchase.

Quick tip! For tax time, if you save $50 into a qualified savings method you can enter a chance to win a prize with SaveYourRefund.org. By splitting your refund with a checking and savings bank account or purchasing a savings bond you can be entered into a weekly drawing.

Our Financial Coaches are extremely knowledgeable and can start having these savings conversations with you. Any individual with an annual income of $50,000 or less or a family of 2-4 with an annual income of $75,000 or less is eligible for Financial Coaching.

Schedule your phone or Zoom appointment with a Financial Coach by calling 737-717-4000 or by visiting our web site at www.foundcom.org/financial-wellness.