United Way of Greater Houston

We know that over their lifetimes, high school graduates earn 74 percent more than those who drop out. And, when a student graduates from college, that number goes up to 84 percent.

If our students don’t have a solid educational foundation and strong reading skills, how will they make it to graduation?

United Way of Greater Houston is committed to helping our kids succeed in school — and in life. Through innovative work to improve academic success, United Way is preparing students for education beyond high school, to compete in the workforce, and to lead our community into the future.

One of the many ways United Way is improving academic success is by putting books into the hands of children who may not have access to reading material.

In middle-income neighborhoods the ratio of age-appropriate books per child is 13 to 1 — that’s 13 books to every one child — while in low-income neighborhoods the ratio is one book for every 300 children.

If our students don’t have a solid educational foundation and strong reading skills, how will they make it to graduation?

In honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday and Read Across America Day on March 2, United Way encourages you to help make sure kids in our community have plenty of books to read. With just a few clicks, you can launch your own personal campaign to provide books for United Way’s summer reading clubs. Then, spread the word and ask your friends, family and colleagues to support your campaign by March 31.

Here’s what your support can do:

A gift of $20 can support a summer's worth of reading material for one student in a book club.

A gift of $50 can provide books, snacks and literacy activities for one student in the summer.

A gift of $250 can support a summer book club for 10 students.

Last summer, more than United Way 100 reading clubs engaged more than 900 Houston-area students in reading out of school. One of those book clubs found unique ways to get students excited about reading. The club developed games of charades to get familiar with the characters and storyline of the book they were reading.

Their final project was to create a rap that summarized the book, an idea the students came up with themselves. The students had fun creating the raps and the raps helped cement the students’ understanding of the book.

Summer reading clubs are just one of the ways United Way is making reading a priority among our kids. In elementary schools throughout our community, United Way Reading Together matches second graders with corporate and community volunteers to ensure that students are reading proficiently by the time they enter fourth grade, a key indicator of future success. And, United Way’s peer-to-peer tutoring program trains academically-borderline students to tutor students who are behind in reading, with both students building critical skills, confidence and a deeper connection to school.

This year, members of United Way's newest donor group, United Way LINC, built, painted and filled Tiny Libraries with children's books to help provide increased access to books. The whimsical structures, resembling giant birdhouses, each contain about 50 books and serve as lending libraries for children who may not otherwise have access to books. They are housed at various United Way agencies and United Way Reading Together partner schools around our community.

Books can inform, inspire and encourage children to imagine worlds beyond what they know. And, strong reading skills lead to success in school — and in life.

Set up your own campaign today to help provide books for United Way’s summer reading clubs and be the one to help kids in our community succeed.

Kiki, a 3rd grader at Bruce Elementary and an United Way of Greater Houston Reading Together alum, celebrates Dr. Seuss’s birthday by reading.

United Way Dr. reading
United Way of Greater Houston
Kiki, a 3rd grader at Bruce Elementary and an United Way of Greater Houston Reading Together alum, celebrates Dr. Seuss’s birthday by reading.
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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

New grocery store's Houston debut leads top stories

this week's hot headlines

Editor's note: It's time to recap the top stories on CultureMap from this past week

1. New Houston-area grocery stores offer shoppers bulk restaurant food and supplies without a membership. Four locations are open now with two more coming soon.

2. Booming Houston 'burb named best place to buy a home and raise a family in America. The city earned high marks for its job market, housing availability, and more.

3. Brad Paisley joins George Strait and Selena with induction into RodeoHouston's prestigious Star Trail of Fame. This honor makes Paisley the 10th star honored with a gold plaque to commemorate his years of outstanding entertainment at the Rodeo.

4. Brad Paisley steals hearts — and a fan's phone — in his Star Trail of Fame RodeoHouston show. The performer brought the warmth from his plaque unveiling onto the stage in front of a sold out matinee crowd.

5. Houston's best burgers smash the game with exotic add-ons, beefed-up buns, and more. Presenting the nominees for Best Burger in the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards.

Netflix series Waco: American Apocalypse debuts with newly unearthed footage

Documentary News

Netflix has a new series on the tragedy that took place in Waco three decades ago: Called Waco: American Apocalypse, it's a three-part series documenting the standoff between cult leader David Koresh and the federal government that ended in a fiery inferno, televised live, with 76 people dead.

The series debuts on March 22, to coincide with the 30-year anniversary of the event which took place from February 28 to April 19, 1993.

It's an oft-told tale and not the only new release to try and exploit the 30-year anniversary: Jeff Guinn, former books editor at the Fort Worth Star Telegram, just came out with a book in January, also described as definitive, called Waco: David Koresh, the Branch Davidians, and a Legacy of Rage.

Waco: American Apocalypse is directed by another Texan: Dallas native Tiller Russell (Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer), who obtained never-before-seen videotapes of FBI negotiations, as well as raw news footage and interviews with insiders.

Those insiders include one of David Koresh’s spiritual wives; the last child released from the compound alive; a sniper from the FBI Hostage Rescue Team; the FBI Crisis Negotiation Unit Chief; journalists; and members of the ATF tactical team who watched colleagues die in the shootout against the heavily armed members of the religious sect.

The FBI videotaped inside the hostage negation room, thinking they'd be there maybe 24 hours, not 51 days.

"These are video cassettes that were sitting in somebody’s closet for 30 years, that show the mechanics of hostage negotiations in an intimate setting - not the hostage negotiation scenarios you see in films, but a team of people grinding, day in and day out, for 51 days," Russell says.

He also procured footage from Waco TV station KWTX, who had a reporter embedded in the initial gunfight.

While the standoff was broadcast live on TV at the time, much of it was out of camera range. The film uses 3D graphics to recreate the details of the compound.

Russell acknowledges that the tale of the cult leader who was also a pedophile, the debate over the right to bear arms, the constitutional limits of religious freedom, dredge up painful conversations that continue today.

"It cast a long shadow, pre-saging the Timothy McVeigh bombing in Oklahoma, the shooting at Colombine, and a growing distrust of government, but I think it's important to reckon with our past so we don't repeat mistakes," he says.

"So much of what’s roiling in culture today can be traced to Waco, a story about God and guns in America with all these children at the center whose lives were determined by the adults around them," he says. "There was no playbook for what happened, everyone was out on a limb, and people made mistakes. But almost everybody was trying to do their very best."

"I think this is a story that's often recalled in politicized terms, with finger-pointing on who screwed up and how did we get here, but there's a profound humanity to it all," he says.

Watch the trailer below:

Texas Top Chef winner debuts new National Geographic series during SXSW

Top Chef

Texas is proud to claim chef Kristen Kish as its own, but the Top Chef winner has always had a global mindset. She first earned her chops in French and Italian cuisine at Boston's acclaimed Menton restaurant, infusing those influences into the menu at Arlo Grey with a pioneering curiosity and adventurous spirit. Now, she's bringing that explorer's mindset to a new National Geographic series that debuted Tuesday, March 21.

Available on Disney+, Restaurants at the End of the World is a docuseries in which Kish travels to off-the-beaten-path pockets of the planet. The four-part series follows Kish as she searches for the secret ingredients – people, places, culture, and traditions – within the world’s most remote restaurants in Boquete, Panama; Svalbard, Norway; North Haven Island, Maine; and Paraty, Brazil.

A lucky selection of South by Southwest (SXSW) attendees got a sneak peek of the series at a special dinner last week. The event took place inside Arlo Grey at the Line Hotel, where Kish mingled with guests and introduced clips from the upcoming series. A family-style dinner featured dishes inspired by different episodes of the series, from Maine-inspired Parker House rolls to Arctic char and strawberry semifreddo.

"This series is all about shared experiences and trading stories," Kish said, introducing the evening's menu. "So, when putting this menu together, I realized there are a lot of similarities. When I think back to all the places I went and new things I learned, there are so many familiar flavors to every bite that can bring you right back home into your own story."

The menu celebrated each location in the upcoming series, often in the same course: Parker House Rolls (with delicious whipped brown butter) were a nod to her New England episode ("Maine Island Barn Supper,"), paired with a scallop crudo commemoration of her time in Brazil ("Brazil’s Floating Feast,"). Meanwhile, the main course gave guests a glimpse of the great lengths Norwegian fishermen go to when harvesting Arctic char, accompanied by a clip of Kish's adventures with local purveyors in Svalbard, Norway.

The aim of both the dinner and the upcoming series is to showcase the tenacity it takes to run restaurants in such remote places. Each episode follows Kish behind the scenes with local purveyors, farmers, herders, kitchen crew, managers, and head chefs to hear their stories. She invites viewers along with her in the hunt for the best and freshest ingredients, unearthing the culture and heart behind global cuisine and showcasing the balancing act required to bring unique food to the table around the world.

“Food has an unparalleled power to bring us together and teach us about one another and the world around us, and we see that firsthand by going to restaurants in the world’s most remote areas,” says Chef Kish via release. “Filming this series with National Geographic was an adventure of a lifetime that taught me so much about an industry I’ve been steeped in my whole life. I can’t wait for viewers to come along on the journey with us and experience these dishes at restaurants most never even knew existed.”

The first episode of Restaurants around the World debuted on March 21.

Kristen Kish

Courtesy National Geographic

Top Chef winner Kristen Kish has a new National Geographic show that debuted on March 21.