A new tech tool is helping United Way of Greater Houston to connect nonprofits to those who need their services. Photo via Getty Images

A first-of-its-kind tech tool will help thousands of people in the Houston area get on their feet financially.

United Way of Greater Houston says the new Integrated Client Journey Technology Tool will eventually connect more than 100 nonprofits serving financially struggling households in the United Way’s four-county service area (Fort Bend, Harris, Montgomery, and Waller). Houston’s nonprofit Patient Care Intervention Center developed the cloud-based tool.

The tool is expected to launch in the fall of 2022.

A team of navigators will use the tool as they steer families and individuals toward financial stability. The tool will help navigators and clients identify and access services based on clients’ needs and goals. Among these services are workforce development, financial coaching, early childhood and youth development, and physical and behavioral healthcare.

According to United Way, 14 percent of Houston-area households live on incomes below the federal poverty line, and another 33 percent of working households don’t earn enough money to afford basic necessities.

“At United Way, we’re focused on connecting people with possibility,” Amanda McMillian, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Houston, says in a news release.

“When you’re working multiple jobs, caring for a family and living paycheck to paycheck, navigating the network of social service resources can be a daunting task,” she adds. “The goal of our technology tool is to dramatically improve access to these resources by making it easier for you to connect with the services you need, assisted by a skilled navigator who knows your goals.”

McMillian says United Way’s overarching vision for the tool is to connect all nonprofit service providers in the area in an effort to improve access for clients and enhance coordination among providers.

On a pro bono basis, Boston Consulting Group, which has an office in Houston, came up with the proof-of-concept version of the United Way tool.

Kettering, Ohio-based Reynolds and Reynolds, a developer of software for car dealerships, made the initial donation to help underwrite the tool. Reynolds and Reynolds has offices in Houston and College Station.

Help out your fellow Houstonian on this Day of Action on Friday, June 26. Getty Images

Houstonians can help their community amid COVID-19 on a virtual 'day of action'

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The renewed spread of COVID-19 and its adverse effects on individuals and communities has sparked a desire in many to give back. But just how to do so has been confounding in this era of social distancing.

To the rescue comes the United Way of Greater Houston, which is hosting a virtual "Day of Action" volunteer event to support those in need. Those who participate in the Friday, June 26, event can complete volunteer projects from the comfort of their home at little to no cost, according to a press release.

All participants will receive a project guide prior to the event with details for each project and can join a kickoff webinar on the morning of June 26.

Volunteer projects fall into the following categories:

Disaster response
Notes of encouragement for essential workers; hurricane preparedness kits; and care cards for seniors or families living in shelters.

Basic needs
Assembly of breakfast bags for homebound senior citizens or snack packs for students who rely on school resources for meals; activity kits to keep seniors engaged and busy while remaining isolated due to COVID-19.

Summer learning
Assembly of family game kits and summer activity kits to keep families and children beat boredom and stay mentally engaged during time off from school; donation of books and design of a printable bookmark for each donated book.

To view available projects and register, visit the Day of Action site.

When the projects are completed, participants are asked to deliver the finished item to a suggested nonprofit organization in their community by July 3.

"Now more than ever, families and individuals in our region need support as they face the unknown due to COVID-19," said Emily Faron, manager at United Way of Greater Houston, in a statement. "The Day of Action is a great way to not only give back to those in need, but understand what United way does year-round to support our community's most vulnerable."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

A new fund will pump more than $1 million into local organizations set to help those in need. Photo courtesy of Greater Houston Recovery Fund

New fund emerges to aid Houstonians in need amid coronavirus crisis

Good news

Two Houston nonprofits have joined forces for the betterment of struggling Houstonians during the coronavirus pandemic.

As the jobless rate in America soars to 3.28 million and some 800,000 Texans slam the Texas Workforce Commission's lines, United Way of Greater Houston and the Greater Houston Community Foundation have teamed up to establish the Greater Houston COVID-19 Recovery Fund to help those in critical need. All money raised will be used to help with immediate basic needs, according to a press release.

The Houston Endowment is making a lead gift of $1 million to the fund and pledged an additional challenge gift of $1 million, which will match $1 for every $4 dollars raised. Additional leading Houston organizations who have pledged gifts to the fund include: JP Morgan Chase - $100,000; Houston Texans Foundation - $100,000, and Wells Fargo Foundation - $150,000.

"Nearly half of the households in our Greater Houston area struggle daily to make ends meet and the sudden loss of work, wages and child care can be a devastating financial hardship," says Anna M. Babin, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Houston. "Our primary goal is to make sure the most vulnerable in our community affected by COVID-19 have access to food, health care, shelter and other basic necessities to sustain them in this crisis."

These monies will be funneled to services provided by trusted nonprofit partners who have proven experience and the systems in place to serve the community in times of disaster; citizens in need can then approach said agencies directly, according to a spokesperson for the United Way.

For more assistance, Houstonians can call 2-1-1, which provides the most updated information on assistance with utilities, housing or rental assistance, crisis counseling, access to senior services, and information on food pantries in the community.

The recovery fund has been endorsed by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. It is co-chaired by Jamey Rootes, board chair, United Way of Greater Houston and president of the Houston Texans; and by Tony Chase, board member, Greater Houston Community Foundation and chairman and CEO of ChaseSource, LP.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston-based creator economy platform goes live nationally

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An app that originally launched on Houston college campuses has announced it's now live nationwide.

Clutch founders Madison Long and Simone May set out to make it easier for the younger generation to earn money with their skill sets. After launching a beta at local universities last fall, Clutch's digital marketplace is now live for others to join in.

The platform connects brands to its network of creators for reliable and authentic work — everything from social media management, video creation, video editing, content creation, graphic design projects, and more. With weekly payments to creators and an inclusive platform for users on both sides of the equation, Clutch aims to make digital collaboration easier and more reliable for everyone.

“We’re thrilled to bring our product to market to make sustainable, authentic lifestyles available to everyone through the creator economy," says May, CTO and co-founder of Clutch. "We’re honored to be part of the thriving innovation community here in Houston and get to bring more on-your-own-terms work opportunities to all creators and businesses through our platform.”

In its beta, Clutch facilitated collaborations for over 200 student creators and 50 brands — such as DIGITS and nama. The company is founded with a mission of "democratizing access to information and technology and elevating the next generation for all people," according to a news release from Clutch. In the beta, 75 percent of the creators were people of color and around half of the businesses were owned by women and people of color.

“As a Clutch Creator, I set my own pricing, schedule and services when collaborating on projects for brands,” says Cathy Syfert, a creator through Clutch. “Clutch Creators embrace the benefits of being a brand ambassador as we create content about the products we love, but do it on behalf of the brands to help the brands grow authentically."

The newly launched product has the following features:

  • Creator profile, where users can share their services, pricing, and skills and review inquiries from brands.
  • Curated matching from the Clutch admin team.
  • Collab initiation, where users can accept or reject incoming collab requests with brands.
  • Collab management — communication, timing, review cycles — all within the platform.
  • In-app payments with a weekly amount selected by the creators themselves.
  • Seamless cancellation for both brands and creators.
Clutch raised $1.2 million in seed funding from Precursor Ventures, Capital Factory, HearstLab, and more. Clutch was originally founded as Campus Concierge in 2021 and has gone through the DivInc Houston program at the Ion.

Madison Long, left, and Simone May co-founded Clutch. Photo courtesy of Clutch

2 Houston suburbs roll onto top-15 spots on U-Haul’s list of growing cities

on the move

More movers hauled their belongings to Texas than any other state last year. And those headed to the Greater Houston area were mostly pointed toward Missouri City and Conroe, according to a new study.

In its recently released annual growth report, U-Haul ranks Missouri City and Conroe at No. 13 and No. 19, respectively among U.S. cities with the most inbound moves via U-Haul trucks in 2022. Richardson was the only other Texas cities to make the list coming in at No. 15.

Texas ranks No. 1 overall as the state with the most in-bound moves using U-Haul trucks. This is the second year in a row and the fifth year since 2016 that Texas has earned the distinction.

“The 2022 trends in migration followed very similar patterns to 2021 with Texas, Florida, the Carolinas and the Southwest continuing to see solid growth,” U-Haul international president John Taylor says in a news release. “We still have areas with strong demand for one-way rentals. While overall migration in 2021 was record-breaking, we continue to experience significant customer demand to move out of some geographic areas to destinations at the top of our growth list.”

U-Haul determines the top 25 cities by analyzing more than 2 million one-way U-Haul transactions over the calendar year. Then the company calculated the net gain of one-way U-Haul trucks entering a specific area versus departing from that area. The top U-Haul growth states are determined the same way.

The studies note that U-Haul migration trends do not directly correlate to population or economic growth — but they are an “effective gauge” of how well cities and states are attracting and maintaining residents.

Missouri City is known for its convenient location only minutes from downtown Houston. The city’s proximity to major freeways, rail lines, the Port of Houston, and Bush and Hobby Airports links its businesses with customers “around the nation and the world,” per its website.

The No. 19-ranked city of Conroe is “the perfect blend of starry nights and city lights,” according to the Visit Conroe website. Conroe offers plenty of outdoor activities, as it is bordered by Lake Conroe, Sam Houston National Forest and W. Goodrich Jones State Forest. But it also has a busy downtown area with breweries, theaters, shopping and live music.

To view U-Haul’s full growth cities report, click here.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston expert: Space tourism is the future — do we have the workforce to run it?

guest column

Throughout history, humans have always been fascinated in exploring and traveling around the world, taking them to many exotic places far and away. On the same token, ever since the dimension of space travel has been inaugurated with multiple private companies launching rockets into space, it has become an agenda to make space travel public and accessible to all. We believe that space travel is the next frontier for tourism just like for our forefathers world travel to faraway places was the next frontier, for recreational and adventure purposes.

In a world racing on technology, we can picture flying cars, invisible doors, and international cuisine in space. With this rapid expansion of the land, the idea of space tourism has stirred the space industry to think about running businesses, start trade, and set up universalization beyond the ring of the earth. It is no longer science fiction but our immediate future. However, the true question remains. Who will be responsible for all of it? Are we training the right workforce that is needed to build and run all of this?

Space tourism is an exciting idea in theory, traveling to extra-terrestrial destinations, exploring new planets, all by being in an anti-gravitational environment. Through these diminishing borders and rapid advancements soon we'll be living the space life, all the virtual, metaverse gigs coming to reality. But before that let's explore space tourism and how the solar system will welcome humans.

What is Space tourism?

Ever since 1967, Apollo opened the getaway of space travel and the technological intervention spun to rise. Just like nomad tourism, space tourism is human space travel for commercializing interstellar for leisure or pleasurable adventures of the unknown. Space has different levels of horizons, according to research, orbital space has high speeds of 17,400 mph to allow the rocket to orbit around the Earth without falling onto the land. While lunar space tourism goes into subcortical flights and brings people back at a slower speed.

Studies have shown that in the upcoming years, commercial space exploration will hike up the economical database, by generating more than expected revenue. On these grounds, space tourism won't be limited to suborbital flights but rather take onto orbital flights, this revolutionary expenditure will change the future.

Everything aligns when the right team works together endlessly to reach the stars. The space exploration will only take place with enthusiastic and empowered individuals catering towards their roles.

Astronomers, space scientists, meteorologists, plasma physicists, aerospace engineers, avionics technicians, technical writers, space producers, and more will work in the field to make this space dream come true.

The attraction of Space exploration

Curiosity is the gateway to the seven wonders of the world. Humans are born with novelty-seeking, the drive to explore the unknown and push boundaries. This exploration has benefited society in a million ways, from making bulbs to jets.

The attraction towards exploring the space stems from the same desire for novelty seeking. We want to answer the most difficult questions about the universe, is there only darkness beyond that sky? Can we live on another planet if ours die? To address the challenges of space and the world, we have created new technologies, industries, and a union worldwide. This shows how vital space exploration is to humans. Many astronauts dwell on the idea of seeing the iconic thin blue outline of our planet, the quintessential experience makes the astronaut go back and back. However, are we entering this dimension with the right skills? Is our future workforce ready to take need the best

Who will lead the path?

The main question that still goes unanswered is who will run space tourism. When it comes to the future, there are infinite options. One decision and you will fly into an endless sky.

This expenditure has opened multiple career opportunities for the future workforce to take on for diversification and exploration of space. Currently, we cannot predict how people will find meaning and improve their lives through space tourism, but it will be a soul-awakening experience. According to experts, travelers would prefer a livelihood in space for which companies are working day and night to figure out accommodation and properties. The ideas include having space hotels, offices, research labs, and tents for operations.

Lastly, space tourism is just a start, we are moving into a dimensional field of physics and astronomy to create new opportunities and ground-breaking inventions to explore the untouchable. The new era of more refined and thoroughly accessed careers are on the rise, let's see how the world evolves in the next 10 years.

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Ghazal Qureshi is the founder and CEO of UpBrainery, a Houston-based immersive educational technology platform that taps into neuroscience research-based programs to provide adaptive learning and individualized pathways for students at home or in the classroom.