May 24, 2023

Opening doors for children

In 1961, Ellen Smith opened the Little Dudes daycare with the intention of filling a gap in childcare options for South Austin. Her goal was to provide a foundation for life-long learning. More than 60 years later, under the leadership of Ellen’s daughter, Patricia, that goal remains at the heart of what is now the Sweet Briar Child Development Center.

Sweet Briar Sweet Briar is a four-star Texas Rising Star child care center that offers a holistic curriculum catering to the social, emotional and developmental needs of the children they serve. They are accredited by the state and city and have been recognized as a Pre-K campus of the Austin Independent School District (AISD). The organization is committed to providing their services to families across South Austin, including those that may struggle with finances. Sweet Briar understands that not all parents can stay home with their children, but with the rising costs of child care, it is becoming increasingly difficult for families to afford adequate solutions.

To help change this, Sweet Briar has tiers of payment plans, and specific plans catered to the needs of each individual family. They also have options for families with children that qualify for their special education program. Their ability to accommodate families of all income levels can be attributed in part to their long and active partnership with the United Way for Greater Austin.

United Way for Greater Austin

United Way’s mission is to bring people, ideas, and resources together to fight poverty in our community. They do so by investing in the “building blocks of opportunity” – education, health and financial stability – that everyone in the community needs to thrive.


According to United Way, two in five children under six in Travis County live in households that are considered low income. And three in five children from families with low income are not school-ready when they enter kindergarten. These are just some of the statistics that United Way is working to change. They’ve invested more than $4.8 million directly into the community since its inception, helping more than 50,000 children and individuals through more than 250,000 requests for help.

United Way is proud to be active in local partnerships, and their involvement in Sweet Briar is no exception. In their ongoing commitment to serve everyone in Greater Austin, United Way has helped Sweet Briar with finding teachers that are certified in specialized care, such as speech therapy or special needs education.

“Accessible, affordable, high-quality child care is essential for families to thrive,” said Ashley Haustein, chief marketing officer for United Way. “Families need a place like Sweet Briar that they can rely on so they can participate in the workforce – and the children who are enrolled at Sweet Briar are the future workforce of Austin.”

Sweet Briar utilizes their teaching staff to oversee children grouped up by age and/or developmental stage. Each teacher leads a classroom of 10 to 15 students, and their genuine affection for each and every child is palpable. Not only are the teachers caring and excellent with the children, they are highly educated and impressively qualified.

Sweet Briar child care

Center Director Maria Marquez’s family has multi-generational involvement in Sweet Briar. She was enrolled as a child, and her daughter now attends the center. She also went through Sweet Briar’s teacher track program and received her child care development certification at no cost.

“I love working with kids,” she said when asked what she loves about working at Sweet Briar. “I come from a large family – I’m one of seven and the only girl. Seeing these kids starting from when they are twelve months and watching them grow is just amazing.”

Support from Texas Mutual

Texas Mutual is a long-time supporter of United Way and shares in its mission of improving the lives of people across the state. Through sponsoring fundraising events, launching an annual employee giving campaign and supporting education institutions like Sweet Briar, they are able to help build a stronger, brighter future for our communities They encourage their employees to volunteer for United Way and to donate in support of United Way’s agency partners. Texas Mutual has also invested in United Way’s Pre-K Partnerships program, which expands access to high-quality pre-K. This support allowed the United Way to leverage a match of state funding through a Child Care Industry Partnership (CCIP).

The CCIP is a Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) program that fosters collaboration between local workforce development boards like Texas Mutual and local partners like United Way for Greater Austin by supporting public-private investments in projects that improve the quality of child care and early learning.

Sweet Briar class

Through this program, TWC matches Texas Mutual’s contributions and Texas Mutual is in turn able to provide the funding needed for United Way to support its child care initiatives. All of this support underlines the commitment that both Texas Mutual and United Way have to early childhood development, and Sweet Briar strengthens both organizations’ ties to the community.

United Way and Sweet Briar have developed a relationship that has benefitted children and families throughout the Austin area. Texas Mutual is incredibly proud to count both these organizations as active local partners, and to continue supporting their incredible work in the community for years to come.

Explore programs from United Way for Greater Austin and learn more about Texas Mutual’s 2023 community funding.

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