Archive for: December 2014

BYOB: Brew Your Own Beer

Food Is Free Project Leaves Austin

John V. Edwards and roommate Jeff Armstrong sort the furniture before they move to Arkansas. The Kickstarter campaign raised $45,000 but fell short of their goal of $250,000. (Credit: Lingnan Ellen Chen)

By Joe McMahon, Andrew Masi, Jared Wynne, Ellen Chen

Austin’s continued growth may have driven from the city one if its most unique tenants.

The Food is Free Project is a nonprofit organization that began operating close to three years ago. Started with a single frontyard garden, the project soon spread through the surrounding neighborhood and turned into a communal happening.

“Food unites us.”
That’s the message that was given by John VanDeusen Edwards in a recent promotional video. It was assembled in the hopes of attracting community support and donations to Food is Free. Those funds were made necessary when the owner of the land Food is Free’s headquarters had to that point been based at decided that he was going to sell to a new buyer.

The location at 5608 Joe Sayers Ave. is yet another to fall victim to the growing influx of new Austin residents. Over the past 25 years, the inner city’s population has nearly doubled, with much of the metropolitan expansion turning inward as old properties are converted into new, more efficient uses of the land.

When he discovered that Food is Free would soon feel the effects of the city’s changing landscape, Edwards was concerned.

“It was disheartening, honestly, looking around at our farm, what we’ve put so much work into,” Edwards said.

The landowner, who declined comment, had made up his mind. Edwards and his compatriots at Food is Free would need to find a new home. To do that, Edwards reached out for monetary contributions.

The organization established an online funding campaign using Indiegogo, a crowdfunding website. The stated goal was to raise at least $250,000 towards the establishment of a new and permanent headquarters for the project, a place where the group’s efforts could be furthered and those new to communal gardening could be trained in the practice.

The campaign was not as successful as Edwards had hoped.

“Our campaign was raising more money than we’d ever had, but we’d asked for $250,000 to buy a new permanent home and we were at 20 or 30 thousand,” Edwards said.

But as concerns were growing at Food is Free, a new benefactor stepped into the picture.

A landowner offered to provide Food is Free with a new space for the headquarters. The individual, whose identity has not been revealed, had been looking for a group to develop the land into a space that could be developed and used for teaching about environmentally friendly practices such as gardening.

The only catch was the location: Fayetteville, Arkansas, far removed from the city of Austin where the project had originated. But that wasn’t going to stop Edwards and his team.

“It almost seemed destined. It was really amazing,” Edwards said.

And while it would mean leaving Austin, Food is Free has already expanded beyond the city’s boundaries. Close to 200 cities have established gardens through the project’s outreach. Those cities cover 26 countries, including Egypt, New Zealand, Thailand and Tunisia.

“That (the project) has already gone around the world and back again proves that it’s an idea that resonates with so many,” Edwards said.

Map of Food Is Free locations in the United States – By Joe McMahon

Note: Markers are not exact locations of farms. 

Food is Free has been able to expand in such a way largely on the strength of the universality of its message.

“So many people today are living paycheck to paycheck, working jobs that they hate, and they feel trapped,” Edwards said. “If food, water and shelter are met then all of a sudden so many of our problems go away.”

It’s a message that has attracted support not only from communities like the one that sprung up around Food is Free in Austin, but also from those with a strong platform for spreading it.

Comedian Reggie Watts offered his support to the project, calling communal gardens “an essential part of a growing and aspiring community.”

That the city of Austin no longer has room for such a thing might speak to where it is headed in the wake of so much growth.

Ranked by Forbes as the fastest-growing city of the year, Austin boasts a low unemployment rate of less than 5%, a rate lower than the percentage by which the local economy grew last year. With tech giants such as Apple and Dell in the area, and new entrants such as Dropbox continuing to arrive, these numbers shouldn’t come as a surprise.

But they do hide the fact that smaller organizations like Food is Free, which have in large part helped to establish Austin’s modern identity, are feeling the pressure.

Brown Anole Lizards Migrate to Texas

By: Alice Kozdemba, Elizabeth Williams and Maria Roque

A brown anole lizard suns itself in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, one of the areas in which this lizard, native to Cuba,  is now present.

A brown anole lizard suns itself in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, one of the areas in which this lizard, native to Cuba, is now present. (Photo by Maria Roque)


The Carolina Anole, referred to as the green anole lizard, has an unexpected guest in town, and it might be here to stay. 


The Cuban brown anole, which first started invading South Florida in the 1950s, has made its way to Texas. Though similar in appearance, green and brown anoles are two separate species, and according ecologists, when large populations of both cohabitate in the same area, they compete for food and habitat. Today, the brown anoles are a firmly established lizard species in most urban areas of peninsular Florida, and they have continued to migrate to neighboring states in parts of Georgia, Louisiana and Texas.

Since their presence has upwardly increased in the Southern United States, ecologists and evolutionary biologists have taken interest in how green anoles were interacting with the brown anoles, and if invasive competition was a threat to eventual extinction.

Yoel Stuart, a postdoctoral researcher in the College of Natural Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, conducted a study on the presence of brown anoles in Florida and how they are affecting the green population.

“I was really excited at the time about how quickly evolution could proceed, and I wanted to know whether two species that are interacting with one another,” Stuart said. “Whether competitive interactions between two species could drive evolution at rates that we could see in our own lifetimes.”

After months of capturing and observing lizards, Stuart and his team found that green anoles had physically and behaviorally evolved to cope with the invasiveness of their brown cohabitors. After contact with the invasive species, green anoles began to climb higher into the trees, and within 15 years, the green species had developed larger toe pads, which give the anoles better gripping and climbing force. Stuart said he wasn’t surprised that the species evolved, but that the rate at which evolution was occurring was remarkable.

“The evolutionary response is pretty rapid,” he said. “If human height were evolving at .05 standard deviations per generation, in 20 generations we’d all be the size of NBA shooting guards.”

Besides their color, Stuart said green and brown anoles differ greatly in mating patterns and day-to-day habits. His study supports a more broad ecological theory called character displacement, the phenomenon of similar species competing and evolving to take advantage of ecological niches.

“They have different colored flaps of skin under their throat, the series of head bobs and push ups that they do is different. It’s likely that they don’t even recognize each other as potential mates,” Stuart said.

Though Stuart’s research is specific to anole populations in Florida, scientists and researchers are looking at the level of local invaders. According to Texas herpetologists who specifically study regional reptile populations, brown anoles are mostly seen in South Texas, primarily in Houston and San Antonio. They make their way to Texas by hatching eggs on imported soil from Florida that is distributed to local garden shop retailers, Stuart said.

“The best place to catch brown anoles in Texas was in the garden department of Home Depot,” Stuart said. “Potted plants are perfect for laying out anolus eggs, and then those plants get moved around.”

Anoles in Texas from Elizabeth Williams on Vimeo.

Hitching a ride to the states via plant and human transportation is something of an art form for the brown lizards. Ecologists suggest that their initial migration to Florida was possible in part by stowing away in agricultural shipments from Cuba.

But brown anoles aren’t the first critters to invade the Lone Star state. Texas is an ecological hotspot for invasive species to thrive due to its tropical-like temperatures. Randy Simpson, an associate professor at Texas State University in San Marcos studies invasive wildlife in Central Texas. Though the brown anole population in Texas is low, he said it could have the potential to follow in patterns of other invasive populations, such as the Rio Grande chirping frog.

“As its name implies, it was found only in the Rio Grande Valley and now its found as far as the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It follows major highway systems and it’s found in major metropolitan areas,” Simpson said. “I suspect that the brown anole will probably follow the same pattern.”

However, Simpson said that it is not yet clear what impact the brown anole will have on green anole populations.

“Well, it remains to be seen as to how much of an impact the brown anole is going to have. It’s definitely had a big impact in Florida, but here in Texas so far it’s been minimal,” Simpson said. “People have noted that it has appeared … primarily in places like nurseries, garden centers.”

Some researchers who look at insect invaders have drawn a connection between non-native species and global climate change. Scientists who study biodiversity claim that  longer warm weather seasons are causing non-native plants to relocate and take over American soil. But whether there’s evidence that the same could case could be made for vertebrae and reptiles, Simpson said, is uncertain.

“Common sense will make you think, yeah if the temperature is changing and on the average getting warmer, then those animals that need warmer temperatures could move further north,” Simpson said. “That’s a possibility, but I don’t think anybody has definite information, particularly on the brown anole or anything like that.”

Regardless of its unforeseen future, the battle between green and brown anoles is catching the attention of local residents. Mike Tanis, a lifelong horticulturalist and wildlife enthusiast, said green lizards are a staple feature of his backyard garden.

“I’ll always spot a few [green anoles] when I’m gardening, just lounging on a leaf and getting some sun,” Tanis said. “I’ve actually seen brown lizards in Florida but I had no idea they were a different species. I hope the brown ones don’t take Austin over; the green guys are too much fun!”


Seeking Refuge in Austin

By Melinda Billingsley, Jonathan Cramer, Claire Edwards, Helen Fernandez, and Madison Hamilton

Aug. 3, 2006

It was a warm evening in Mosul, Iraq – nothing out of the ordinary of the average 100 degree summer days. The sun was setting while Qusay Hussein and his older brothers warmed up for their volleyball game. Held on an outdoor court, boys cheered and yelled as they spiked the ball over the 7ft net.

Hussein was confused as a car drove onto their court.

He made eye contact with the driver who formed a smile on his face and laughed before pushing his hand on the horn.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

The game stopped.


Qusay Hussein stands by the window in his Austin apartment, his favorite place to talk on the phone to his family in Iraq. Photo by Helen Fernandez.

“In a half hour he will be dead. Go help your other kids,” the doctor told his father after looking at Hussein’s head injuries in the local clinic.

He was put in a room with the dead patients – until his father demanded to have his body brought back to the house to clean before the burial.

“Father, I’m not dead. Please take me to the hospital” was the only thing Hussein could manage to say with shrapnel lodged into his head.


Aug. 15 2006

“If we give him water, he will die,” Hussein heard the nurse say shortly after he awoke from a 12-day coma.

With tubes coming out of his stomach, the only option was to dab his lips with a wet cotton ball to quench his thirst.

Twelve days ago 17-year-old Hussein watched a suicide bomber smile before he pressed down on the horn. Twelve days ago shrapnel was lodged into his head – millimeters from his brain. Twelve days ago sixteen people were killed on a volleyball court.

Although Hussein and his three older brothers were lucky to be alive, they did not escape unscathed.

His vision was gone. His nose was gone. He was unrecognizable.


Dec. 18, 2012

After more than 50 facial surgeries, Hussein sought refuge in Austin, Texas.

Hussein traveled over 7,184 miles from Mosul, Iraq to his new home in Austin, Texas.

Hussein traveled over 7,184 miles from Mosul, Iraq to his new home in Austin, Texas.


“I came here because I have a dream. The blind people in Iraq can’t do anything, but I feel like I am the opposite. I can do everything,” he said.


With schools, public transportation and different technology services for the visually impaired, Austin is a much more accessible place for Hussein to live.

But it still wasn’t easy when he first arrived.

“When I came here it was hard for me. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t speak English,” he explained. “It’s hard.”

He compares his first few weeks in America to being in jail.

“I had a case worker who just brought food for me and closed the door,” said Hussein.

Dec 2, 2014

As he became more accustomed to the city and his case worker, he began to like Austin much more. Agencies like the Refugee Services of Texas (RTS) have helped Hussein and many other refugees adjust to life in America. For 4 months the non-profit social service program paid for Hussein’s rent, while also helping with his documents and social security paperwork.

“They are really nice,” Hussein remembered.

Inspired by RTS, a group of students at The University of Texas at Austin founded the Liberal Arts Refugee Alliance (LARA), which helps refugees feel comfortable in Austin, while also educating students about global conflicts.

“The goal of the organization is to facilitate the relationship between student volunteers and the Refugee Services of Texas,” said LARA founding member Sam Karnes.

Both RTS and the student-run group LARA strive to help refugees find a place in Austin after escaping the crisis going on in their home country.





  1. a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.


Growing up Hussein dreamed of being a surgeon. Although his visual impairment prevents him from operating, he hasn’t given up on being a doctor. Working toward a degree in psychology, he hopes to one day help other people overcome difficult situations.

“My family and friends are proud,” said Hussein. “They are proud of me.”

Striking Out the Stigma

B-Cycle or B-Hit?

By Adam Beard, Juan Cortez, Heather Dyer, and Landon Pederson.

Red bikes with baskets are becoming a common sight along the city streets of Austin, Texas. The B-Cycle program, which launched in December of 2013, is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week bike-share program that has gone from 11 stations to 45 stations, doubled its first usage projections and set national records.

Four different stations surround the 40 Acres of the University of Texas, including two on Guadalupe Street. Photo by Landon Pederson.

Four different stations surround the 40 Acres of the University of Texas, including two on Guadalupe Street. Photo by Landon Pederson.

The main goal of the program is to bridge the transportation gap in public transit by providing a final-mile connector from the city’s mass transit system to their final destination and to reduce Austin’s traffic downtown.

However, many believe B-Cycle could be harming a different traffic problem – bicycle safety.

Cyclists interested in using B-cycle need a credit card to access the system. Once the card is swiped, cyclists can choose a bike from the rack and ride it to a station near their destination. Photo by Landon Pederson.

Cyclists interested in using B-cycle need a credit card to access the system. Once the card is swiped, cyclists can choose a bike from the rack and ride it to a station near their destination. Photo by Landon Pederson.

“I don’t really feel that safe as a bike rider myself,” said Bea Scott, a frequent bike rider in Austin. “A lot of times, a lot of people don’t really know what they’re supposed to do.”

Scott referred to both cyclers and drivers having confusion on the roads, which in turn, can cause a lot of accidents. In fact, the city of Austin has seen its bicycle accidents increase by 15 percent almost every year since 2007.

With the increase in bicycles due to the B-Cycle program, some are expecting this will only continue and perhaps get even worse.

“I’ve just heard such horror stories about people getting hit because there’s confusion as to who is turning or if the biker was going to go through a crosswalk,” Scott said. “Because of that confusion and also the fact that a lot of people don’t wear helmets, it’s really concerning.”

Although the number of bicycle accidents is increasing in Austin, the percent might be higher if all

Austin B-cycle was created to provide Austinites and locals another mode of transportation to explore downtown and the surrounding area. Photo by Landon Pederson.

Austin B-cycle was created to provide Austinites and locals another mode of transportation to explore downtown and the surrounding area. Photo by Landon Pederson.

accidents were reported. The Austin Police Department recently released a statement saying “people tend to only report a bicycle accident to the police when there is an injury or major damage. Most bicycle accidents go unreported by the parties involved.”

Despite all of the controversy, B-Cycle officials have yet to see a problem with its program.

“It hasn’t really been an issue for us,” said Elliott McFadden, the CEO of B-Cycle Austin. “Bike share systems have a stellar safety record throughout the world, and that is so far the case here.”

Austin resident Joy Messie does not see an issue either.

Austin Police Department recently released a statement saying unless an injury or major damage is involved, “most bicycle accidents go unreported by the parties involved.” Photo by Landon Pederson.

Austin Police Department recently released a statement saying unless an injury or major damage is involved, “most bicycle accidents go unreported by the parties involved.” Photo by Landon Pederson.

“I’ve moved around a lot, and this is definitely the city I’ve lived in that has the most bike lanes and most biker-friendly stuff,” Messie said. “Some of the drivers in the city I think could do a better job.”

The answer to the question of bicycle safety in Austin remains split, but there are people out there trying to improve the city’s conditions. Nathan Wilkes, an engineer with Austin’s Bicycle Program, said Austin is looking to create a plan that would make for a safer transportation system.

He also added that 39 percent of residents fall into the category of “interested but concerned” to ride a bicycle on the streets. Wilkes said he believes there are ways to make cycling a more appealing option.

                                                                                   One includes what was recently implemented on Guadalupe Street – a cycle track that is physically separated from motor vehicle traffic.

Nevertheless, there are still concerns for increasing bicycle accidents with the new B-Cycle program, especially because the program enables people to ride bikes that don’t normally use them on the city’s roads.



America’s Lifting Ladies

By Sara Cabral, Jane Claire Hervey, Larisa Manescu and Olivia Starich


Muscular triceps, muscular biceps and muscular calves. Hundreds of muscles defined by weeks of training and the shadows of spray tans—with just a quick swipe through “#bodybuildinglifestyle” on Instagram.



B Barnett, a competitive bodybuilder from Austin, Texas, poses and flexes during the Formulation I Classic bodybuilding competition on October 18th. Barnett took first place in her Figure class and third in her Physique class, and will be going to next year’s NPC National Championship. (Photo courtesy of B Barnett)


At the time of this article’s publication, the hashtag “bodybuildinglifestyle” has amassed more than 152,000 posts. And it’s not the only online library for bodybuilders and fitness fanatics. Another fitness-related hashtag, such as “bodybuildingmotivation,” has collected about 210,000 posts, while the growing library under “#fitfam” has reached more than 15 million. For Austin-based competitive bodybuilder B Barnett, using these hashtags on her personal account has connected her to local and national bodybuilding communities to share tips, inspirational photos and routines.

But, as a female bodybuilder, using these hashtags has also has its downsides.

“I have been the victim of ‘muscle-shaming’ more than once on social media and in person. A woman with muscles is still an intimidating thing to so many in our society,” Barnett said. “The box we put women in as a society has never been so apparent to me. I receive emails and Facebook messages at least once a month telling me I am not pretty, or I have the potential to be attractive if I would just slim down.”

Barnett competes in natural bodybuilding, or bodybuilding without the use of steroids and her competition preparations begin weeks in advance. Competitions involve multiple divisions, such as Bikini, Figure, and Fitness, and require serious commitment from a competitor and her wallet. Barnett estimates that the food and coaching for every 12 week training cycle costs nearly $1200:

      • $180/week in food
      • $80/month in posing classes
      • $240/month training
      • $150/month in nutrition coaching

Competitions contribute even more to the dent in an athlete’s wallet. In addition to any necessary travel and lodging costs, the bedazzled bikinis worn by competitors can cost upwards of $400, while the heavy-duty spray tan used to highlight muscle definition for Figure classes can cost around $150.

Barnett recently placed first in the 2014 NPC Formulation One Championships for Figure Class C, but she began bodybuilding as an experiment. Years ago, she worked for a protein drink company that needed to better understand its bodybuilding market, so she volunteered to become a part of the fitness community. After weeks of training and her first competition at the Texas Shredder, one of the state’s 17 yearly bodybuilding competitions, Barnett said she was hooked.

“Bodybuilding means we, as women, get to focus on ourselves and our image without being shamed for it,” Barnett said. “When you have a competition coming up, all of a sudden you have this golden ticket to excuse you to the freedom of focusing on yourself instead of everyone else.”

To train, Barnett regulates her diet and focuses her workouts on certain parts of her body. For her next competition, Barnett has to increase her overall mass by 15 percent over the next five months. (Typically, female bodybuilders compete at an average body fat percentage of 6 to 10 percent and the average body fat percentage for female athletes is around 16 to 20 percent.) To do this, she plans to begin a 12-week program of intense dieting and muscle-building workouts. During this time, Barnett said she “will weigh, count and plan [her] every morsel of food to account for every workout and energy spent in any given day.”

These training regimens vary for every bodybuilder depending on their competition, health goals, physical limits and desired muscle definition. Amateur bodybuilder and UT freshman Shelby Chancellor said she gets a workout in at least six times a week, and she “preps” all of her meals, meaning she cooks her meals for the week in one sitting (to ascertain that she accounts for nutritional content and portion size).

“You have to have times laid out for when you eat, when you do cardio and when you lift,” Chancellor said. “Without a plan, it is much more likely that one will get off track or even fail at prepping.”

Alex Feuerman, a UT senior who recently placed at the Texas Shredder competition, agrees that the preparation and focus required for bodybuilding creates a unique lifestyle. In addition to the hours spent cooking and calculating nutritional information, Feuerman and Chancellor both log substantial time at the gym – but even driven athletes need support.

Staying on track for competition usually requires the help of a professional trainer. Cambridge Dayn-Ryan, a competitive bodybuilder and active member of the Texas bodybuilding community, offers meal prep and workout consultation for other women in the sport.

“The biggest mistake a rookie can make is diving in without knowing what it takes,” Dayn-Ryan said. “Most are able to commit to the 24/7 lifestyle this sport requires, but others can have more difficulty sacrificing the little things for the time being to stay disciplined to get the results their body needs, which in turn makes most give up before they even start.”

Trimming down fat while gaining muscle takes sacrifices, whether that entails eating every meal out of a microwaveable Tupperware container or trading time with friends for time on the treadmill. On top of the day-to-day changes, Chancellor said that she had trouble overcoming mental barriers when she first started competing.

“I can’t imagine going through prep alone, without any guidance. I wouldn’t have made it,” Chancellor said. “It’s very emotionally and physically exhausting. [You’re] constantly concerned with your body, always thinking you’re not lean enough and worrying you won’t be ready [for competition] in time.”

Chancellor motivated herself by following bodybuilders and bodybuilding inspiration accounts on Instagram. She said that she also uses social media to scope out the women she may be up against during a competition.

“Even outside of competing, girls constantly compare themselves to one another. Being put in a competition like this one, that constant judgement only becomes stronger,” Chancellor said.

Despite the competitive nature of the sport, Chancellor said the communities around bodybuilding are typically positive. Dayn-Ryan said she specifically uses her Instagram to motivate and encourage others, and Barnett said she has made most of her friends through bodybuilding.

The sport is subjective, and [it’s] easy to find judgment and insecurities spurring contention between people, but I have seen it so few times it still surprises me,” Barnett said. “The support I have always felt from my fellow competitors is amazing.”

Some bodybuilders use the sport’s lifestyle to combat negative body image. Houston native Lauren Hinkel began bodybuilding at 18 years old, when she was 218 pounds and struggling with low self-esteem and a history of self-mutilation.

“The biggest motivation I would say, for me at least, is to share my story and motivate other young girls who were in my position,” Hinkel said. “I want to show other girls that they can take control and learn to love themselves like I did.”

By redefining her physique through the rigorous dieting and training of bodybuilding, Hinkel said she redefined her own self-image.

Native Houstonian Lauren Hinkel's bodybuilding transformation over four years, from her senior prom to her senior year of college.

Native Houstonian Lauren Hinkel’s bodybuilding transformation over four years. (Photo courtesy of Lauren Hinkel)

“Competitions are fine and dandy, but the real bodybuilding is what happens when the fake tan is gone, the bikini and heels are put away, and it’s just you and the gym and the kitchen,” Hinkel said. “There are highs and lows and lots of times of doubt, but seeing it as a lifestyle helps me keep pushing when I feel that I’ve hit a plateau.”

Although these women have found support in the bodybuilding community, Dayn-Ryan said one of the main issues female bodybuilders face is being misunderstood by those outside of their world.

“The downfall of the bodybuilding community can be the negative comments from those that don’t put themselves through what we do and have little to no understanding that not everyone is on ‘roids,’ that not all muscular women look ‘like men’ and that results don’t happen overnight,” Dayn-Ryan said. “Regardless of the positive or negative feedback, end of the day I say, ‘Train, eat right and exercise for you… not for social media.’”

For Barnett, competing in bodybuilding has nothing to do with others’ perceptions and everything to do with self-love and a strong community.

“Every woman who competes and gets onstage is proving it is most important to be confident and secure in your own body,” she said. “I can receive any mean email now, because for every one mean email I have three amazing women supporting me in-person. I am so blessed to support all these female competitors right back.”

Rubber Duckies Raise Funds for the Boys & Girls Club of Austin

By Jamie Balli, Breanna Luna, Briana Franklin and Silvana Di Ravenna

It was a cold, Saturday morning as rain covered the empty streets of downtown Austin. The city seemed to be sleeping but under Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, commonly referred to as “The Bat Bridge” by Austinites, the very first Austin Duck Derby was taking place.


A boat filled with VIP spectators awaits the start of the Austin Duck Derby 2014 . The event Benefitted the Boys & Girls Club Foundation. Photo by Silvana Di Ravenna.

At the event, several people walked around sporting yellow duck-beak whistles while others were dressed in duck-themed attire. The event also featured a duck mascot available for pictures, dancing, and entertainment.

The Austin Duck Derby, held on Nov.15, launched a mass of more than 10,000 yellow rubber ducks into Lady Bird Lake. The ducks raced to the finish line to win prizes for their adopters. The ducks, which were bombarded into the water from the top of the bridge, marveled the kids and parents that happily awaited near the shore, bundled in hats and furry coats.

Besides the colorful spectacle that the event provided, which also included face painting, hula hoopers and live music, the purpose of the race had a serious goal in mind: to raise much needed fundings for the Boys and Girls Club Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports and provides assistance to the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Austin Area.

Every year, over 12,000 kids (and over 1,700 each day) are nurtured and taken care of in 22 welcoming Austin locations, which provide hope and opportunity to children ages 6 to 18. The centers offer various classes and activities including leadership development, arts, health and recreational sports. The club relies on volunteers who offer their time as coaches, tutors and activities assistants.


Kelly St. Julien, the East Austin Boys & Girls Club Director, said that all the funds for the Austin Duck Derby go to the Boys & Girls Club Foundation of Austin. They use funds to support programs in the clubs and to cover the large amount of expenses.

“At clubs, our biggest expense is payroll of staff and supplies. We have a lot of overhead in terms of consumables like paint, crayons, pencils, paper, basketballs, jump-ropes, and everything you can think of that kids like to play with. There are a lot of kind people in Austin who donate, but we need things on a regular basis,” St. Julien said.

At the Boys & Girls Club in East Austin, funds raised go towards drum sets, pool tables, ping pong tables, marbles, basketballs, and school supplies for classes taught by instructors. When they are not in class learning, children are able to play sports and games with other children.

11-year-old Sanoya, a member of the East Austin club, said that her favorite part of going to the Boys & Girls Club is the extracurricular activities.

“I like playing ping pong when I come to the club because it’s really fun,” Sanoya said.

Gina Hill, the Special Events Chair for the Boys and Girls Club Foundation, mentioned at the event that this was the first time the Duck Derby has benefitted the Boys and Girls Club of Austin. The Duck Derby races, which have been going on for 26 years, have been used during similar fundraisers across the nation in other cities for the Special Olympics and food banks.

A dancing duck was at the event to groove to the music. Several attendees took pictures and danced with the duck. Photo by Silvana Di Ravenna.

“We are very excited to have raised 10,000 ducks and about $50,000 total in this effort today. This money goes into the programs that help the clubs kids. We hope that the event also helps raise awareness for the Boys and Girls Club of Austin,” she said.

The event was sponsored by more than 35 local national and local business, which provided prizes for the race. Sponsors included Amy’s Ice Cream, Whole Foods and the Austin Fire Department.

Participants had the opportunity to “adopt” a racing rubber duck for $5 dollars with the chance of winning anything from a round of golf at Palmer Lakeside Golf Course to a 2014 Volkswagen Jetta.

Andrew Garvin, who used to attend the Boys and Girls Club during his youth and currently does PR and Consulting on his own, became this year’s official promoter and face of The Austin Duck Derby.

He decided to participate in the race when Gina Hill herself invited him to join in at a different event. He said that the experience was the perfect opportunity to give back to an organization that did so much for him.

Andrew Garvin, the official promoter and face of the Austin Duck Derby, stands near the duck race and takes observations of the event’s success. Garvin used to attend the Boys & Girls Club during his youth and hopes to give back as much as possible to the organization in order to help other children who are in similar situations that he faced growing up. Photo by Silvana Di Ravenna.

“If it wasn’t for the Boys and Girls Club I wouldn’t be where I am today. I lived in a low-income house and we didn’t have a basketball court or gym equipment, computers, assistance nor tutoring. The club gave us a place to be and it was a good social setting for kids that didn’t have that opportunity outside of class or outside school,” Garvin said.

According to St. Julien, the Austin Duck Derby is a way to get the entire community involved while informing them of what the club does. It is also a fun event that is easy to take part in.

“We really wanted to make our fundraising more accessible to everyone. Only so many people can attend our Boys and Girls Club spring luncheon, our fall gala, and our golf tournament. The duck derby serves a dual purpose of getting the word out about who we are to people who might not know us while allowing people to support us, and culminate that in a fun way,” St. Julien added.

Duck Derby Video from Briana Franklin on Vimeo.