Archive for: November 2015
By Danielle Vabner, Alexandra Cannon, Erika Sauceda, Danielle Lopez
AUSTIN, Tex. — A little help goes a long way, especially in a rapidly expanding city like Austin. That is precisely the idea behind Feet the Streets!, an annual sock drive hosted by the Longhorn Legislative Aides at the University of Texas at Austin.
The sock drive, which runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 1 each academic year, aims to provide as many socks as possible for homeless youth in the Austin area. Boxes are provided outside of residence halls, and students can add any of their leftover socks, which will go to homeless youth between the ages of seven and 24.
UT freshman and LLA member Garrett Mireles said the organization wanted the event to be as accessible as possible for students, and they wanted college students on a budget to be able to participate.
“We wanted to find a way that students could get involved with helping the community in a way that was simple and easy for people to understand,” Mireles said. “We figured it was simple, it would be pretty direct, people could take a pair of socks out of their drawer at home and donate them without much else commitment or strings attached.”
Attempts to help homeless youth go beyond just the UT campus. Street Youth Ministry of Austin aims to provide help from a primarily religious standpoint. According to the Street Youth Ministry website, this includes Bible studies, prayer times, and fellowship events. They also provide referrals for education, jobs, drug counseling, and mental health to those who need it.
Terry Cole, Missionary and Founder of Street Youth Ministry, said the partnership with Longhorn Legislative Aides for Feet the Streets! originated after they approached Cole about the issue of youth homelessness. He said he is incredibly happy about the initiative.
“Socks are very valuable to a homeless person,” Cole said. “You’ve got to be able to move around 24/7 in the city to take care of yourself and that involves being on your feet a lot. If every student gave one pair of socks we could probably give [a pair to] every homeless person.”
Mireles said participation has been low despite their efforts to promote the event on social media. However, he said he thinks UT students do have a duty to participate.
“I think reaching out across that street, literally and figuratively, is a necessity and a responsibility of UT students,” Mireles said.
Though the sock drive may seem like a small gesture, Mireles said LLA wants to stay involved in the issue and take hands-on approach.
“We’re definitely projected to [work with homeless youth],” Mireles said. “We want to get out and hand out those socks individually to people on the street to show this isn’t just a removed process or removed initiative. We want to get our hands in there into West Campus, The Drag, surrounding areas, to show that this isn’t just something we’re doing for ourselves, to feel good about starting an initiative.”
By: Estefania de Leon, Estephanie Gomez, Karla Pulido and Raylee Elder
Tucked inside the heart of the Sunset Valley, Tex. in South Austin a group of American Indians have gathered from all over the country to tap their feet and chant to the beat of the drum on the blue gym floor in front of a crowd for the Austin Powwow.
This year marks the 24th year for the powwow which includes performances known as grand entries, as well as dancing competitions. American Indians participating came from Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado, and Minnesota.
The Austin Powwow is hosted by Great Promise for American Indians, a local organization founded in 1991. The powwow is a place for different tribes to gather and socialize keep the tradition alive.
“The organization really started out as a way to hopefully influence the independent school districts in the area and get better treatment for American Indian children,” said Lois Duncan, the director of the Great American Promise for American Indians, “One of the school districts then [suggested] that if we do a powwow that that might be a great way to pass on the culture.”
Since the Austin Powwow began in 1992, it outgrew its location and is now hosted in at an Austin Independent School District facility.
“The powwow got started because of our American Indian students,” said Diane Tigges, American Indian Education Program (AIEP) coordinator. “Almost 25 years ago they decided that they needed to do something in the urban areas to help students get reconnected with their tribal blood and so they started a powwow and it’s been a great partnership since then.”
To keep the tradition alive in such a small community, Duncan is trying to bring the younger generations of American Indians into Great Promise to pass down the legacy.
“They have not suffered under a reservation regime where basically, the indians lost everything and they were forced to live on the outskirts of usually forts and things like that and accept commodities from the army,” Duncan said. “But now I see these younger generations taking a great pride in their heritage, learning their languages again, learning about who their ancestors were.”
Today, the powwow includes a platform to spread awareness about the American Indian community in the nation.
“I think it’s just good communication and trying to work with each other and trying to understand the other parties what they’re talking about so they also understand what we’re talking about,” Great Promise chairman Lee Walter said. “’I’ve always seen the government, the military reach out to us, and they want to know more about diversity. It seems like there’s more interest of trying to get us to participate so that we can educate others on what we do.”
With a local population of 0.3 percent and a 0.9 percent nationally according to the 2010 U.S. Census, it is challenging to find American Indians let alone members of the same tribe. According to Duncan, most of the American Indians living in Austin are not from the original tribe that lived here.
“When a family moves to town, because unless there is an organization like us they don’t know where to find other Indian families to come together as a group,” Duncan said. “We’re what’s known as an urban Indian population. In other words, we’re many, many, many different tribes, but we all come together around that one heritage of being the first peoples.”
AIEP serves the Austin, Bastrop, Leander, and Round Rock school districts. It is mainly funded through the office of education.
Tigges says graduation rates among American Indian and Alaskan Native students are the lowest among any other racial or ethnic group (according to Education Weekly – http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/10/28/lessons-sought-on-serving-native-american-students.html?qs=american+indian).
“Typically about 25 percent of our students will drop out of high school,” Tigges said. “On reservations it’s even higher. It’s about 50 percent.”
Funds raised at the Austin Powwow have helped AIEP increase the graduation rate in the school districts it serves to 90 percent through services like help finding tutoring, coverage of college entrance exam fees, scholarship information, and workshops.
One of the main challenges Tigges says she faces is finding time to publicize the program and let people know it exists. Delaney Quinn, a senior at McNeil High School, is one of the students recruited into the program by Tigges.
“I had a counselor [Tigges] who was Native American and she kind of like found us since I’m registered as a Native American on my transcript,” Quinn said. “She kind of like pinpointed us and asked us to like join.”
For Tigges a barrier that impedes her from finding more students is that many American Indians are not aware of their tribe, and many don’t even know.
“There are so many students and families that are removed from the reservations and even from the areas that they get their actual blood from, they may be papered so to speak but they have no clue about their nationality at all,” Tigges said. “The program gives them some insight into it. That’s the whole goal.”
Infographics by: Estephanie Gomez
Bill to defund Planned Parenthood awaits Senate’s 2015 calendar
By Haley Cavazos, Kyle Cavazos, Daniel Goodwin & Danielle Haberly
The Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015 (H. R. 3134) was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on July 21, and passed on Sept. 18 with 241 votes for, 187 votes against, one vote present, or “soft-no,” and five votes were neutral as “not voting”.
Planned Parenthood receives more than $500 million in federal funding each year, according to the Washington Post.
This all came about due to the Internet release of a video clip on July 14 showing Deborah Nucatola, senior medical director at Planned Parenthood since 2009, discussing fetal tissue donations. The full length video was later released, and can be viewed on Youtube.
Nucatola is seen discussing how she uses an ultrasound to check the condition of the fetus or organs that are of value, before she removes them. According to 18 U.S. Code 1531, performing partial-birth abortions, meaning the fetus is killed with further action outside the womb, is illegal.
This raises a huge issue with conservatives against abortion, lawmakers and many citizens with various moral standpoints. Nine more videos were released on the Internet, each has footage of Planned Parenthood officials allegedly discussing the sales of baby body parts.
Shortly after, Planned Parenthood released a statement. “A well-funded group established for the purpose of damaging Planned Parenthood’s mission and services has promoted heavily edited, secretly recorded videotape that falsely portrays Planned Parenthood’s participation in tissue donation programs that support lifesaving scientific research,” said Eric Ferrero, the Vice President of Communication of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, is co-signing the bill.
“The recent allegations against Planned Parenthood are morally reprehensible,” said Williams. “There is no justification for the American people to finance an organization that has such disregard for human life,” Williams said in a press release.
Richelle King, Co-chair of Planned Parenthood’s Leadership and Advocacy Council in Texas, says her goal is to debunk myths and misinformation about the organization that the public has latched onto.
“The myth that Planned Parenthood sells baby body parts is a manipulation of language used to confuse people that aren’t aware of how fetal tissue donation works.” King says that women who consent to an abortion can also consent to donating fetal tissue for scientific research in the curing of diseases.
She describes the effect the defunding would have on the people of Texas.
“That would be a devastating blow considering a lot of the people Planned Parenthood serves don’t have health insurance or are low income families dependent on Medicaid.”
King says she is not worried because of President Obama’s speech on Wednesday, Sept. 16. Obama threatened legislators with a veto if the Defund Planned Parenthood Act is pushed through the Senate.
Joseph Trahan, University of Texas Austin sophomore PR major and Campus Director of the University Democrats, was deeply bothered by the news of the government’s plan to strip Medicaid funding from Planned Parenthood.
In response, he started a petition raising awareness and encouraging citizens to sign in support of the organization.
“The petition is also intended to give credibility to the claim that Texans do really care about Planned Parenthood, because there’s strength in numbers,” Trahan said.
As of the second week in circulation, the petition has gathered approximately 450 signatures, including former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis.
“There has been so much misinformation released to the public with the highly edited videos, with baseless allegations of fraud or tampering with abortion procedures that go against federal law. All these claims bear no fruit. No hardcore evidence can support these claims,” Trahan said.
Allison Peregory, Young Conservatives of Texas UT chapter chairman, weighs in on the debate.
“It’s been a major controversy because it questions the integrity of the organization, and it’s illegal to sell baby body parts.”
Peregory says YCT is in favor, along with Texas Governor Gregg Abbott, of the defunding act “based upon the fact that Planned Parenthood has now created doubt and has now created this question of character.”
Peregory backs her chapter saying that for her the issue is more about preserving the moral integrity of the state of Texas.
“Do we really want our money going to an organization that is involved in these kinds of practices?” Peregory said.
Peregory says that Planned Parenthood’s statement after-the-fact was just a PR crisis management stunt to hush the public.
In response to Trahan’s petition, Peregory says “it’s too little too late…this is the law, this is what’s happening and if you didn’t want that law to happen then you should have been protesting and should have been more active about it before.”
By: Nicole Rusli, Will Bruner, Celina Fontenot
The latest Paranormal Activity movie may give you chills, but according to paranormal investigators, in reality, the risk of interacting with the unknown extends far beyond a few goosebumps.
An attempt to communicate with a spirit can be potentially dangerous if the right precautions are not taken. According to information provided by the Texas Paranormal Society, not all entities are hostile, but those that are can be potentially life threatening. Such spirits can cause physical harm, but they can also influence the mental and emotional stability of their victims.
“There are several types of hauntings. One is in the case of a trauma. Those energies just tend to stick around. In old homes, people live in that home for 60 years, that’s a lot of memories, and that energy gets imprinted in the location,” said Lydia Berestecky. Austin Leader of F.E.A.R. Paranormal Society.
The society provides a hub of information for paranormal investigators and free services to those experiencing a haunting.
There’s still a lot to explore in the spiritual realm, but investigators and spiritual “mediums,” have an imperative set of procedures they follow to ensure their safety and the safety of their clients.
“We first try to debunk the haunting and find a logical reason why the back door keeps shutting, or whatever,” Berestecky said.
Rachel Soso, Austin F.E.A.R. Paranormal Co-leader, said for residential cases, they conduct a preliminary interview where they get to know the history of the house, the people living there, and the nature of the paranormal activity.
“We look for patterns or significant events that are happening around a particular person. When we do decide that an investigation is warranted, that’s when we bring in the cameras and equipment,” Soso said.
They use instruments designed to read electromagnetic frequencies, which measure the level of spiritual activity at the location.
The investigation takes approximately one to four hours to complete, after which the clients are offered a solution such as a blessing or cleanse, depending on the severity of the haunting and the sensitivity of the client.
Paranormal investigators do not rely solely on technology to detect a spiritual presence, but their own innate intuition, Berestecky said.
“There are many types of abilities and we each have our own thing. We are both sensitive to energy, like a human EMF detector. We can go in a place and we can each see the place as it was back in its heyday, and we can sense other presences in the house,” Berestecky said.
Energy sensitivity can be helpful for paranormal mediums in completing their investigations, but their receptivity can render them vulnerable to darker energies.
The Texas Paranormal society advises investigators to employ practices such as White Light Meditation, holding talismans while working, weekly home energy cleansings, and most importantly, a respectful approach when communicating with the other side. However, complete protection cannot be guaranteed and mediums are always at risk of contact with darker beings.
“For some reason, the answer nobody knows, some spirits are stronger than others,” Berestecky said, “As far as good ghosts and bad ghosts, if you’re a jerk when you’re alive, you’ll be a jerk when you’re dead.”
By: Julia Farrell, Taylor Wiseman, Mariana Muños, Michelle Sanchez
History of Cat Cafés
Blue Cat Café is on a mission to provide Austin with coffee and cats. Although this is the first of its kind to open in Texas, cat cafes are becoming more popular across the nation. California, New York, and Pennsylvania are just a few of the states that have picked up on the trend in the past year. The idea of a “cat café” established the concept in Japan nearly 17 years ago.
For a light fee, customers can enjoy a meal while playing with some feline friends. The café houses a maximum of 25 cats at a time, all of which are shipped directly from the Austin Humane Society. That means that for each 25 cats housed by the café, 25 cages are opened up at AHS. Since its opening in July, the café continues to provide food and shelter for stray kittens.
“Most of the cats we get have never had a real home,” says Rebecca Gray, co-founder of the Blue Cat Café. “This is their first real glimpse at home life until they are adopted by a family.”
A typical day at the café begins at 7:00 a.m. The kittens are all lined up at the door, awaiting the arrival of humans. After being fed, the owners do a cat count every morning to ensure that none are sick, as a disease within the colony can spread quickly. By 9 a.m. customers are lined up at the door. Due to health policies, all of the food is prepared in a food truck outside of the café. The food is then brought inside, where customers can eat and drink coffee in the company of the cats.
Blue Cat Café is also an adoption agency. Not only can you play with the kittens, but you can also take one home. The adoption process is simple: just pick your kitty and pay a $50 fee, which covers the cost of food, toys, and a bed for your new pet. Adoption opens up space for new cats to be sheltered at the café, which in turn helps reduce the stray cat population in Austin.
“We’ve been averaging over an adoption a day,” says co-owner of Blue Cat Café Jacques Casimir.
“We’ve had four yesterday, so we’d be on pace at this point for more than 400 adoptions in a year.”
Austin’s feral cat population has spiked significantly in the past decade. Places like the Blue Cat Café help reduce the stray cat population by taking in kittens and caring for them until they are adopted. Casimir says that they receive cats from AHS on a daily basis, except for weekends.
AHS does not keep a census of the stray cat population in Austin due to the overwhelmingly large number. Mike Di Tullio, AHS’ feral cat program supervisor, says that the growing population is a large problem for the city. In 2007, the program began a free Tap-Neuter-Return program in an attempt to control the feral cat population. It involves volunteers locating stray cats and bringing them to the clinic so that they can be fixed. This way, when they are returned to the streets, they are not able to reproduce at such a quick rate. This is yet another way that the city is trying to curb the number of cats on the streets.
Cat Cafés Worldwide
By: Shelby Hodges, Alexa Harrington, Katherine Recatto, and Arthur DeVitalis
by Lucy Chen, Karen Martinez, and Claire Rodgers
In the words of Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are right.” How true does this maxim ring for women in science, technology, engineering and math fields? At the University of Texas at Austin, the gender gap in each STEM major is evident, but the university is making strides to close that gap with support programs for women.
In the College of Natural Sciences at the university, 51 percent of undergraduates are women while 35 percent of graduates are women. In the Cockrell School of Engineering, 27 percent of undergraduates are women while 21 percent of graduates are women. In the mathematics Ph.D. program at UT, 32 percent of its members are women.
Keely Finkelstein, an astronomy lecturer at UT Austin, said the astronomy department has recently developed a group called AWARE, The Association of Women in Astronomy Research and Education.
“One of the best things universities can do to increase women participation in STEM fields is to develop a support system,” Finkelstein said. “I think some departments have had that unofficially for years, but we’ve recently tried to have it as a formal group so there can be a safe space when you need it.”
AWARE was formed in September 2014, and it strives to increase female participation in STEM fields, fostering better working environments for all members, educating members of the STEM community and engaging members of the STEM community.
Alexandra Gibner, a computer science major at UT, said in order to close the gender gap, STEM interests need to be introduced at a young age.
“If computer science were taught earlier and more mandated, there would be less of a sense that “oh this isn’t for girls,” or “oh I wouldn’t be good at this,” Gibner said.
Just like Finkelstein, Gibner said she valued her support system.
“I do appreciate that the UT Women in CS student org will pair incoming freshman girls with mentors,” Giber said.
Margret Tombokun, an electrical engineering student at UT, said that mentors are very important and that she had to seek out her own mentors in college.
“I think the clearest disadvantage is the smaller number of female mentors, so I think it can be easier for female students to fall through the cracks,” Tumbokun said. “I tell [younger girls] that it’s probably going to be tough, but if they find something about it that they love or like enough to work at it, then they should go for it.”
Dry Creek on Mt.Bonnell Road
In 1953, two brothers purchased three and a half acres of land from a local cedar-chopper. In 1956, the two brothers’ little sister, ‘Crazy Sarah’ bought that land from her brothers to venture into her own business. With that land she invested time, money, and efforts to pass down what is now the Dry Creek Saloon to son, Jay Reynolds. The family was unknowing that it would mature into a monument of memories for generations to come.
‘’’Crazy Sarah’ and I? No relation. But she is my hero. My mentor,” says Angel Altenhofel, the lead bartender who now runs Dry Creek Saloon.
Altenhofel bartended for a quarter-century around Austin, and has witnessed the changes in bar scenes over the years. Altenhofel says she caught hell early, but is glad to have landed at Dry Creek.
Angel waiting for customers to come in.
“She loved being called Crazy Sarah. She was known as the meaning bartender in Austin. She always told customers ‘Bring your bottles back down on!’ otherwise, you didn’t get another one,” Altenhofel snorts in a light-hearted tone.
Although Reynolds owns Dry Creek Saloon, Altenhofel is in charge of operations. She joined the Dry Creek family in a rather ironic way—through a funeral. Town rumors spread that Sarah’s successor was on his way to quitting. Altenhofel took heed and made her way over the next weekend, and was offered the job on the spot.
Business for the Dry Creek family continued to boom until 1984. It was the year the National Minimum Drinking Age Act was enacted raising the legal age to 21, and placed strict restrictions on Austinites and tourists.
“It put her [Nana] down. Up to that time, she had a goldmine” Reynolds says. The bar was also included in Austin City Limits that same year but still felt the impact of losing their most valuable resources—college students.
“Mom was going to sell the place, but I told her I’d buy it from her, and lease it back to her, then gift the payments,” Reynolds mentions. In time he paid off the mortgage, year by year of about $11,000, and was able to keep his mother comfortable.
Despite their efforts to keep the family legacy alive, corporate interests surfaced, and developers have been at bay hoping to buy out the family business for over 50 years. The offers on Jay’s land have increased over the years, the latest offer being at $2 million, but Jay and his family still declines.
Sunset on the deck at Dry Creek.
“I never was looking to sell. I don’t need the money, the heck with it,” Jay says. Townhouses, plazas, and condos are all that would replace the legacy of Dry Creek, and the family has never caught interest. Jay instead built a house for himself and family, a permanent sign that they are here to stay.
Jay also has one son, and a possible successor, who has become an Austin native through a different path—music. His band ‘Lucid Dimentia’ is a new-age industrial genre and has been playing for 15 years on the famous 6th street, and occasionally come back to his dad’s bar for a home show.
“There’s a big group of Texas alums that still come back, shocked that Dry Creek is still here. You’d be amazed how many people have even proposed here” Reynolds says.
“It’s the last best dive in town. Last someone told me we were number five,” Altenhofel humbly adds.
An ice cold beer, and the quiet, country atmosphere on the deck with an overlook of the sunset on Lake Travis are just a few of the delights of Dry Creek Saloon, Austin’s hidden gem in the big city. Dry Creek still holds the only 45-record jukebox in the city, and Reynold’s still holds the record for the longest running beer license within the same family in Austin.