Category: Social Causes

From Uganda with Love

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Steven, Adeline, Rachel & Asher Kehne. Photo: The Kehne Family Home

 

By: Selena Depaz, Caroline Hall & Anthony Green

What makes up a family is hard to explicitly define. Even Webster’s dictionary has seventeen different definitions for the word. But looking at the Kehne family one thing is clear; their family is a complete one.

Matt and Crystal Kehne have four children, two biological and two they adopted internationally from Uganda. While the Kehne’s chose to complete their family through international adoption, for those also considering adoption there are many different ways to adopt and various factors to consider.

There are two basic types of adoption in the United States, public adoption and private adoption. Public adoption, which is always domestic, is when children are adopted out of the foster care system. Private adoptions can be either domestic or international and are typically run through adoption agencies or directly through the birth parents. Private adoptions are financially much more expensive, with an average cost of $30,000, compared to the public adoption cost of around $5,000, according to the American Adoption Agency.

“Private adoptions are much more expensive, and there are other challenges with them as well,” Jillian Bonacquisti, the Adoption Program Specialist at the Texas CPS State Office said. “Internationally, cultural issues are probably the biggest challenge; they’re pulling that kid away from everything they’ve ever known.”

The Kehne family experienced this firsthand when they moved their family to the United States after ten years of living in Uganda.

“I’ve considered it similar to when someone has a stroke and they have to learn how to walk again,” Matt Kehne, the father of the family said. “Culturally that’s what you have to do; you have to learn how to walk again in a different way of life. We’re teaching the kids how to walk over here, and we’re learning again ourselves.”

Aside from cultural challenges, there are additional factors to consider with adoption as well. Especially internationally, because other countries do not have the same foster care system we do; it takes longer and requires more paperwork to adopt.

“One of the biggest parts of the challenge of adoption was the waiting,” Matt said. “Waiting for official documents and reports and court hearings.”

It took the Kehne’s four years to officially adopt their first adopted son, Stephen.
Despite the challenges, the Kehne’s are passionate that adoption is a good thing. There is such a need for adoptive families, not only internationally but domestically as well.

“Currently there are around 30,000-40,000 kids in the United States that need homes,” Bonacquisti said.

Although the Kehne’s chose to adopt from Uganda, they have some advice for others who are interested in adoption.

“I always ask families if they’ve considered domestic adoption first,” Crystal said. “If they know how many kids in their hometown, in their city, are waiting for a family too.”

University Fashion Group in their ‘Elements’ for upcoming fashion show

Take Back the Night 2016

Isabella Bejar, Julia Bernstein, Anahita Pardiwalla

Sometimes it’s easier to stay quiet. It’s easier to believe that what happened doesn’t matter. But life isn’t easy. To rip your heart open and put your hurt on display for millions to see is undeniably hard, but it is also what makes you strong.

Celebrities have come together to combat sexual assault with “It’s On Us,” a campaign to help survivors and end sexual assault. Their mission is to recognize and identify sexual assault situations while creating “an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.”

The campaign comes from the White House where Vice President Joe Biden accompanied Lady Gaga to speak about the message at The 2016 Academy Awards.

The University of Texas at Austin is taking a similar approach to combat this issue. Voices Against Violence, a branch of UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Center hosted “Take Back the Night,” an event that illuminates the movement to end sexual assault and offers a safe space for survivors to speak about their experiences.

Erin Burrows, the Prevention and Outreach Specialist for VAV, said she’s seen many diverse communities come together to talk about this issue.

“It is a beautiful portrait of what it means to be a Longhorn a part of this community,” Burrows said.

Paintings and Illustrations from Take Back the Night 2016

 

Over 40 student organizations are co-sponsoring this event including Texas Athletics, who joined the movement to end sexual assault with a video of their own stating, “Longhorns stick together.”

Students came together beneath the tower to offer support for their peers while learning about campus and city wide services offered to survivors.

Junior Lizeth Urdiales believed a big part is helping students overcome the situation.

“[We’re here] celebrating the diversity of the individuals that we really are,” she said.

Voices Against Violence Survivor's Emergency Fund

What Starts Here… Really Changes the World

A Humanity First member working as a disaster relief volunteer.  Photo courtesy of Humanity First

A Humanity First member working as a disaster relief volunteer.
Photo courtesy of Humanity First

 

 

Anahita Pardiwalla, Fatima Puri, Shannon Smith

With hundreds of student-run humanitarian groups at the University of Texas to choose from, Irenla Bajrovic did not think she’d have trouble finding one that would be willing to help a cause close to her heart. Bajrovic, a natural-born Bosnian, wanted to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Bosnian genocide by organizing a fundraiser. She did not anticipate finding her answer in the merely days old organization, Humanity First.

Coordinating a fundraising dinner is a feat for any organization, never mind a newborn one with just six members. Yet, founder and executive director, Usama Malik, was eager for Humanity First to make its grand debut. About $10,000 later, Malik and his peers were excited about the future of their new Texas Chapter.

A year later, 102 members stronger and with numerous successful events under its belt, Humanity First is more confident than ever. Under its motto “serving mankind” the international organization promotes peace and provides aid to victims of natural disasters and human conflicts.

Malik, however, has tailored the Texas Chapter to stand for more than just the humanitarian relief drafted in their motto.

“One that provides a platform for other organizations and other students to accomplish similar goals,” said Malik.

Through this idea of diversifying the Texas Chapter, the organization has been able to work for a number of different causes—all outside the traditional realm of Humanity First’s mission statement.

These causes have ranged from fundraising for victims of domestic violence to raising awareness of childhood cancer, from feeding the homeless to volunteering at elderly rehabilitation centers. Most recently, the organization assembled hygienic kits for homeless veterans.

 

A few of Humanity First's milestones. Photos courtesy of Google Images and Bosana Foundation

A few of Humanity First’s milestones.
Photos courtesy of Google Images and Bosana Foundation

The group’s scope is wide and limitless; and members are proud to be a part of an international organization that still maintains a local focus.

“You’re touching someone’s life, and it doesn’t matter how big the scale is, as long as you’re helping someone,” said member Marina Khaled.

Upcoming events include a charity fashion show and a culture appreciation night. Learn more at http://www.humanityfirsttx.org/.

 

Humanity First has worked for numerous causes since its birth last spring. Check out a timeline of some of their past events here:

 

Learn more about the Humanity First – Texas Chapter in the video below. The members of Humanity First made hygiene kits for homeless veterans and are currently in production for a fashion show in partnership with Voices Against Violence.

Mighty Texas Dog Walk

By: Isabella Bejar, Jessica Jones, and Jack Vertis

Imagine a place with small dogs, big dogs, dogs in costume, loud dogs, quiet dogs, and every dog breed you could think of. This is the scene every year for The Mighty Texas Dog Walk, a service event that benefits Service Dogs, Inc.

A sea of dogs flooded the parking lot of the Austin American Statesman on Saturday March 5 for the event. Dogs and owners alike enjoyed a scenic walk near Lady Bird Lake that was coupled with vendors handing out tons of free samples of dog food and treats along the way.

The theme of the walk this year was Texas pride. Everywhere the eye could see, there was a dog in a cowboy hat or wearing Willie Nelson braids. A few other dogs were more unique in their appearance, including a poodle that had temporary tattoos on her skin and a funky punk rock hair-do.

Although costumed dogs adds to the fun, the true purpose of the walk is the large amount of proceeds the event raises for Service Dogs, Inc. This organization trains dogs, many of which come from shelters, to become service dogs for free and they gain the majority of their funds to do this task through the walk.

Sheri Soltes, the founder of Service Dogs, Inc., has watched the Mighty Texas Dog Walk grow for the past 17 years it’s been held. Soltes was trial lawyer for eight years after graduating from UT’s Law School and Plan II Program before she realized she wanted to do something “more fulfilling.”

“I read a magazine article one day about dogs who help people with disabilities and it mentioned that some of the groups got dogs from shelters,” Soltes said. “That really appealed to me and here we are, 28 years later after the founding of Service Dogs, Inc.”

Most event participants were Austin residents bringing their family dogs out for a good cause, but there were a handful of service dogs and their owners present as well. At the information tent for Service Dogs, Inc., Morgan Pewitt sits with her dog “Snowflake.” At first, it was confusing as to why she would not provide the dog’s real name.

“When people ask you what your dog’s name is, you can’t not give an answer. That’s weird, so I usually tell people Snowflake or even Winter sometimes,” Pewitt said. “Her actual name is Denali, but she is supposed to react to her name when she’s working so if people ask, I give them her fake name.”

Pewitt is not blind, deaf, or any of the typical disabilities that come to mind for most people when they think of service dogs. She has an issue with her balance when she walks and Denali is there to provide stability. Sheila English and her service dog, Noelle, were also sitting at the Service Dogs, Inc. table. English, like Pewitt, has balance issues and becomes more mobile by having Noelle around.

“I’m a high school special education teacher in Georgetown so my students get to see Noelle every day and she provides a bit of therapy for them too,” English said. “It also helps her to not be distracted wherever we go, because she walks through passing periods at the high school with me.”

The Mighty Texas Dog Walk allows for a large sum of funds to be raised for individuals like Pewitt and English each year. Many dogs would still be in shelters without this cause. This cause allows these dogs to be trained in service and truly make an impact on a disabled person’s life.

“We have had a couple dogs who ended up saving their owner’s life because they knew what to do without their owner telling them to,” Soltes said. “We have creative, problem-solving dogs and we take pride in that.”

Learn more about Service Dogs, Inc on their website!

Bikes Across Borders: Transcending the invisible line

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A group of bikers from the social organization Bikes Across Borders. Photo courtesy of Bikes Across Borders.
Multimedia package by Caroline Hall, Isabella Bejar and Fatima Puri
AUSTIN—“It’s not about charity, it’s about solidarity,” Joshua Collier said.

Collier, a veteran rider for the organization Bikes Across Borders, is referring to the organization’s yearly bike ride from Texas to Mexico, at the end of which the ride participants donate their bikes to local Mexican citizens. Bikes Across Borders does this to fulfill their mission of annual migration to Mexico for the purpose of developing relationships of solidarity and donating recycled bikes.

“In charity, a person is in a place of power, whereas we are donating to equals and also learning so much in the process from our neighbors in Mexico,” Collier said.

This May, Bikes Across Borders will make their 16th annual trip to Mexico since the organization’s establishment in 2000. Starting in Austin, the group of riders, which has traditionally ranged from as few as eight people to as many as 35, travel on recycled bikes through Texas and across the Mexican border, camping along the way.

“I don’t want us to look like we’re locust descending on a place; I want it to look like we’re butterflies migrating through.” Katie Jo Dixon, an original member of Bikes Across Borders, said. “Our intention is to make an impact with our presence in the communities we are passing through.”

Stopping and camping in various Texas communities, which includes the cities of Fredericksburg, Kerrville, Hunt, Leakey and Del Rio, gives Bikes Across Borders the opportunity to spread word of their mission.

“We talk with the communities we stay in about the movement and establish a community connection,” Dixon said.

Another aspect of the ride important to the organization is that all bikes that are used for the ride are donated and are made from recycled bikes and bike parts.

“Bikes are refurbished or made form scratch by the frame at Yellow Bike Project,” Collier said.

Located in East Austin, Yellow Bike Project is a shop open free to the public, in which anyone can come and fix up or rebuild a bike from recycled bike parts.

“We have a lot of charities that come in and fix bikes to donate,” Pete Wall, a Yellow Bike Project employee, said. “Bikes Across Borders is one of the organizations that regularly uses our facilities and parts to fix bikes for donation.”

A Bikes Across Borders member working on her bicycle for the upcoming bike ride from Texas to Mexico. Photo courtesy of Bikes Across Borders.

A Bikes Across Borders member working on her bicycle for the upcoming bike ride from Texas to Mexico.
Photo courtesy of Bikes Across Borders.

Since 2000, Bikes Across Borders has donated over 700 of these recycled bikes to various communities in Mexico and Latin America, through the annual rides as well as bike delivery caravans. The bikes have a large impact on their recipients as they provide free transportation that is usually unavailable in these areas of Mexico, said the organization.

“The bikes are given to Mexican factory workers for transportation to and from work,” Collier said. “Without the bikes, these workers are largely forced to use a huge percentage of their paycheck to pay for the high bus fare required to get to their factory jobs.”

Bikes Across Borders is currently gearing up for its sixteenth ride to Mexico this May and will donate even more bikes to workers in need. The organization said it is always accepting new participants, regardless of cycling experience.

“If anyone wants to join the ride, they should do it,” Dixon said. “We’re all about do it yourself, keep it simple and have a good time.”

 

“I don’t want us to look like we’re locust descending on a place; I want it to look like we’re butterflies migrating through.”

 

Social Media

Bikes Across Borders Facebook
Yellow Bike Project Facebook

 

Photo Gallery

Photos courtesy of BXB


Interactive map of the Bikes Across Borders route from Texas to the Mexican border

View route map for Bikes Across Borders Route on plotaroute.com

 

BXB: The Who and The Why


Learn about two people who will be taking the yearly ride with Bikes Across Borders. Juan Belman heard about the trip through a friend and will start training soon for the long trek to Mexico. Joshua Collier is a veteran rider who recently got back from a cycling trip through South America and looks forward to meeting the new cyclists in the coming weeks.
Please watch video in HD for better quality.

It’s a Ruff Life

By: Faria Akram, Stephanie Rothman, Amayeli Arnal-Reveles

Two puppy siblings look wary of their new home at The Lockhart Animal Shelter.

Two puppy siblings look wary of their new home at The Lockhart Animal Shelter.

Tiny puppies, dressed up as players and cheerleaders, wiggle or sleep in their pens. They’re carefully held, petted and soothed by a variety of people, who coo as they struggle to contain their excitement. The possibility of being able to take a little one home fuels their hours of standing in a long line.

“I grew up with dogs, and I haven’t had anything since I left home,” potential adopter Phillip Christy said. “So I’m looking for a forever friend.”

Christy was one of dozens of Austinites who showed up to the annual Puppy Bowl on Feb. 6. Put on by the Austin Humane Society, the event was held the day before the Super Bowl and allowed community members to engage with and even adopt puppies.

Though the Humane Society strives to get all the puppies adopted, the goal is not a matter of life or death. Austin has been a no-kill city since 2011, according to the Austin Department of Animal Services. Animal shelters in Austin do not euthanize healthy or treatable dogs, even when there is no room to hold them.

Though Austin is also the largest no-kill city in the nation, according to the Huffington Post, the fate of dogs is different just less than an hour drive away. The city of Lockhart, Texas resides outside the no-kill limitations, both geographically and in policy. If any animal is sick, injured or aggressive, it may be euthanized depending on the situation.

“Any animal that bites a person and is captured…if it’s not a “claimed animal” it’s euthanized automatically,” Lockhart animal control officer Cheryl Bertram said “Because there’s not anybody that’s going to pay for their quarantine fee.”

An estimated 700,000 animals are euthanized in Texas shelters every year, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Reasons behind euthanizing include illness, aggression, and overpopulation.

According to Bertram, the animal shelter is the least funded program in the city and the city’s financial breakdown of funds towards the animal shelter could be managed in a better fashion. What the city sees as “quality spending money” she finds as “ridiculous,” she said.

“I pick up things that get hit by cars all the time, the city is not going to pay for everything to go to the vet and see if its fixable,” Bertram said. “And then it might never get adopted. And all that money the considered spending is for nothing.”

UT government major and dog owner Kristen Gundermann also believes that money can be a prominent concern in making decisions regarding euthanasia.

“A lot of times it’s probably an owner surrender or a dog that has been in and out of homes and or ill and no one can afford to pay for it’s vet care,” Gundermann said. “But unfortunately, in a lot of areas, that’s just a reality because not everyone can afford to be a no-kill shelter.” Gundermann said.

The size of the county that Lockhart resides in, Caldwell County, is also an issue. According to the Animal Shelter Act, shelters must properly house and humanely treat animals in their custody. However, this law does not apply to counties with populations of 75,000 or less. Caldwell County has approximately 40,000 people.

For this reason, the Lockhart shelter is unable to have a veterinarian on staff, instead taking animals to an animal health professional in only the most dire of circumstances, according to Bertram.

“[The animal shelter] is the least attended to, it takes a long time to get something going as progress,” Bertram said.

However, Austin Humane Society shelter manager Sarah Hammel is hopeful that counties like Lockhart can make strides toward becoming named no-kill as well.

“I think especially cities and counties that are right around Austin are able to use what we’ve learned, the victories and defeats that we’ve had here to sort of implement it in their own county and I think really we’ll see sort of like a ripple effect from Austin to the surrounding counties hopefully in the future, to where maybe one day Texas everyone could be no kill,” Hammel said.

 

 

 

 

 

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Grow a ‘Stache and Raising Cash for Movember

Deep in Diversity: How Ethnicity & Class Backgrounds Matter at UT Austin

Cassandra Jaramillo | Jade Magalhaes | Sandy Marin | Jan Ross Piedad

As the oldest of her four siblings, Cecilia Flores said she wanted to be a role model to her sisters and go to college but knew money would be an issue for the family of six.

“I had no idea as to how we would pay for college considering we were a big family and my parents were barely making enough money to sustain us,” Flores said.

Flores is one of hundreds of students at the University of Texas who will benefit from its relatively new initiative called Texas Advance, a program aiming to increase socioeconomic diversity on the Forty Acres.

The initiative, which began in August 2014, aims to help under-resourced students in the state who are at the top of their class. With the help of federal and state grants, students in the Texas Advance initiative receive can receive award amounts up to $15,000 a year. Scholarship programs like the Presidential Scholars and University Leadership Network help students cover tuition and fees and offer outreach programs for students.

Last year, the university said it committed $15 million for the program to help 750 students throughout four years. In a release, UT said the initiative expanded to $20 million and will now help about 1,000 students over the next four years.  

For the 20-year-old from Eagle Pass, Texas, the initiative gave her the opportunity to pursue a dream of higher education.

“Money was going to be the deal breaker in this case,” Flores said. “I was either going to UT or I was staying in my hometown to start community college.”

Flores graduated from C.C. Winn High School, which lies in a small border town. As a first-generation college student, it was difficult to transition to the challenging workload.

“I come from a really small town and when I got here it was a huge difference. It was really difficult to adjust to that. But ULN helped me,” Flores said. “I really had no idea how to manage my time. They were the ones who guided me to getting used to the college experience.”

But despite the challenges, Flores excelled.

Video: Minority Enrollment at UT

 

She is currently a junior and a double major in psychology and Iberian and Latin American languages and cultures. Flores is one of the several Longhorns who will be in the first graduating class benefitting from the Texas Advance initiative in May 2017.

Carolyn Connerat, associate vice provost for student success initiatives at UT, said the admissions department, financial aid services and UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement all collaborated to create and market the program.

“It’s important for the university, being the flagship public university in the state of Texas, to make sure we have opportunities for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds to be able to attend UT if they would like to,” Connerat said.
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The university identifies students from low-income families in multiple ways. Diane Todd Sprague, director of financial services at UT, said one criteria includes students who qualify for federal Pell grants.

Students receiving Pell grants accounts for 25 percent of the student body this year at UT, Todd Sprague said. Compared to other Texas universities, she said the population of students who receive grants is relatively normal. 21 percent of Texas A&M’s student body, for example,  received Pell grants for the 2015-2016 year, according to Todd Sprague.

“We are here for a purpose. We want to serve the citizens of Texas. Obviously we pay attention to the demographics of the state,” Todd Sprague said.

The initiative is paid for with legislative funding and thanks to the Houston Endowment this year, $8 million dollars will help sponsor 125 students from the Houston area for the next three entering classes at UT.

On the Whole: Texas Colleges

Connerat said when the Houston Endowment learned about the Texas Advance initiative, they were interested in helping the program.

“They were very excited about the program and how we are really focusing on helping these students to come to UT to develop leadership skills and professional training,” Connerat said.

With the help of the endowment, the university will be allowed to free up funds to help more students as well, Connerat said.

“It’s a $8 million grant to cover the costs of those students from the Houston area. Because of the Houston endowment, that allows the university to use funds that would have gone to pay for that  to give to other students through the Presidential Scholars program or whether it’s through financial aid,” Connerat said.  

For the entering class of 2016, the deadline to submit an application for admission and to be considered for a Texas Advance award is Dec. 1.

Video: Affirmative Action Lawsuits at Universities

Planned Parenthood Loses Medicaid Enrollment In Texas

By: Vanessa Pulido, Alex Wilts, Michael Baez, and Jessica Stovall

When Traci Kirby, a University of Texas nursing student, started experiencing vaginal irritations this summer, Planned Parenthood was not the place she thought she would get treatment.

Kirby had previously visited multiple health clinics to help solve her medical issue, but the doctors had all prescribed her antibiotics, which weren’t working.

“I got on the Internet and looked for different places and I found Planned Parenthood,” Kirby said. “I thought they only did abortions, so I was surprised to see that they actually have full women’s clinics. I went there, and it wasn’t expensive at all.”

According to Planned Parenthood, abortions represent only 3 percent of its services despite popular belief that it’s the only medical procedure the women’s health group offers.

On Oct. 19, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that Texas would end Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid enrollment following the release of controversial videos of group officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue.

Texas Capitol

“The State has determined that you and your Planned Parenthood affiliates are no longer capable of performing medical services in a professionally competent, safe, legal, and ethical manner,” said a letter addressed to state affiliates from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s Office of Inspector General.

According to the commission, Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas receive a sum of approximately $3 million to $4 million a year in Medicaid reimbursements through the state. U.S. law tightly restricts applying federal funding to abortions.

Kathleen Morgan, the former president of Texas Students for Life, a pro-life organization on UT’s campus, said she is happy Texas has cut the Medicaid contract since Planned Parenthood makes most of its money off of abortions.

“Usually abortion goes for about $450 apiece, so that’s their money maker,” Morgan said. “They say that only 3 percent of their services are abortions. However, we know from people who have left the abortion industry, like Abby Johnson, that this is a skewed statistic.”

The Planned Parenthood on E 6th Street.

The Planned Parenthood on E 6th Street.

Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director in Texas, has argued that the organization has unbundled services so that someone who visits once and receives a pack of birth control, an STD test and a cancer screening is counted as having visited the clinic three separate times.

Democratic legislative director Stephanie Chiarello said the Texas government does not actually have the ability to cut Planned Parenthood out of its funding stream because the organization’s financial support stems from Medicaid dollars, which come from the federal government.

“So the state gets a certain amount of money from the federal government and then they allocate it to providers,” Chiarello said. “Planned Parenthood is a provider like anybody else.”

She said Texas has the option to cut itself off from the Medicaid program, but it is not feasible to cut off funding to a specific health provider.

“[State politicians] know they will score political points by saying [the government will] defund Planned Parenthood,” Chiarello said. “So they’re saying that they’re doing it even though they can’t.”