Tag: Austin

Art From The Streets

By Mackenzie Palmer, Peyton Yager, Kathryn Miles and Taylor Gantt

David Schumaker woke up every morning on the cold streets of Austin, but one day this would all change.

Schumaker was walking past the Trinity Center downtown, and a woman volunteer at a local art studio stopped him and asked him to tell his story. Schumaker explained how he had been living on the city streets for more than 5 years due to the loss of his parents, alcoholism and drugs.

The volunteer immediately invited him into the art studio and told him to take that grief and anger and paint a picture.

“At the time I had a broken heart and a lost soul, but the program was therapeutic for me,” David Schumaker said.

For over 25 years, Art From the Streets has given the homeless community a chance to start over by providing them with a studio at the Trinity Center, art supplies, and volunteers to help sell art in hope to create a new beginning.

The non-profit organization is run on donations and holds pop-up art shows around downtown Austin. The art shows provide an opportunity for income for the contributors, 80 percent of the earnings of the art go to the artist. Their slogan, “Give Art a Home”, fully embodies the message that AFTS provides an encouraging space for artistic expression for those who need it most

The artists are able to attend 3 free studio sessions each week while creating one-of-a-kind pieces all year long to prepare for the annual “Art From the Streets Exhibition Show”.

Last year’s 24th Annual Show and Sale at the Austin Convention Center brought over 1,200 people who purchased over $90,000 of art in the 10 hours they were open.

The show changed one artist’s’ life entirely. “I own a duplex on South Lamar now. I made enough money at the show last year to pay 2 years of rent,” Jerry Hurta said, “I have a lot of returning customers and people that have gotten to know me, I have a fan club at the art show each year now.”

The program does not only bring money and stability to the artists. It provides them with creativity and determination to belong to something in this world.


 

“At the time I had a broken heart and a lost soul, but the program was therapeutic for me.”


Cathy Carr lost everything she knew in a house fire and immediately was forced to live off of the streets. After hearing about Art From the Streets from a couple friends, she immediately fell in love with the program.

Carr’s painting subjects are usually animals because she feels they are independent and courageous. She hopes to open either an art or a music studio of her own one day to inspire others.

The artists create personal relationships with each other and the volunteers during the studio sessions and the annual exhibition show. Individuals that were once invisible are now seen as a local celebrity. Art From the Streets motivates their artists to be rewarded for their hard work and dedication all year.

The volunteers at the studio range in age from 20 to 70. Most of the volunteers have a passion for art and become truly inspired by the products the homeless or at-risk artists create.

The volunteers often have jobs in the St. David’s episcopal church which allow them to be on site and available for all of the art sessions. They like the consistent schedule and central location because it allows them to build strong bonds with the artists and serve as not only a volunteer, but as a friend.

Schumaker explains that a change in perspective can sometimes be all a person requires to get out there and help somebody in need.

At this year’s art exhibition David Schumaker is expected to have over 200 paintings on display. Schumaker now pays for his own apartment from his earnings for his art and never looks back at the life he once lived.

The Trinity Center is located downtown at 304 East 7th Street. Open studio times are Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 1:30 pm to 3:30 pm.

 

website: http://artfromthestreets.weebly.com/

 

Cultures Dance their way into Austin

 By: Nick Castillo, Sara Eunice Martinez, Kaylee Nemec

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Bright dresses and choreographed dance moves captured the stage at the Austin Earth Day Festival on Saturday.  

The Mueller Lake Park event highlighted multiple social dance styles, including flamenco, ballet folklórico, square dancing and tango.

Oaxaca: Arte en Movimiento, was one of the dance groups at the event. It presented a traditional Mexican dance from Oaxaca. Edgar Yepez dance instructor at Oaxaca, said the dance represents Mexican heritage.

“It’s a Mexican tradition,” Yepez said. “It’s a Mexican folklore.”

Arte en Movimento’s goal is to be a growing space for culture and art, while promoting diversity, opportunity and cultural expression. Yepez said they’ve been around for a year and have seen their program grow tremendously from four participants to 40. He credits the growth to style of dance.

“The main difference in the style of dance is Guelaguetza,” Yepez said. “No one is doing Guelaguetza in Austin. That’s the main difference between other kinds of dance.”

Oaxaca showcases the vibrant social dance culture in the city.

But Austin isn’t always as kind to professional dance. Austin’s professional dance culture has the same issues as other major cities. According to Caroline Clark, who is working on her Ph.D. about Austin dance, said the only dancers who make a salary are ballet dancers. There’s also limited space. But she added that “that’s true everywhere.”

While professional dance has its troubles in the city, Clark said the most important thing about Austin’s dance culture is its growth.

 

Origins of Dance Cultures

Infographic Created By: Kaylee Nemec 

 

“The most important thing to know about Austin dance is that as Austin’s population grows, the diversity of dance forms that one can do here increases,” Clark said. “There are many kinds of dance here, from African forms to Hispanic forms to European folk forms to Asian forms. And, don’t forget the big Native American powwow that takes place every November. And, the very influential Texas dance hall tradition.”

Some of the biggest reasons for social dance’s popularity in Austin is it’s fun atmosphere. Mickey Jacobs, a senior tango instructor at Esquina Tango Cultural Society of Austin, said people attend tango classes at Esquina for the relaxed environment.

“We laugh a lot,” Jacobs said. “It’s a very open, and welcoming community. That’s really what esquina is known for and that’s what brings people back. It’s not intimidating … We make it easy to take that first step.”

Jacobs said Esquina offers a wide variety of classes. The main focus is Argentine tango, which places emphasis on the dance partners’ connection. Jacob’s performed a tango routine with fellow instructor Orazzio Loayza at Saturday’s festival, which displayed the dance’s heavy reliance on a duo’s embrace, and it additionally showed the technical side of the dance.

“It’s a couples dance first and foremost so learning to have the conversation, if you will, between the follower and the leader, but instead of a verbal conversation, it’s a conversation with your body,” Jacobs said. “It’s a very sensual dance. It’s all about responding to each other’s body movement … It all goes back to an embrace. The dance position is called the abrazo, which means embrace, and that’s where everything originates.”

Jacobs added that Esquina isn’t the only place in Austin teaching tango. She said the tango culture in Austin, much like the city’s overall dance community, is alive and well.

“There’s a very vibrant community,” Jacobs said. “There are a few 100 people, who regularly dance tango. There are definitely people around town, who are great, that serve people all around Austin … There are good teachers throughout the city, and a very vibrant active community.”

 

 

Meanings of Bharata Natyam Hand Gestures

Photos and Cutlines By: Kaylee Nemec

 

 

Photos and Cutlines By: Nick Castillo

 

Videos filmed and produced by: Sara Eunice Martinez

Poo Poo Platter: Serving Up Austin Drag

Jessica Jones, Fatima Puri, Shannon Smith

At 9:20, the stage manager throws open the dressing room door.

“Ready to go on at 9:30?” he asks.

But everyone shakes their head; Cupcake is running late—they’ll need more time. Seconds later, a frazzled man rushes in with a large suitcase in tow. The dressing room quickly becomes a center of chaos.

He yells that he only needs ten minutes. As Brady rips open the suitcase, one thing is clear: a transformation is about to take place.

Brady puts a hair net over his short, buzzed head and gets to work on his face. Quick brush stokes of foundation, blush, eye shadow. He swiftly applies glue to his fake eye lashes and places them perfectly on his lids. While he finishes up his lipstick, someone straps his heels. He shoves gel implants into his otherwise empty bra, and gives them a shake as he glances in the mirror. Next, he places two different wigs on his head and pins then into place.

Exactly 10 minutes later as promised, he sings, “Cupcake is reaaaady!”

Someone hands him the mic and he steps onto stage.

The dressing room looks like the aftermath of a tornado, but the five remaining queens backstage are too excited to even notice the mess. Tonight is a Poo Poo Platter show—and they’re ready to serve up the most unique of Austin’s drag.

Poo Poo Platter was formed three and a half years ago, after founding member Waldo moved to Austin and saw an opportunity to bring a new type of drag to the area. At the time, Austin drag was focused on female allusion, but Waldo knew others would want to join him in bringing a lighter-hearted, funnier type of drag to the city. With now more than ten members and at least two shows a month you could say it was a success.

Waldo, stage name Bulimianne Rhapsody, the creator of Poo Poo Platter, gets ready before the show. Photo courtesy of Shannon Smith.

Waldo, stage name Bulimianne Rhapsody, the creator of Poo Poo Platter, gets ready before the show.
Photo courtesy of Shannon Smith.

Although they are a troop, every member gets to design their own part of the show, from music and props right down to costumes and makeup.

“We’re very much independent contractors. Everyone does their own thing, they’re responsible for their own acts,” said queen Arcie Cola.

But being a part of the troop certainly has its benefits. It’s easier to book shows when you’re offering more than just one act, and the members understand that. Many of them had solo careers as performers before joining Poo Poo Platter, but enjoy the special relationships that being a part of this group provides.

“You can always be an individual performer, whereas being in a troop it’s a family. So for me it comes down to work and family,” said Zane Zena, who performed as a wrestler previous to joining Poo Poo Platter.

And the closeness of the group is apparent, even to an outsider. Whether they are helping each other in the dressing room, taking a cigarette break or just dancing around together during a rehearsal—it is clear that the group shares a special bond.

A big part of that bond is their agreement that “drag” is something that cannot easily be defined.

“When somebody tells you that you can’t be something—you do it. That’s drag to me,” said Zane Zena.

While Cupcake was more keen on not defining it at all, “I don’t know what is and isn’t drag… It’s not my problem to define the word, I’m not f***** Merriam Webster.”

And while the actual definition of drag may not be important, the troop agreed that there is a definite need to shine a light on drag as a real performing art.

Poo Poo Platter cast. Photo courtesy of Poo Poo Platter.

Poo Poo Platter cast.
Photo courtesy of Poo Poo Platter.

They practice hours a week and spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars, on making their own costumes. Yet, people are still quick to dismiss drag as being a real art. Respect—that is the universal word each queen mentioned. And the Austin International Drag Festival this past weekend was one step in the right direction.

An entire weekend dedicated to promoting and supporting the drag community, Poo Poo Platter was able to host events and mingle with infamous drag queens from around the world. More than anything, the second annual festival acted as a way of spreading the idea that drag is an outlet for artistic expression, not simply men in dresses.

 

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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.

Why Businesses Fail on The Drag

By Faith Ann Ruszkowski, Samantha Grasso and Ellen Gonzalez

Video by Faith Ann Ruszkowski and Samantha Grasso

Why Businesses on “The Drag” Fail: An Investigation

Story by Faith Ann Ruszkowski

When Noodles & Company closed its location on the corner of Guadalupe and 24th Streets last fall, its departure was abrupt. On Nov. 4 the restaurant was serving pasta, and by Nov. 5 its doors were locked and a note hung on the window thanking customers for their patronage.

Estephanie Gomez, a journalism senior at the University of Texas at Austin, was working for Noodles & Company when it closed. She was shocked when the restaurant went out of business.

“I literally got a text at 10 p.m. the night before that said, ‘Hey, yeah, don’t come to work tomorrow but come and pick up your severance package at 8 a.m.,” Gomez said. “I didn’t catch on—oh, Noodles is doing badly—because we were pretty busy everyday at the same times. I never knew, until the night before.”

While the swiftness of Noodles & Company’s exit might have been shocking, another business deciding to leave the strip of Guadalupe Street, known as “the Drag,” is a relatively a common occurrence.

After Noodles & Company closed in November, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, which was located next door, called it quits. Pita Pit, also located on Guadalupe, closed its doors this spring. Earlier in 2015, Manju’s, Mellow Mushroom, and Jack in the Box, all located on Guadalupe, closed up shop.

Out of the 53 establishments currently on the Drag, 13 have been there for five years or less, according to data gathered from in-person interviews and business’ websites. Additionally six storefronts along the stretch of Guadalupe from 21st to 27th Streets are vacant.

Students like Ilda Arroyo have become accustomed to the high turnover of businesses on the Drag. Arroyo, who graduated from UT in December with a degree in Human Development and Family Sciences, said she noticed the constant change during her five years as a student.

“I remember as a freshman it consisted mostly of food places, but the food places have changed to businesses like the expanding Urban Outfitters, a real estate office, and a small convenience store,” Arroyo said.

So although the high turnover has become commonplace, it raises the question: why are so many businesses unable to succeed on the Drag?

Why Businesses Leave the Drag

This semester, Melissa’s Custom Gifts vacated its location on the Drag next to the long-standing Goodall Wooten dormitory and moved shop to the corner of 24th Street and Rio Grande. The store’s owner, Ken Jones, said that he made the decision to move for many reasons, one of which was that he wanted to discontinue ATX Books, which he also owned and operated from that location.

“One of the biggest things was I had been planning to end the bookstore for a very long time,” Jones said. “I didn’t need as much space, although they didn’t want me to leave because it is really hard to keep tenants on the drag period. But, it was a little bit too much space, a little bit more than what I wanted for what I was doing here, and, of course, the rent on the Drag—anywhere in this area—is very high per square foot.”

However, during his 5 years on the Drag, Ken Jones did concoct some theories about why so many businesses were failing based on personal experience and observation. For many rent is an issue like it was for him, but one of his main observations is that students do not support local businesses.

“The kids do not connect with the businesses that are there, they just don’t,” Jones said. “I ask kids and none of them know a business owner’s name. They don’t have any allegiance of any kind to anything on there. And guess what? Those businesses go out of business…They do not support the businesses that support them. Bottom line. Why doesn’t it work? It’s the students fault.”

He has also observed that business do not understand the UT campus environment.

“They come in with great intentions thinking we’ve got this concentrated amount of 39,000 [undergraduate] students we’re going to make a killing,” Jones said. “They do not do their research.”

Jennifer Hillhouse, the owner of Jenn’s copies which has two locations on the Drag and has been in business since 1982, also said that many stores open on Guadalupe without realizing how dependent their business will be on the students’ schedules. She has had 12 different neighbors since she opened her second location on the Drag near Dean Keeton.

“This is a nine-month business cycle,” Hillhouse said. “It dies in December, a horrible death, and if you have to sell at least 500 hamburgers a day to make your rent that is not going to happen in December and in June and July and halfway through August… It’s a whole town for nine month out of the year and it is a ghost town for the other three and businesses get blindsided by that.”

Matyear pointed to Terra Burger, a now closed business, as a classic example of a business that was not able to anticipate the campus cycle.

“They ran out of buns on Parents’ Day,” said Hillhouse.

What Successful Businesses on the Drag have in Common

Jenn’s Copies is one of the few businesses on Guadalupe that has achieved decades of success. The Co-Op is the longest running business on the Drag, with 99 years of service. The Wooten Barber Shop has been in business for 52 years. These are all businesses that provide services students are always in need of: prints for projects, books and haircuts.

“People have to get their haircut. It’s a destination shop,” Jones said, of his former neighbor.

Don Stafford has been working at the Wooten Barber Shop on the Drag for 23 years aggregating loyal customers all the while. He characterizes the establishment as plain, but reliable and comfortable.

“They come here because they need haircuts, but they also come here because they feel comfortable in the shop,” said Stafford. “It’s not a place where we serve wine and cheese, but come in and tell us how bad your day was or how good your day was.”

The barber shop is remarkably small, but manages to fit three stations into a space the size of the average public restroom. Jenn’s Copies also operates on a small number of square footage. Hillhouse believes modest decorations, reliable service and limited space are key to remaining in business when rent is so high and the business cycle is inconsistent throughout the year.

“When they [the shop next to Jenn’s Copies] turned into a restaurant their finish-out cost $250,000, comparison mine cost $20,000,” Hillhouse said. “I went to TOPS, which is Texas Office Products & Supplies, everything is secondhand…I only had one fancy piece of equipment and it was leased. I did not have a color copier and my husband literally painted my name on a shingle, on a piece of ply board and we hung it outside.”

Graphic by Ellen Gonzalez

“The Drag” through the Years

2100 Block Guadalupe St.

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2300 Block Guadalupe St.

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2300 Block Guadalupe St. (continued)

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2400 Block Guadalupe St.

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2400 Block Guadalupe St. (continued)

mellow

 2500 Block Guadalupe St.

madam
Screenshots from maps.google.com

 

A New Stage For Hidden Talent: TILT Performance Group

By Jack Vrtis, Anahita Pardiwalla, and Jacob Martella

TILT Cast Members

The cast of TILT’s second production, Free To Be … You And Me.
Courtesy TILT Performance Group

Gail Dalrymple needed to find a place for her son, Peter Richter, to reach his potential.

Richter, who has Autism and is legally blind, found his niche on stage performing theater at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. However, upon graduation, landing a spot in a professional group would be a difficult task.

In response, his mother created one — the TILT Performance Group.

“There weren’t opportunities for people with disabilities,” Dalrymple said. “And after school, his world began to close in.”

Since it’s founding in September 2013, TILT has grown to a cast of 15 members. Each brings their own unique talent to the stage. With five productions under their belt, the troupe is set to hit the stage in a few months in a collaboration with the Austin Jewish Repertory Theater.

Even with all of the accolades, Dalrymple’s original goal for starting TILT has been a success. Richter has been in four of the five productions, his favorite being “Free Patterns,” which the group performed in January. He found a place to be himself.

“It’s fun to do,” Richter said. “I want to keep doing it … It’s a good stress.”

TILT is home for many more than just Richter.

Toby Al-Trabulsi became involved theater in high school, participating in UIL One-Act Play competitions. Being blind made it difficult for him to continue performing. TILT fostered his growth on and off stage.

“[I’ve had] a lot of new experiences,” Al-Trabulsi said.

Similarly, despite being in a wheelchair, Kristin Gooch said the best part of TILT has been gaining self confidence.

“I love performing and I love interacting with the audience,” Gooch said.

Each actor had their own share of difficulties. Al-Trabulsi said the hardest thing for him on stage is his placement.

“It’s easy to think about, ‘Oh, I should be here,’ but in actuality it doesn’t align with what’s in the script sometimes, especially if I don’t practice it beforehand,” Al-Trabulsi said.

The group will perform “As Butterflies,” a musical based off of Jewish experience during the Holocaust. The first performance is set for May 6, one day after Yom Hashoah, the Jewish Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust.

Dalrymple sees a much brighter and broader future for TILT. She hopes the group will be able to take their shows on the road around the Austin area, something that could happen sooner rather than later.

“I’ve would have never dreamed we could have gone as far as we have in this short period of time,” Dalrymple said.

The group is one of many for people with disabilities in the country. In addition, Dalrymlpe is planning to visit the Phamaly Theater Company in Denver to see how TILT can continue to grow.

“I just would love to see TILT something that became very established in the Austin theater community was known for the work that we do as well as the great courage and inspiration of the actors,” Dalrymple said.

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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Austin Roller Derby: Texas Rollergirls Jam Way to Success

By: Nick Castillo, Sara Eunice Martinez, Kaylee Nemec

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Austin roller derby scene emerges in 2001, leads to sport’s revival

Hundreds of people stand outside a southeast Austin business complex on Feb 13. Inside lays ‘The Blood Shed’ – an old warehouse building modified into a roller derby arena, where the Texas Rollergirls prepare to kick off their 14th season.

Fans cram into ‘The Blood Shed’ – standing or sitting on the concrete floor, searching for a spot to see the action, music blares, an enthusiastic emcee named ‘Chip Queso’ pumps the crowd up, and all while the Hotrod Honeys ‘bout against the Honky Tonk Heartbreakers.

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Julie Hunter, owner of Medusa Skates in Austin and roller derby player for TXRD – a banked roller derby league – said the players feed off the atmosphere surrounding the games.

“When we have a ton of people it feels great,” Hunter said. “I’m really camera shy, but when I get out there I’m like ‘fuck yeah. This is awesome.’ I love it. I eat it up.”

Roller derby began in Chicago in 1935, but Austin led to the sports’ revival in 2001.

Austin has emerged as a major roller derby scene with multiple leagues including the Texas Rollergirls, who participate in the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, and the TXRD – a league that participates in banked roller derby.

“It’s a really big scene,” Hunter said. “This is where the revival of roller derby got started back.”

Since the scene’s development it has added junior leagues, recreational leagues and even high schools have added the sport. There are even men’s leagues developing in Austin.

Film By: Sara Eunice Martinez

The game itself is fast, vicious and sometimes dangerous. The players say it’s a mix of football and speed skating. Two teams play in a game called a ‘bout,’ which consists of two 30 minute halves. Each team has five players on the track – one jammer, one pivot and three blockers, who help their jammer through the pack and try to prevent the other team’s jammer from scoring. The jammer scores after they make it through the opponent’s blockers and are credited points for each pass made within a two-minute period called a ‘jam’ during each half.

Jessica Duran, who goes by Virgo Vengeful and plays for the Hell Marys in the Texas Rollergirls league, said she’s seen the Austin competition increase during her 10 years of participating in the sport.

“The skill level has gotten higher and higher,” Duran said. “Everyone is getting better every year. So every year, I think I learn something new and I also really challenge my brain. As far as the game goes, the strategy is super important to the sport and learning how to tune into it.”

TexasRollergirls (1)

Duran added that the Austin scene is empowering because of the physical nature of the sport and the ability to speak your mind within leagues.

“It’s very empowering, definitely,” Duran said. “It’s a lot of very opinionated females, which is great. We might butt heads, but it’s also empowering that you can speak your mind and you’re encouraged to be you. You’re a female who cares? When someone says ‘you hit like a girl.’ ‘Yeah, I do hit like a girl. I hit very hard. You wish you could hit like that.'”

“We very much empower every girl that comes in from juniors all the way up to our rec program to our premier programs.”

Miyah Calhoon, who plays for the Honkey Tonk Heartbreakers in the Texas Rollergirls league and goes by Fender Bender, said seeing the growth of the sport down to the youth level has been special.

“It warms my heart, it really does.” Calhoon said. “To see the growth – there’s this empowerment aspect to it too … To see juniors skating today, it really does warm my heart.”

The fans cheer as the final whistle blows on Feb. 13. The Hotrod Honeys claim their first win of the season – a 293-108 clobbering of the Honkey Tonk Heartbreakers.

Both teams share high-fives despite the battle each fought. They all share in the same fun the Austin roller derby scene has created.

“It really feels like a family,” said Diane Sanson, who participates in the Texas Rollergirls recreational league. “They’re like distant relatives that are way above you, but they’re still encouraging you and telling you ‘you will get there.’ Telling you how to get there. It is more of a family. We help each other out. It’s not discouraging even if your team loses.”

Photos by: Kaylee Nemec

Austin refugee organizations aid in international relocation transition

By Alex Cannon, Kyle Cavazos, Estefanía de León, & Danny Goodwin

A young Syrian boy washed ashore, a news reporter kicking fleeing immigrants; while mainstream media was flooded with these powerful images for a period of time, the Middle Eastern crisis has abruptly faded from most news outlets.

However, while the situation may go underreported, the crisis remains far from over.

“What they’re having to deal with now, they’ve always had this problem, regardless of if there’s a crisis or not,” said Sam Karnes, president of the Liberal Arts Refugee Alliance (LARA) at the University of Texas at Austin.

 

Refugees seeking asylum in the United States go from living in a state where leaving the house means risking your life to American communities where safety is an assumed guarantee. Karnes hopes to assist refugees in the Austin area by connecting with them on a personal level.

Allocations for Refugees entering the U.S. FY16

“A lot of the time they come here and they don’t know anyone, and they’re stuck in their apartments, they don’t have cars and stuff, so we look to kind of provide a filling for that gap and just show them that Austin as a community is welcoming of them,” Karnes said. “We enjoy them, we appreciate the aspect of their culture that they bring to this community, and we want them to feel at home here.”

LARA works with a few Austin based nonprofit organizations such as the Refugee Services of Texas and Caritas, as well as the Center for Survivors of Torture. These resources help connect volunteers like those of LARA with incoming refugees, both those new and those familiar to Austin.

“Usually they’ve been here like one or two months, or they’ve been here a year, but occasionally we come across someone that’s been here just for a few weeks,” Karnes said.Refugee Program Arrivals by Country-2

According to Karnes, the entire process of a refugee moving from their home of origin to the United States can take up to “five or six years.” This process includes seeking referral for movement, clearing multiple security processes, receiving clearance from several DHS associated departments and, finally, preparing for the actual move.

Refugee Services of Texas and Caritas offer migration services to international refugees moving to Austin and help facilitate the arduous process.

 

“We feel like housing is kind of the foundation to lasting self-sufficiency and stability so it’s hard to get a job or address medical or mental health issues when you don’t have a safe place to sleep at night,” said Lindsey Dickson, Caritas’ communication manager. “We’ve got a food services programs that includes a community kitchen where we serve lunch and then a food pantry for our clients where they can get weekly groceries during the time that they are trying to get on their feet.”Refugee Program Arrivals by Status-2

Although these resources help adjust refugees with their abrupt culture change, admission to the United States doesn’t guarantee them long term stay. Many seek the path to full U.S. citizenship in order to solidify the new life they’re taking on.

Sarah Stranahan, Director of Operations at the Multicultural Refugee Coalition, knows how difficult and challenging this process can be, as well as the necessity to gain citizenship.

“In here, we call it Pathways to Self Sufficiency, and right now what we have is this citizenship class, tutoring them and drilling them so they can pass the citizenship test hopefully,” Stranahan said.

 

 

No matter how many funds and efforts these service organizations put toward these programs, the success comes from the willingness and openness of the refugees taking on this monumental move.

“Every refugee’s outlook on life is incredible because they work so hard to get to the country,” Karnes said. “At that point, they’re just excited to be in a country that isn’t threatening their safety on a daily basis.”

 

Refugee Admission to U.S

Racist Roots: An inside look at UT landmarks

By Kyle Cavazos, Estefanía de León, Danny Goodwin, & Danielle Vabner

In front of the main tower at the University of Texas, there is an empty space where a statue of Jefferson Davis once stood. Appearing indifferent toward its absence, students walk by on their way to class, cell phones in hand.

The university made the controversial decision to remove the statue after South Carolina took down its own Confederate flag. Some disagree with its relocation, arguing that the statue is simply part of the school’s history, and that to remove it from its original location is to deny its history and its ties to the Confederacy. Others, however, are relieved that the statue is no longer on display, and feel that the time has come to bid adieu to the prejudiced past it is associated with.

“I think that’s kind of what the university allows for in this space is for these kind of conversions and controversies,” said Dr. Simone Browne, an Associate Professor in African and African Diaspora Studies. “But in the end, at least for me, the right thing was done, and for other people they want that to remain so that we can understand these histories.”

The history of the university and its landmarks goes deeper than Jefferson Davis. There are still other figures on campus that remain at the center of this debate, figures who have had an influence on the university for years. One example is George Littlefield, who was a donor to the university and had ties to the Confederacy.

“He established a Littlefield Fund for Southern History, which would basically archive a history that was a celebration of the Confederacy,” Browne said. “[He] gifted not only this archive, but also gifted the money to create what we have as the six-pack…and so his name is still continually on the campus.”

Though Browne said that she agrees with the removal of the statue, she does not believe that awareness of the university’s history and keeping these landmarks up for all to see have to be mutually exclusive.

“[We need to understand] the university, its architecture, and its formation as a…memorialization to the Confederacy as an enterprise,” Browne said. “That’s what it was about. That’s why basically the, the university’s back is facing the north, why we’re facing the Capitol, why we have everything around that fountain.”

Dr. Leonard Moore is an example of a UT faculty member who feels that the statues and other landmarks originating from can serve as learning tools for students, and that they should not be taken down.

“I’m a historian, so other people may see a Confederate statue as problematic. I value them for their historical value, you know what I mean?” Moore said. “I like to use things like that as a teachable moment. I wish they had left them up, because I think it reminds people of the history of this place.”

Moore also said that he does not believe that the statues have a profound effect on minority students at UT. He said that in his experience, students are looking to get more support from the UT community.

“They would’ve probably said some more scholarships, some more outreach efforts, some more outreach programs out of the College of Business and the College of Engineering,” he said. “And so the fear was, when they put the statues down, now we can’t get anything else.”