Tag: Austin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duck Derby Video from Briana Franklin on Vimeo.

 

 

Austin Yogis Unite at the Wanderlust Yoga Festival

Don’t Judge a Book Festival By Its Cover

By Daniel Jenkins, Shelby Custer, Jonny Cramer and Helen Fernandez

There’s one weekend in the month of October that brings together all the bookworms in Texas.

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The Texas Book Festival was established in 1995 by a woman named Laura Bush. The former first lady came up with the idea of this festival as a way of honoring Texas authors.

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A festival attendee browses books under a tent at the festival. Photo by Shelby Custer.

This past weekend, from Oct. 25-26, the Texas Book Festival drew many fiction aficionados to the Texas State Capitol grounds.

With almost over 300 featured authors at the festival this year the event proved that people are still interested in the tangible object that is a book. The neat thing about this festival is that all of the books that are presented have been published within the last 18 months. The festival is a way of showcasing new, fresh talent. And that keeps curious book lovers coming back every year.

Steph Opitz, the literary director for the Texas Book Festival is in charge of booking the authors and planning the programs that take place during the festival. She says that this year’s festival was a little larger than last year’s since it included 50 more authors.

The Texas Book Festival isn’t just about books. As made clear by this year’s array of events happening on the festival grounds.

“With any festival in Austin there are going to be food trucks. Cooking is another way to showcase and celebrate the books that are at the Festival (we have a lot of cookbooks every year), and games grab the attention of, possibly, less fervent readers,” said Opitz.

With a staff of four and approximately 800 volunteers, the festival proves that people in Austin are committed to planning an event that unites people from all around the world who share one similar interest.

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People enjoy a discussion panel with Chase Untermeyer, former United States Ambassador to Qatar, on president precedents . Photo by Shelby Custer.

The city of Austin plays a huge part in creating a culture that respects and supports the Texas Book Festival. The festival partners with nonprofits, media outlets, local businesses and schools to plan out a weekend of quality events that are appealing to readers and authors alike. The festival ends up donating money to Texas libraries to “support collection enhancement and to implement or continue innovative literacy and technology programs for our Texas public libraries.”

The Texas Book Festival manages to raise money for libraries through fundraising and working with companies to put on events throughout the year. About $2.6 million has been donated in the past. “These grants greatly benefit the library and enable them to share the importance of literature with a wide variety of people in their community,” as states on the Texas Book Festival website.

Aside from donating money, the festival has started a program called Reading Rock Stars, which brings selected authors from across the country to read their work to students in economically-disadvantaged public schools. At the end of the reading, each child receives an autographed copy of the book and the school library gets to keep a set of books as well.

People browse through books at one of the tents at the Texas Book Festival Photo by Shelby Custer

People browse through books at one of the tents at the Texas Book Festival Photo by Shelby Custer

Already in its 19th year, the festival continues to please kids and parents by providing an event where they can both spend quality time together. Opitz says the festival’s ultimate goal is to “raise money for Texas Libraries and to raise money for our Reading Rock Stars program. We also hope to engage more readers and celebrate new books.”

With such a dedicated audience coming to the book festival every year, it’s hard to believe that books are becoming unpopular. The Austin literary scene keeps growing with small, independent presses popping up left and right. Opitz describes the literary scene as “bustling with lots of writers and readers, literary magazines, small presses, and people who are enthusiastic about their work and the work of their Austin neighbors.”

So although e-book sales are rising, books don’t seem like they’ll be going out of style anytime soon.

 

 

Pumpkin Mania Takes Over Austin and Beyond

By Maria Roque, Jamie Balli, Lingnan Ellen Chen, Sara Cabral

(Credit: Lingnan Ellen Chen)

(Credit: Lingnan Ellen Chen)

October heralds pumpkin mania—a time where one can buy pumpkin-flavored everything, and Austin businesses are cashing in on this trend.

It all started when coffee conglomerate, Starbucks, introduced their signature fall beverage, the pumpkin spice latte, 10 years ago. Since then, businesses and brands nationwide began offering pumpkin-inspired products. Sales of all pumpkin-flavored foods and beverages increased 14 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to market research firm Nielsen. In the last five years, pumpkin sales have risen 34 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In Austin, businesses have contributed to the trend by offering seasonal products from about September to November, all featuring the orange squash.

Amanda Bates is the co-owner of Tiny Pies, a local bakery that specializes in handheld sweet and savory pies. Their seasonal pies include the traditional pumpkin pie, the apple walnut pumpkin, and the ginger bumpkin, a blend of pumpkin pie, chocolate brownie mix, and gingerbread crust — flavors that Bates says keeps them baking all day.

“I think it is both for commerce and kind of the nostalgia, bringing in all of the flavors that you grew up eating at home with your granny,” Bates says. “We will put out a tray of pumpkin, and they sell out immediately.”

In addition to keeping the fall holiday spirit alive, as a Go Texan member, Tiny Pies takes pride in sourcing more than 70 percent of their ingredients locally.

“That’s one of the cornerstones of our business is to actually highlight what is seasonally produced locally,” Bates says. “And so right now pumpkin is one of those things that’s being grown and that we can get.”

While pumpkin pairs well with the ingredients used to make pastries, it is also popular in savory dishes.

Goldis Sausage Company purveys unique sausages out of their food truck located downtown. Owner Keenan Goldis created a seasonal sausage for 512 Brewing Company’s six-year anniversary.

“When I was offered to cater the 512 Brewing Party I was overcome with joy, so I decided to grasp the opportunity to throw in some nice autumn flavors,” Goldis says. “So I think that I did a pretty good job of capturing the very essence of a Brandenburg sunset on a cool autumn night.”

The sausage features 512’s six year anniversary Dubbel beer, pork shoulder, cayenne, garlic, mustard seeds and, of course, pumpkin and pumpkin seeds.

“It sold like crazy. People just wanted that sausage, that sausage, that sausage,” Goldis says. “So yeah, people definitely get excited about it.”

Pumpkin Mania Takes Over Austin and Beyond from Maria T. Roque on Vimeo.

Farms across the United States have expanded to meet the demand for the vegetable.

Acreage dedicated to pumpkin farming has increased by about one third in 10 years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

While the hot Central Texas weather is unsuitable for pumpkins to grow, farms and other establishments in the area buy pumpkins from the Western United States to sell during the October pumpkin season.

Elgin Christmas Tree Farm has been selling pumpkins since 2002. Their pumpkin patch offers families an opportunity to partake in fall activities such as pumpkin picking and hayrides.

Owner, Twyla Nash, says they do well with the pumpkin sales, and buy about a semi-truck and a half of pumpkins to meet the demand.

“We have not had a great increase, but we feel that the popularity of dealing with pumpkins, selling them, having pumpkin events, has increased,” Nash says. “So there’s more places for people to go to buy their pumpkins and to do different activities involving pumpkins. The wealth is spread out amongst different businesses.”

Within Austin city limits, Tarrytown United Methodist Church has been running a pumpkin patch every October since 1988 to help the church youth fund their summer mission trips.

Heather Heard is a lifelong Tarrytown United member. Heard started working the patch as an eighth grader, the first year it was started. Now, her daughter is in the youth program, and Heard continues to work the patch along with the youth and other parents.

Heard says she has seen an increase in pumpkin sales.

“The weather has been so nice that people tend to come out more as a family and buy more pumpkins,” Heard says. “I definitely think that there has been an increase in sales this year.”

Heard says when the Tarrytown United pumpkin patch started they sold about a truckload of pumpkins. Now the church ships in two semi-trucks of pumpkins to sell—that’s 43,000 pounds of the vegetable.

“I think everyone comes and it has just become a family tradition for them,” Heard says. “They come and they take pictures and they pick out their pumpkins.”

Whether used for decorating and carving or baking and eating, pumpkins have become a staple of the fall season in the United States and in the heart of Texas.

Austin Celebrates Life and Death Through Viva La Vida Fest

Art studio hosts gala to inspire artists with disabilities

A Budding Artist

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

Michelangelo used a 50-foot ladder to reach the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Picasso required a vast color palette to coat his geometric shapes. Banksy operates through complete secrecy. Shannon Donaldson needs a little water and a well-lit room to keep her art alive.

Shannon Donaldson, founder of Flowers on the Fly, prepares succulents on her ice cream bike. Photo by Helen Fernandez

Shannon Donaldson, founder of Flowers on the Fly, prepares succulents on her ice cream bike. Photo by Helen Fernandez

After graduating in 2006 with a degree in sculpting from Stephen F. Austin University, Donaldson didn’t know in what direction to take her artistic abilities.

“I never knew where I was supposed to be or what I was supposed to do,” she says. “Finally I found this little niche of succulent plants.”

Donaldson says she sees each succulent as a sculpture in itself. She creates arrangements by focusing on different textures and colors. Photo by Helen Fernandez.

Donaldson says she sees each succulent as a sculpture in itself. She creates arrangements by focusing on different textures and colors. Photo by Helen Fernandez.

In 2012 she founded Flowers on the Fly with an ice cream bike and a few dozen succulent plants. Her business flourished – no pun intended – when she started pairing the cactus-like plants with funky vases, pots and sculptures that she purchased from local shops.

After securing her three spots: South Congress, The Drag, and downtown Austin – Donaldson became the go-to succulent vendor around town.

University of Texas at Austin student, Leigh Brown has started working with Donaldson to personalize her purchases.

“I buy succulents from here every three or four months,” says Brown. “I design a setup with her and she’ll go and get the plants for me.”

Not only do UT Austin students enjoy sprucing up their dorm with stylish succulents, the local art community has praised Donaldson for her innovation. RAW, “the natural born” art show hosted at The Belmont in downtown Austin, invited Donaldson to showcase her work. Her setup ranged from succulents sprouting out of glimmering black skulls with lit up eyes to blue dinosaurs with plants growing out of their back. The creativity and attention to detail didn’t go unnoticed – her cart was placed on the first floor, directly across from the main stage, where RAW attendees crowded around in admiration.

“My favorite thing is the succulent gasp – it’s the moment when people see my cart and they’re like ‘Ah that is so cute!’”

Donaldson had to create a job to use her art degree, she says she wasn't able to go out and find one. Photo by Helen Fernandez.

Donaldson had to create a job to use her art degree. She says she wasn’t able to go out and find one. Photo by Helen Fernandez.

Even though her succulents have been in high demand among the art community and UT students alike, Donaldson doesn’t have any desire to raise prices. Ranging from $4 to $25, her succulents are cheaper than most art – and plants in the area. An appreciation for high-quality, reasonably priced art was a key component when creating Flowers on the Fly.

Starting a business was a big risk for Donaldson but it paid off – proving to her family and self that unconventional paths can be successful.

A Budding Artist from Claire Edwards on Vimeo.

Blackout Comedy

By Shelby Custer, Daniel Jenkins, Olivia Suarez, Omar Longoria, and Briana Denham

Blackout sad. Definition: Similar to anterograde amnesia, in which the subject cannot recall any events after the event that caused amnesia. Much like an alcohol-related blackout.

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Aaron Brooks further describes the intricacies of being blackout sad from a stage in a dimly lit room. Meanwhile, his audience roars with laughter while they drink cocktails and cheer on each performer. Brooks is an up-and-coming comedian in Austin, Texas, who transforms his life and its misfortunes into enjoyment for others.

“I don’t love when bad things to happen to me, but I look at it as an opportunity to talk about something on stage,” said Brooks.

On stage at Kebabalicious, Aaron tries to connect with the audience through questions and conversations about his personal life  jokes. Photo By: Shelby Custer

On stage at Kebabalicious, Aaron interacts with the audience by asking personal questions and talking about his own in a comedic way. Photo By: Shelby Custer

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Comedians mingle before the show with the audience at the Lucky Lounge. Photo By: Shelby Custer

Brooks’ stand-up includes jokes about his “estranged” father who may have his legs amputated due to diabetes.

“I don’t know if it’s me trying to deal with the reality that he’s going to die a slow, painful death, or if this is just the grieving process for me,” said Brooks.

His life experiences not only provide content for jokes but they also inspire his pursuit of a career in comedy.

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Aaron chats with fellow comedians before the show. Photo By: Shelby Custer

For a year, Brooks forewent job opportunities in his accredited degree field of radio broadcasting to take care of his ailing grandmother.

“In October of 2009 she moved into our house on hospice care, and she died,” Brooks said. “She died after I held her hand. She squeezed back, and she died.”

His grandmother’s death urged him back into his long-awaited role in stand-up comedy.

“I realized shortly after that happened that I wanted to make people laugh again,” Brooks says.

Aaron gives the audience a taste of his darker comedy by sharing personal stories from his life and using them to make people laugh. Photo By: Shelby Custer

Aaron gives the audience a taste of his darker comedy by sharing personal stories from his life and using them to make people laugh. Photo By: Shelby Custer

Brooks discovered his passion for making people laugh at a young age.

“I realized you had to earn people’s friendship in other ways,” Brooks says. “So I would literally just bang my head against a wall and people would respond to it and thought it was the funniest thing, and that’s when I really got bit with the, ‘Oh, man I really like making people laugh.’”

The Lucky Lounge sign lures fans in for the comedy show with the bright Frost Bank Tower hovering in the background. Photo By: Briana Denham

The Lucky Lounge sign lures fans in for the comedy show with the bright Frost Bank Tower hovering in the background. Photo By: Briana Denham

He also says, throughout his childhood, his mother, Barb Brooks, was a comedian in her own right. She filled their household with laughter and continually encouraged her son’s quest for a career in comedy.

Jon Stinger acts out encounters with women on stage at the Lucky Lounge.

Jon Stinger acts out encounters with women on stage at the Lucky Lounge. Photo By: Briana Denham

 To her delight, Brooks routinely books shows in Austin, Texas and throughout the country. He’s scheduled to perform at Fun Fun Fun Fest this year; he’s previously done routines at Cap City Comedy here in Austin and Comedy Etcetera 2 in St. Louis, Missouri; and recently entertained audiences at Lucky Lounge and headlined at Kebabalicious. He also hosts a podcast, Stay Wonderful, through Cap City comedy, where he interviews other successful comedians.

Despite his success, he has another job to pay the bills, which he jokes about in his stand-up. He asks from the stage, “Does anybody here have to wear a hairnet? No? Didn’t think so.”

 Brooks’ comedy tends to be dark and self-deprecating, but according to his friend, roommate and fellow comedian, Brian Kinsella, it’s not applicable to his off-stage personality. Kinsella mentions that people often perceive comedians as depressed in their day-to-day lives; however, the assumption is untrue for Brooks.

Brooks’ comedy turns life’s iniquities into humor and entertainment for others, and he claims that he “can’t imagine doing anything else.” Brooks procures just as much enjoyment out of his craft as his audience.

“People will latch on to you if you’re doing something honest, real, entertaining and funny. That’s the best feeling,” said Brooks.

Famous comedian and actor Charlie Chaplin said, “Life is a tragedy when seen close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.”

Grocery shopping trends check out the digital aisle

By Joe McMahon, Alice Kozdemba and Silvana Di Ravenna

Grocery shopping in Austin, like many things in these days of smartphones and tablets, is going digital. Instacart is one of the newest services that offers Austinites an online grocery shopping service with HEB, Central Market, Royal Blue, Costco and Whole Foods.

The idea of grocery shopping at the touch of a button is gaining popularity in the U.S. as more grocery deliver services are entering the market. Photo by Silvana Di Ravenna

 

Instacart allows customers to purchase all stock items from these Austin area stores, with the exception of alcohol and in house prepared food items. Customers have the option of getting their order delivered to an address within the city limits or picking up the order at the store. Adam Alfter, an Instacart representative at the Whole Foods Market in Austin, spoke about his experiences delivering food, and the ease the service offers to customers

“When I used to deliver, it would be to a lot of young mothers,” Alfter said. “People who are busy with kids who wanted to bypass the hassle of wrangling them into a car and getting them to the grocery store.”

 

Alfter, a full-time chef,  works with Instacart on the side. He no longer delivers, but stays in the store and does the actual shopping for customers who place their orders online.

“Probably one of the reasons I do this on the side is because I don’t mind being in a grocery store,” Alfter said. “It’s obnoxious going grocery shopping for some people because it can take two hours sometimes.”

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Accoring to Rachel Malish, Whole Foods’ Austin Media Community Relations Coordinator, the selling approach grocery delivery services are pitching  to consumers is that it saves shoppers time.

“I think what it does for us is it gives time back to customers when they don’t have time to go to the store and explore the aisles,” she said.

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Instacart was initially launched  in San Fransisco in 2012. It has since then expanded and Austin became the 12th city to offer the service in May.

“One of the things that we did when we launched it in Austin, was that we asked people if they wanted to use Instacart and in return we gave them a $5 gift card that they could go use in the store for a cup of coffee and read a magazine, or go to the bar and get a flight of wine,” Malish said, “So there’s definitely still effort put into bringing customers into the store as well as encouraging them to use the Instacart services.”

Instacart announced  a national deal with Whole Foods Market on Sept. 8 but despite it’s national score, it isn’t the first service to help shoppers speed up the weekly chore in Austin. Some smaller local delivery services such as Austin Grocer, Speedy Grocer and Greenling have all been in operation longer than Instacart. Founded in 2005, Greenling, which operates solely as a delivery service, also has the full selection of a grocery store, and everything they carry is locally or sustainably produced, or certified organic. Aside from the organic focus, Greenling Marketing Team Lead, Aspen Lewis, described the business relationship they have with farmers.

“We work directly with the producers and distributors,” Lewis said. “And we do have a warehouse, so local farmers will come directly to us from their farms and the rest we buy from distributors just like Whole Foods or any other grocery store would.”

“It’s definitely a space that’s heating up,” she said. “Some services only provide local produce so it’s much more of niche market, and then there’s services that don’t actually hold inventory, that just goes by on-demand. We’re able to offer a wider variety of items because we do hold our inventory and we can take customer requests more easily.”

Lewis, who said she has long had a passion for teaching people how to cook, thinks that home delivery helps consumers embrace traditional cooking and promotes healthy eating habits.

“One of our main tenants is that people have increasingly gotten away from the kitchen and that’s the reason our food has gotten so bad,” she added, “So making it exciting to create things at home is something I really enjoy about my job.”

These businesses also take to social media and highlight customers making these healthier choices.

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With socialization, transportation and now grocery shopping going digital, it’s anyone’s guess what will be next.

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More Than Just a Pretty Face