Tag: Texas

Defund Planned Parenthood bill awaits Senate

Bill to defund Planned Parenthood awaits Senate’s 2015 calendar

By Haley Cavazos, Kyle Cavazos, Daniel Goodwin & Danielle Haberly

The Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015 (H. R. 3134) was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on July 21, and passed on Sept. 18 with 241 votes for, 187 votes against, one vote present, or “soft-no,” and five votes were neutral as “not voting”.

Planned Parenthood receives more than $500 million in federal funding each year, according to the Washington Post.

This all came about due to the Internet release of a video clip on July 14 showing Deborah Nucatola, senior medical director at Planned Parenthood since 2009, discussing fetal tissue donations. The full length video was later released, and can be viewed on Youtube.

Nucatola is seen discussing how she uses an ultrasound to check the condition of the fetus or organs that are of value, before she removes them. According to 18 U.S. Code 1531, performing partial-birth abortions, meaning the fetus is killed with further action outside the womb, is illegal.

This raises a huge issue with conservatives against abortion, lawmakers and many citizens with various moral standpoints. Nine more videos were released on the Internet, each has footage of Planned Parenthood officials allegedly discussing the sales of baby body parts.

Shortly after, Planned Parenthood released a statement. “A well-funded group established for the purpose of damaging Planned Parenthood’s mission and services has promoted heavily edited, secretly recorded videotape that falsely portrays Planned Parenthood’s participation in tissue donation programs that support lifesaving scientific research,” said Eric Ferrero, the Vice President of Communication of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, is co-signing the bill.

“The recent allegations against Planned Parenthood are morally reprehensible,” said Williams. “There is no justification for the American people to finance an organization that has such disregard for human life,” Williams said in a press release.

Richelle King, Co-chair of Planned Parenthood’s Leadership and Advocacy Council in Texas, says her goal is to debunk myths and misinformation about the organization that the public has latched onto.

“The myth that Planned Parenthood sells baby body parts is a manipulation of language used to confuse people that aren’t aware of how fetal tissue donation works.” King says that women who consent to an abortion can also consent to donating fetal tissue for scientific research in the curing of diseases.

She describes the effect the defunding would have on the people of Texas.

“That would be a devastating blow considering a lot of the people Planned Parenthood serves don’t have health insurance or are low income families dependent on Medicaid.”

King says she is not worried because of President Obama’s speech on Wednesday, Sept. 16. Obama threatened legislators with a veto if the Defund Planned Parenthood Act is pushed through the Senate.

Joseph Trahan, University of Texas Austin sophomore PR major and Campus Director of the University Democrats, was deeply bothered by the news of the government’s plan to strip Medicaid funding from Planned Parenthood.

In response, he started a petition raising awareness and encouraging citizens to sign in support of the organization.

“The petition is also intended to give credibility to the claim that Texans do really care about Planned Parenthood, because there’s strength in numbers,” Trahan said.

As of the second week in circulation, the petition has gathered approximately 450 signatures, including former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis.

“There has been so much misinformation released to the public with the highly edited videos, with baseless allegations of fraud or tampering with abortion procedures that go against federal law. All these claims bear no fruit. No hardcore evidence can support these claims,” Trahan said.

Allison Peregory, Young Conservatives of Texas UT chapter chairman, weighs in on the debate.

“It’s been a major controversy because it questions the integrity of the organization, and it’s illegal to sell baby body parts.”

Peregory says YCT is in favor, along with Texas Governor Gregg Abbott, of the defunding act “based upon the fact that Planned Parenthood has now created doubt and has now created this question of character.”

Peregory backs her chapter saying that for her the issue is more about preserving the moral integrity of the state of Texas.

“Do we really want our money going to an organization that is involved in these kinds of practices?” Peregory said.

Peregory says that Planned Parenthood’s statement after-the-fact was just a PR crisis management stunt to hush the public.

In response to Trahan’s petition, Peregory says “it’s too little too late…this is the law, this is what’s happening and if you didn’t want that law to happen then you should have been protesting and should have been more active about it before.”

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.”

 

What Goes Down Must Come Up

How the city of Martindale–which has been largely ignored by the media and offered little organized help after the Memorial Day floods– struggles to pick up the pieces alone, even two months later.

By Anna Ali, Alayna Alvarez and Jaclyn Guzman

vivianhome

Vivian Gonzalez still remembers the first day she opened her beauty shop in Martindale, Texas.

Having grown tired of traveling to work in San Marcos for three long years, she decided it was time to build a few extra rooms and, finally, bring her hair salon home.

That was nearly 44 years ago.

Today, due to the Memorial Day floods– said by Governor Abbott to be “the highest flood we’ve ever had recorded in the history of the state of Texas–” Vivian’s house and hair shop stand in ruin, hardly recognizable.

“I had all the customers from Martindale,” said Vivian with a soft, nostalgic smile. Now, she says, “my customers are without a beauty shop.”

And Vivian–who has lived at the same address for more than 50 years and watched all of her grandchildren grow up there– is now without a home.

The Aftermath

Approximately 50 houses within Martindale city limits were struck by the flood, many of which were more than 50 percent destroyed.

A map of Martindale and the surrounding areas.

Vivian had been through this before, back in 1998. Heavy rains caused the San Marcos River to rise ruthlessly, and her house and hair shop stood in its way.

She not only remembers the great expense it was to repair and rebuild, but also how she was able to fix it and make it “really nice.”

“This flood,” however, “was different,” she said.

Unlike in ‘98, when the river water caused most of the damage directly, the destruction of her home in the 2015 floods resulted almost entirely from her nephew’s camping trailer, which was parked in the backyard when the water rose. The strength of the current was so immense, that it swiftly swept up the trailer and smashed it through the wall of Vivian’s back room, knocking it out completely.

“I think if that trailer hadn’t hit it, the house would have been okay,” she said. “The rest of the house was fine.”

Vivian–now 80 years old–knows well the challenges that lie ahead, but she believes they may just be too much to take on this time around.

“This time, I wasn’t sure I wanted to fix it again because it was too much of an expense,” she said. “And, now, since we have to raise the houses up, I can’t fix my shop.”

Tensions Rise

It had been just two weeks before the floods began when Mayor Randy Bunker was sworn into office.

Although a former floodplain administrator for the city, those close to the mayor said, still, “It wasn’t something he was prepared for.”

Mayor Randy Bunker stands out front of Martindale City Hall (Austin American-Statesman).

Mayor Randy Bunker stands out front of Martindale City Hall (Austin American-Statesman).

Mayor Bunker was likely also unprepared for the reaction he would receive from city council back in July, when he proposed the use of emergency funds to waive fees for affected families needing residential building permits, which are required to obtain before rebuilding.

In an interview with KXAN, Mayor Bunker said these permit fees are particularly expensive in Martindale and, in some cases, exceed three times what someone would pay for the same permit in San Marcos, a city that has stepped up to help its flood victims by waiving the permit fees.

“We have to raise the houses ourselves because we are in the flood zone,” said Vivian. “That costs money having to tear the house down and build it back up– and I’m sure it has to come out of our pocket.”

Unsure it could absorb the cost any better, Martindale City Council voted against the mayor’s proposition and, instead, is now depending on the help of FEMA. If the agency does not help out, however, council says it will review on a case-by-case basis.

Hope Across the River

Tanya Thornhill just wanted to help.

Not even a resident of Martindale (living across the San Marcos River in Guadalupe County), she went out early the morning following the flood–after being tired, worried and up all night–to see if everyone was okay, if there was anything she could do.

Flash forward two months later, and Tanya is still working tirelessly to help others in need– without much help of her own.

Almost single-handedly, she must lead the restoration efforts because there is no organized reception center, such as in Wimberley or San Marcos.

She also takes care of the areas outside Martindale city limits.

“They’re not getting a whole lot of representation, so they’re kind of out on their own,” she said.

“I’ve been going out there, going door to door, bringing sandwiches.” She says she also takes flyers with resources and information, such as where to access fresh water or find financial assistance.

“There’s so much to learn as far as working with the government, like the FEMA organization,” said Tanya.

“I’m still going door to door because some people haven’t even filed or applied yet with FEMA,” she said. They don’t understand that they should, that there’s help for them.”

Still, she says that even folks that do get money from FEMA don’t receive enough. Nevertheless, she encourages flood victims to file, as the agency can help the city record the data it needs to better prepare for natural disasters in the future.

Glimmers in the Water

Despite the turbulent two-month journey, Tanya says “things are looking up–” even outside of Martindale.

Take McKinney Falls State Park in Austin, for instance.

“We have been breaking records here in terms of the amount of people that have been visiting,” said Jenn Menge, a ranger for Texas Parks and Wildlife. “The water has been so much higher, so we’ve seen a lot more people here for swimming and for fishing.”

The park has even noted a few fish species unseen for some time that likely made their way down in higher flood waters.

“We’re really excited when we see people, especially families and young people, come out to enjoy their Texas state park,” she said. “That means a lot for the health and the future of Texas state parks.”

And the good news doesn’t stop there.

A pond of catfish swarm during feeding time at A.E. Wood Fish Hatchery.

A pond of catfish swarm during feeding time at A.E. Wood Fish Hatchery.

The heavy rains and flooding in May and June not only ended the drought and raised both lakes and reservoirs to extraordinary levels, but also provided TPWD freshwater fish hatcheries with a better-than-expected production year, allowing them to stock more lakes and the number of fish in them.

Because reservoir levels have remained low for several years, vegetation grew across the dry lake bottom. When levels rise, however, the flooded vegetation gives small fish a place to hide from predators and, as it decays, releases essential nutrients into the lake–ultimately jumpstarting the food chain.

With the rising water levels benefiting all species of fish, fishing– a $90 billion industry– is expected to see significant improvement in the coming years, as predator species like bass, striped bass and hybrid bass grow quickly with plenty to eat.

Picking Up the Pieces

With little to no media attention, Tanya says there are still countless people, including her own colleagues, who remain unaware Martindale was ever flooded. Combining this with a recent drop-off of volunteers can be, in one word: “disheartening.”

But only a little, she said.

Despite their infrequencies, she nevertheless receives donations that she believes come “from heaven above.” For instance, a group in Pleasanton, Texas recently held a fundraiser and unexpectedly called Tanya asking the square footage of one of her adopted family’s houses. A few days later, the family had all the materials they needed and could begin rebuilding.

Another example is Mattress Firm, which currently offers a $700 voucher to anyone affected by the flood. Residents can sign up for the program through Aug. 31, and vouchers will be redeemable through Dec. 31. 

“Everyone lost their mattress, everyone lost their water heater, everyone lost things that you need everyday,” Tanya said.

Because all contractors in the area are “booked to their eyeballs” and unable to offer any more help until late September, residents of Martindale are still in need of labor.

“We’re relying on family or friends or anybody who knows anything about painting or hanging a light bulb,” she said. “We desperately need materials and skilled labor.”

As for Vivian’s home and beauty shop, she says, “We might have to use it as a shed, or maybe a little summer house where the kids can come and stay a couple days.”

Vivian is sure about one thing, though:

“All my grandkids grew up here, so I want to be here,” she said strongly with a smile as resilient as the river.

Beef prices on the moo-ve – How Austin businesses keep up

An Iron Works Barbeque chef cuts through their brisket.

Thanks in part to the long drought that has engulfed Texas, rising beef prices have left consumers in a state of sticker shock.

But despite the 60 percent price increase for a pound of brisket—from $2.21 to $3.52—some Austin businesses are resisting the temptation to charge their customers more for what is becoming a very valuable morsel of meat.

From farm to plate, raising cattle and selling it has become a less profitable endeavor for almost everyone in the state that is the country’s leading cattle producer each year. Just ask Rob Cunningham, the owner of Coyote Creek Farm, a certified organic farm just east of Austin.

“In 2011, when the drought was at its worst, it affected us in that we had 32 or 35 head [of cattle] at the time, and we sold down to 12,” Cunningham said. “The reason we did that was because we didn’t have the grass. If we had millions and millions of dollars in the bank, we would have just bought hay.”

2015 was the first year in which the overall Texas cattle herd increased after eight straight years of drastic decline. The state finally received a normal amount of rain in 2014, which helped grow more grass for the cattle to feed on. But no one is out of the woods yet. The USDA deemed 156 Texas counties disaster areas last month, thanks to the drought.

The pressure to fall in line with the new business model of charging more for cattle was intense, but Cunningham and his family never really in the cards.

“We haven’t changed our price of beef in three years,” Cunningham said. “Cattle prices are really high right now, but I have been able to maintain my price for our grass-fed beef.”

The loyalty of his customers helped make the decision easier.

“Our customers got a really good deal when they buy grass-fed beef from us,” Cunningham said. “About 80 percent of my business is repeat customers. They know our farm. They know our animals and how they’re raised. They enjoy the taste of our beef.”

But while this behind-the-scenes drama plays out on farms across the state, others are only concerned with how hard it is to put beef on the table.

Aaron Morris, the owner of Iron Works BBQ in downtown Austin, said that his customers have certainly felt the financial food struggle caused by the cattle shortage.

“Well, everybody has to eat, BBQ is a great pastime, and so I don’t see that it has affected our business so much as it’s affected maybe what people are able to eat, unfortunately,” Morris said.

Knowing that his customers’ wallets are straining to cover what they typically enjoy, Morris, like Cunningham, has decided against hiking up prices.

“We haven’t passed the price along too much to our customers,” Morris said. “We’ve seen a doubling in our costs but we can’t really double our price, so it’s affected our business in that it has made our margins tighter.”

Those tighter margins apparently extend into Morris’ very own home.

“In our house and with my family, we have kind of switched ourselves to more pork just because beef prices are not just more expensive for us as a restaurant, but if you go to the store yourself, you’ll see that our beef prices are up dramatically from where they were a couple years ago,” Morris said.

Switching to pork hasn’t been all bad, though. At the very least, it’s given Morris more creative license in his cooking and introduced a new menu item to Iron Works.

“We have been cooking a lot of pork at home, and we decided to introduce that at the restaurant a couple of months ago,” Morris said. “We now do pulled pork, which is a product that has been very well-received, and we added it strictly because the price of beef is so high.”

All it would take to make everything right in this beef-crazy little part of the world is a little more rain.

“For the success of BBQ, we need the drought to let up and we need as many cattle out there in America as possible,” Morris said.

Brown Anole Lizards Migrate to Texas

By: Alice Kozdemba, Elizabeth Williams and Maria Roque

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anoles in Texas from Elizabeth Williams on Vimeo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

B-Cycle or B-Hit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Austin resident Joy Messie does not see an issue either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

By Silvana Di Ravenna, Emma Ledford and Andrew Masi

If you’re looking to unwind after a long and stressful week, going to a 4-day-long festival in the heart of downtown Austin probably isn’t at the top on your list – but you might rethink that after hearing about Wanderlust.

From Nov. 6-9, the Wanderlust Yoga Festival brought Austin yogis to 4th Street and Brazos for four days of diverse yoga classes, music, art and community. Beginner, intermediate and expert yogis alike found classes that fostered physical, mental and spiritual growth and relaxation in a healthy and welcoming environment.

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A group of attendees at the Wanderlust Yoga Festival take part in a class. Festival activities were spread out over four days. Photo by Andrew Masi.

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Zoe Mantarakis shows off one of her favorite yoga positions. Mantarakis led several different classes at the festival. Photo by Andrew Masi.

Zoe Mantarakis has been teaching yoga in Austin for 14 years. She led five very different classes at Wanderlust Austin this year, embodying the wide spectrum of yoga the festival offered.

She started with a self-empowerment class on Friday morning called “Nectar Within” and a meditative class called “Om Shanti Bliss-out.” Later that evening, she switched gears and led “Boom Boom Pow Black Light,” a collaboration with musician DJ Manny that she called a “party on your yoga mat.” She also taught a class on Saturday on her style of yoga rooted in ancient Sanskrit philosophy, “Yoga Illumined,” and a class on Sunday about self-discipline called “Tapas: Fire Within.”

Though her classes were very different from each other, they were “all on the same spectrum,” Mantarakis said, because they focused on creating community.

“Yoga is about bringing a community together and creating a tribe. So there’s many ways to accomplish that, and all of those ways are yoga,” she said. “So if it’s just sitting still and meditating, that’s yoga. If it’s having a party where we’re conscious and we’re all coming together, that’s yoga.”

Newcomers and expert yogis alike found Wanderlust classes that suited their needs. Festivalgoer Stephan Mazerand has been practicing yoga for about three months. His first love is running, and he discovered yoga as a way to help him stretch better.

Though he’s still a beginner, he was able to find classes at the festival that worked for him and helped him grow.

“The problem is I’m a runner, so I can’t straighten out properly,” Mazerand said. “There’s a bunch of poses. I’m not very good at them, and so the instructor was helping me out a little bit, you know.”

In an effort to get festivalgoers out of their comfort zone, Austin yoga teacher Dani Whitehead hosted an open-to-everyone acroyoga “jam” session. She hoped to get people to try acroyoga for the first time, but also provide an opportunity for advanced yogis to “come out and show off.”

“Acroyoga is kind of like dancing. There’s ballroom, there’s hip-hop, there’s contemporary, there’s ballet,” she said. “It can be for fun, it can be for performance, it can be as a workout, it can be to make friends. You can do anything you want.”

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Dani Whitehead demonstrates her strength in a partnered acroyoga session. Whitehead teaches acrobatic partner yoga in Austin, and feats like this draw students to her classes. Photo by Andrew Masi.

Whitehead has been practicing acroyoga for about three years. Though it is more vigorous than traditional yoga, she hopes to get more people into it and grow the community.

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Everyone was invited to participate in the acroyoga play session, as long as they did so safely. Photo by Andrew Masi.

“It is such an amazing practice to do with your friend, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your children – and I am all about supporting that coming together and bringing people in, but also staying safe and taking care of each other,” Whitehead said.

Austin yogi Elizabeth Davis led hiking classes at Wanderlust to help people to “take their Austin outside,” expand their consciousness and find the magic in every moment. She urged her hikers to do self-inquiry work and have “authentic conversations” about their negative or shameful thoughts so that they could move past them and appreciate the present.

“Every moment is truly a gift. It’s a gift that we’re even together as human beings,” she said. “I’m so grateful to be a part of this amazing experience and community. It just reaffirms why I’m in the yoga community and why I do what I do. And I just couldn’t be more happy.”

Austin’s festival is just one of the many annual Wanderlust Yoga Festivals held across the U.S. and around the globe, including Canada and Australia. The festivals help grow and connect the many yoga communities across the world, Mantarakis said.

“To me Wanderlust Festival is all about tribe. And that’s essentially what it is. It’s a traveling group of yogis that grows at each spot and cultivates community within a certain location but then also across boundaries,” she said. “Once we’re connected, we’re a tribe. Across state lines, across country lines.”

Wanderlust Yoga Festivals Across the World (map created by Emma Ledford)
Wanderlust Yoga Festivals are held in multiple locations across the U.S. (including Hawaii), Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Click here for the schedule.

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.