So much good in 2014! From Mobile Loaves & Fishes’ breaking ground with Community First! to St. David’s Foundation gift to help open a new mental health facility, Austin givers have also been movers and shakers, taking the lead in their communities and doing the work to make things right.
If we had to narrow it down to three projects, these are the three little stories that made us believe in Austin again. These are people operating without a road map, but driven by a vision, supported by a community and committed to their work. Go, Austin.
1. Community Activist Sara LeVine, ATX Safer Streets
LaVine’s story from former downtown bartender to community activist epitomizes the potential in all of us to make a big difference in our community. In 2014, Austin’s alcohol-centric economy clashed with Austin’s car-centric transportation system like never before. The case of the drunk driver who plowed through crowd-filled downtown streets during SXSW was singular in its horror, but it wasn’t the only drunk-driving fatality of the year, and it put a spotlight on an increasingly dangerous situation. If Austin was going to continue to support events that put drinking at their center (most of SXSW Music is held in bars and venues that sell alcohol, after all) then it would have to do something to help people get home safely.
LeVine responded on Change.org with a petition to let city officials know that people want better options for getting home after a night of drinking. That petition grew into ATX Safer Streets, a nonprofit on a mission to increase safe transportation option downtown. Cindy Widner wrote on GivingCity: “After receiving an unexpected level of grassroots support from her petition, LaVine was in short order appearing before the Austin City Council with a survey that reveals the scope of the problem and ATX Safer Streets’ suggested solutions.”
Would City Council have taken the matter as seriously had LeVine not stepped up on her own with a petition? Maybe. But to make sure city leaders were going to be held accountable, she then gathered supporters to form ATX Safer Streets, a nonprofit with a very clear and well researched mission.
“Fortuitous timing and a lot of hard work” went into ATX Safer Streets’ early successes, said LeVine, since the group launched at a time “when the city was actually willing to start a conversation about this stuff.”
Moreover, she said, “A lot of is how many voices I have behind me. We have an organization that a lot of people agree with and are willing to get behind.”
2. Community Activist Brent Humphreys, Project LOOP
We’ve known Humphreys as a very talented photographer who’s shot for Esquire, Garden & Gun, the New York Times, Dr. Pepper, Hyatt, MIU MIU… so just everybody. But as bright as that star shines, we can’t help but think of him now as the founder of Project LOOP.
Humphreys lives in Taylor, a town north of Austin known for its barbeque but not known for having a lot of things for Taylor young people to do. Around 2011, Humphreys put together a project that empowered Taylor High School students to explore art and architecture using his own property to host an installation. The community and the students loved it, and it inspired him to think of other outlets for their creativity. He created Project LOOP to organize hands-on, real-world learning experiences led by volunteer creative professional that allow Taylor youth to explore creative pursuits.
That’s how the idea of a skatepark was born. Humphreys saw the skatepark as more than a fundraising opportunity to give the young people a place to commune, he saw it as an opportunity to teach them everything it takes to get something like that built: from design and construction, to fundraising and community organizing.
This month, Project LOOP’s 50/50.2 fundraiser and exhibition raised more than $45,000 toward the project. Celebrities like Tony Hawk, Matt Groening and Michael Stipe contributed custom-painted skateboard decks for the auction, and hundreds came out to the final exhibition a few weeks ago.
Humphreys says when he was younger, he met a professional photographer who took the time to show him what a career in photography could be. He credits that man’s generosity with his career and says that’s what Project LOOP is all about.
3. Business Owner Patrick Terry, P. Terry’s
By now you’ve heard that P. Terry’s Burger Stand donated 100 percent of its profits to the American-Statesman’s “Season for Caring” holiday fundraising campaign on Saturday, Dec. 13, an amount totaling more than $25,000. You might also know that this is the fifth year that the restaurant has done so. In fact, since 2009, Patrick Terry, P. Terry’s owner and namesake, has donated more than $103,000 to Season for Caring.
But did you know that P. Terry’s has donated more than $400,000 to other local charities since it opened in 2005? Those other charities include Strong Start, Foundation Communities and HeartGift Foundation – Austin Chapter, and that’s just in 2014 alone.
Owner Patrick Terry and his wife stand with other generous business owners like Bobby Jenkins of ABC Home and Commercial Services and Mike Haggerty of ThunderCloud Subs, all local owners who have found charitable ways to give back to the communities that support them. These people have a vision that their businesses can truly serve the greater good. And like all good leaders, Terry gives credit to this staff and the customers.
“What’s just remarkable is how the city came out,” Patrick Terry said in the Statesman. “The William Cannon store brought tears to our eyes,” Patrick Terry said. “I don’t know how the employees did it. They should not have been able to do it.”
People using their voice, their business and their passion to help others make Austin better for all of us. And it sounds like they get a huge return on their efforts, too. Here’s hoping you find your project in 2015.