“I slept on the roof of my high school for five months.”
Ashley, a Central Texas teen, wanted to feel safe. She’d been kicked out of her home and had sleept outside behind her friend’s apartment complex, but she was looking for a place where no one would find her and she could get some rest. So she slept on the roof of her school. Four five months.
Ashley’s story is worth remembering because, unfortunately, she was just one of the thousands of young people in Central Texas living a nightmare. These are the young people LifeWorks helps: They have survived abuse, neglect, hate, dozens of foster homes, homelessness, suicide attempts… and still believe there’s a better life for them out there, for themselves and for their children.
“I want to be a better parent than I think my parents were,” she said.
While the Austin nonprofit is only 16 years old, already it has helped tens of thousands of young families move from survival to independence – more than 13,000 last year alone. As young parents coming out of a overwhelming childhood, they face extra challenges of raising a family on their own. Lifeworks help them find jobs, childcare, training and the support they’ve never had. The organization does this by creating supportive communities that include access to counseling, housing, education, childcare, transportation and more.
At the “Laying the Groundwork” luncheon on April 1, the goal was to celebrate the completion of a new 45-unit affordable housing complex near Pleasant Valley and the Sooch Foundation Youth and family Resource Center. Called, “The Works,” the campus includes a 45-unit housing complex that will provide safe, affordable housing for individuals and families, including many LifeWorks clients. Located next to LifeWorks east Austin campus, and just two blocks from the Austin Community College Eastview Campus, The Works is the first community of its kind in the country, offering affordable housing, extensive support services and access to education and job training – all within short walking distance.
Regarding the event itself, it’s worth noting that this fundraising event does things a little differently. It was held outside under a giant tent with tables for 600 guests on the grounds of Lifeworks, headquartered near Pleasant Valley and E. 7th St. Food was plain and simple, delicious make-them-yourself tacos from La Condesa. Attendance was free, but you had to be invited by a table host. Table hosts were responsible for inviting 9 guests who likely had the capacity to give and would be responsive to an ask. And there was indeed an ask, preceded by a gut-wrenching video and an inspiring speech by Board Chair David Wieland. Corporate sponsor contributions covered the low cost of the event itself, so that almost 100% of the money raised goes directly to LifeWorks. Though donations are still being tallied, Brett Barnes, LifeWorks Chief Development Officer, anticipates the total to be over $425,000.
When two young women, Reilly Wieland and Emily Martin, daughters of the co-chairs Laura Wieland and Joi Martin, learned about the plight of some of their peers and the work LifeWorks was doing to help them, they decided to help, too. Wieland and Martin threw a fundraising event of their own in February, inviting their friends and raising $10,000.
“Our parents told us what they were working on and we even toured one of the housing complexes,” says Wieland.
“They don’t have the things that we have and they live differently than we do,” says Martin. Wieland attends the private school St. Stephen’s Episcopal School and Martin attend Westlake High School. “I’m going to say, learning about that took us out of our comfort zone,” says Martin. “But it was good.”
If you’re inspired, opportunities to get involved abound.
Donations toward any of their program s or capital projects are welcome, of course. There are opportunities for individual volunteer tutors as well as for groups.
“We are always looking for dedicated volunteers for a variety of functions: direct service, administrative or special event,” says Barnes. “Given the depth and breadth of services, we typically can find a meaningful experience.” And there’s a great young professionals program called LEAP that has fundraisers and advocacy opportunities. For more information about these and other opportunities, check out LifeWorks or contact Brett Barnes or (512) 735-2470.