Thursday, June 22, 2017

Become an environmental scientist with Austin Youth River Watch

Last night, I went to a presentation about a proposed extension of the Shoal Creek Hike and Bike Trail sponsored by the Shoal Creek Conservancy.  I live near this creek and walk along the trail often as a form of exercise and as a way to learn more about the natural flora and fauna in my neighborhood.  Austin's river, the Colorado, and all our creeks that flow into it are our lifeblood.  Water is life!

At the presentation were a number of local groups that are working in one way or another to help protect Austin's natural resources.  Included was the group, Austin Youth River Watch!  I had first encountered this organization at the Earth Day festival at Huston-Tillotson U. this spring.

If you are interested in hands-on environmental science, check out this group!  This is an after-school and summer program (that also pays a stipend to students who participate) where students learn to test and analyze water quality in our local rivers and creeks.  Currently, there are about 120 students who are involved annually from 10 of our local high schools:  Akins, Austin, Crockett, Eastside Memorial, Lanier, LBJ/LASA, Manor, McCallum, Reagan and Travis.  This is a great way to learn by doing, perform a crucial service for Austin and earn some money at the same time.  Check out the Austin Youth River Watch at this site or call 512-708-9115.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Casa Verde Builders wants you!

One of the primary nonmilitary options we promote is Americorps.  In Austin, we have a number of Americorps programs that offer great job experience, team building, a living stipend, health coverage and child care over the course of the job and then an educational award upon completion of the commitment.  One of the longstanding Americorps opportunities in Austin has been the green building program, Casa Verde Builders.  If you have an interest in green building and learning hands-on construction skills, check this out.  They are accepting applications through the summer per this information:

Casa Verde Builders 
Casa Verde Builders(CVB), at American YouthWorks in Austin, TX, is a national leader in combining green building with affordable housing and the educational needs of Austin youth. Over the past 20 years AmeriCorps members & students from our Charter High School have worked together to build over 90 green-built homes for low-income, first time homebuyers. We have recently expanded the scope of our program to incorporate weatherization,home repair projects for low-income families, and building tiny homes for the chronically homeless with Mobile Loaves& Fishes. As part of CVB, corpsmembers will receive construction training in NCCER's (National Center for Construction Education and Research) core curriculum, OSHA 10, and CPR/First Aid. We are currently recruiting young people (18-26) from across the country and various walks of life to work together in a team-oriented service environment. Corpsmembers serve in a full-time capacity (M-F; 8:00-5:00). We have full-time(1700hrs) and half-time(900hrs) slots available. Members receive a living stipend, health benefits, career counseling and an educational award. Serving with American YouthWorks, AmeriCorps is both challenging and rewarding. It's a place to learn, grow, and have an experience you'll remember for the rest of your life. You even get time off for SXSW(sorry, wristbands not included). To learn more, visit and In-person or phone interview required. Drug test and criminal background check required.
Further help on this page can be found by clicking here.

Member Duties : Casa Verde Builders members will perform strenuous physical tasks outdoors in all types of weather. Members will be using hand & power tools:hammers, saws, drills, shovels & spray rigs, and may carry heavy material. They may be asked to climb ladders & scaffolding,work on roofs or in cramped spaces. Crew will receive green building & basic construction training, weatherization & leadership training. Crews will work on new construction, weatherization& home repair projects for low-income/elderly residents. Periodic overnight trips to service projects may require camping for up to a week at a time. Food & camping equipment provided Members will assist as crew leaders of our YouthBuild crews,helping to organize & lead projects. Members must be able to be role models & provide leadership for at-risk teens & young adults. No experience or skills required, just a positive attitude & a willingness to work hard. Training, tools, & safety gear provided.
Program Benefits : Stipend ,  Education award upon successful completion of service ,  Health Coverage ,  Childcare assistance if eligible . 
Terms :
Uniforms provided and required . 
Service Areas :
Children/Youth ,  Education ,  Neighborhood Revitalization ,  Housing . 
Skills :
Teaching/Tutoring ,  Team Work ,  Trade/Construction ,  Leadership ,  General Skills . 
Apply Now
Refine Search
Program Type:
AmeriCorps State / National

Casa Verde Builders

Program Start/End Date
06/12/2017  -   05/18/2018

Work ScheduleFull Time

Education level
High school diploma/GED

Age Requirement
Minimum:  18    Maximum:  28

Program LocationsTEXAS  


Accepting Applications
From  04/01/2017  To  09/30/2017 

ContactBritni Trustman
1901 E Ben White Blvd
Austin   TX   78741

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Undocumented students: keep college plans alive

The following commentary piece printed in today's issue of the Austin American-Statesman shares our views.  We meet many students in Austin's high schools who are affected adversely by immigration policies that threaten their families and their own future education.  It's important for undocumented students to know that, despite SB-4 legislation and the unwelcoming rhetoric of many Texas legislators, Texas law still allows undocumented high school students to apply for Texas Grant funding for college and in-state tuition when students meet these three qualifications:
1)  The student has lived in Texas for at least three years
2) The student is graduating or has graduated from a high school in Texas
3) The student signs an affidavit indicating intent to apply for permanent residency in the US
Thus, undocumented students who meet this criteria should fill out TAFSA forms for Texas financial aid for college, even though they are denied federal financial aid.  Also, a number of organizations and colleges offer scholarships that don't discriminate on the basis of citizenship status.
We believe that our communities are better when we make it easier rather than harder for all students to obtain a college education when that is their goal.

Here is the commentary piece by special contributor, Franklin Strong, in the May 30, 2017 issue of the Austin American-Statesman:

SB 4 hurts immigrants - and the rest of America
by Franklin Strong

A student I taught last year — I’ll call her Ana — comes by my classroom at the end of the day to ask if I’ll write a recommendation for her when she applies to colleges next fall. I tell her of course, and ask her if she’s excited to be a senior.
She says she is, but she’s nervous. “Why?” I ask. She talks about her ACT scores and college applications. She mentions that her Junior Seminar teacher is frustrated with her because, in making lists of colleges to apply to next year, she keeps refusing to include any out-of-state schools.
“Why?” I ask. “Why not keep a variety of options?”
“I’m undocumented,” she explains. “Well, I mean, I have DACA. I’m a DREAMer.”
I ask why that means she won’t apply to out-of-state schools. I know some schools won’t take undocumented immigrants, but many will. Why not focus on those?
“It’s just that I don’t want to fall in love with a school and then find out I can’t go there.”
She says she visited Colorado last summer with an extracurricular club and was enchanted by the state. She came home and told her mom she wanted to go to college there. Her mom was thrilled. So, this girl has been researching universities in the state and found one that appealed to her. But she won’t put it on her list.
Another student tells me about her aunt and uncle in Houston, who left for Mexico when it became clear Senate Bill 4 would pass, taking their son — this student’s cousin — with them. He was a senior, college-bound. Now, he doesn’t know when he’ll finish his education. This girl tells me her parents are considering doing the same thing with her. They’ve already pulled her brother out of his charter elementary school and put him into a neighborhood school.
“Why?” I ask.
“Less driving,” she says.
This girl loves acting; she is always writing about her auditions and rehearsals. Now, she says, she’s had to give it up, because her mom won’t drive her to auditions anymore.
Her family had two dogs, but they sent them to live with relatives in the country.
“They bark,” she says, “and we don’t want the cops to come because of the noise.”
The Houston Chronicle’s Lomi Kriel recently wrote about the lessons Texas can learn from how immigrants in Arizona have dealt with the immigration laws passed there in 2010. She describes one Phoenix couple that now hesitates before calling the police or before accessing public health care for their children, who are American citizens. After SB 1070 passed, Kriel writes, the couple chose to “make their lives smaller.”
This is exactly what I’ve seen with my students: a narrowing. A self-restriction. After the first travel ban and the February raids, Dana Snitzky wrote about the responsibility of bearing witness — of answering important questions like “Who has been detained?” and “Who has been denied entry?” and “Who has been deported?”
And she’s right: We need to hear about the five-year-old handcuffed at the airport. And about the father detained while taking his daughter to school. But we also need we need to record this narrowing, which is less likely to show up in statistics or in images on the news. We need to talk about the families who are too afraid of the police to keep their pets. The parents who drive to the store looking over their shoulders. The students limiting their college options.
If stripping people of their dignity, opportunities and joy is the method by which we achieve our goals, then we come up with monstrous ideas — like forcibly separating mothers and children, or holding undocumented immigrants in facilities with appalling conditions.
And we start by thinking that maybe it’s OK for people who aren’t supposed to be here to live lives that are dimmer and smaller. In doing so, we make our nation — and ourselves — smaller, too.

Strong recently completed a PhD in comparative literature and now teaches at KIPP Austin Collegiate High School.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

I'd rather buy food and a college education than war!

Tami, Hart and I had our final tabling visit of this school year yesterday at LBJ/LASA HS.  We appreciated the interest of all the Jaguars who stopped by the table to check out our materials and to take part in the t-shirt challenge.

Because yesterday was Tax Day, we asked students to fill in these fliers with what they'd rather buy than war.  Students wanted funds to go toward food and education above all.  Penny Poll results echoed what most students have voted throughout the year: more funding for education and less for the military.  Penny Poll totals:  30% for Education (actual federal budget: approx. 2.8% for Education), 20% for Health Care, 18% for the Environment (actual federal budget:  approx. 1.6% for environmental protection), 13% for Humanitarian Aid, 11% for the Military (actual federal budget, if you include costs related to past wars and measure only discretionary spending: approx. 48% -- almost HALF our federal budget used for war, war preparations and consequences of war), and 8% for NASA.  Once again, if students could decide where our tax money was spent, we would have a much healthier country.

Thanks to students for giving these issues thoughtful attention and expressing their views to us.  As one student said, "I think this is about Power to the People!"   Yes, it is!  

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Could we have a Day Without Violence?

Hart, Tami and I staffed a SOY table today at Travis HS and really enjoyed talking with the students who came by our table.  Because today, April 4, is commemorated in a number of places around the country, especially in schools, as A Day Without Violence, we asked students to contribute their thoughts about that on our poster.  It was interesting to see several students write that music was a way to de-escalate violence.  We agree -- it is one of our common human connections, a universal language.

Penny Poll results showed a full 52% of the budget priority for Education, followed by 18% for the Environment, 13% for Health Care, 10% for Humanitarian Aid, 4% for NASA and 3% for the Military.  This was the largest percentage vote for Education in our poll than at any other school where we have done the poll this year.
Thanks so much for your participation, Travis Rebels!

today's t-shirt challenge

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

SOY table at Eastside Memorial and the International School

Tami, Hart and I were glad to be tabling at Eastside Memorial today during their lunch hour.  For the reflection question, we asked again, "Of the supervillains: racism, sexism, poverty, militarism and ecocide, which will you resist?  How?"  All responses today addressed racism.

Because Eastside contains the International School, we were pleased to meet several students who have lived in other parts of the world:  Sudan, Afghanistan, Congo, Palestine, Egypt.  Some of these students spoke Arabic as their first language, and we met a number of Spanish-speaking students also.  Our language today was limited to English, and we really appreciated students doing their best to understand our materials and to respond to the questions.  Students helped each other.

For the Penny Poll, we added NASA as a separate category, breaking it out of the Military category, even though we realize that in the actual federal budget, some NASA funding, perhaps as much as 50%, comes from military-related appropriations.  Our Penny Poll results today showed the highest priority for Health Care at 35% of the budget, followed by Education at 21%, NASA at 19%, the Environment at 13%, Military at 7% and Humanitarian Aid at 5%.

Most of the students I spoke with today said they plan to attend college and continue their studies in the sciences.

Following are some of the responses to the reflection question:

Friday, January 27, 2017

Talking careers and fairness at the Reagan HS career fair

Yesterday, Hart, Regina, Tami and I had a full and inspiring day tabling at the annual Reagan HS career fair.  Representatives from a number of colleges, businesses and community organizations were set up in the gym.  We were there to provide a different view of military life and militarism than the military recruiters who also were present.  Reagan HS has a JROTC program, and JROTC students were dressed in uniform.  A number of them came by our table to participate in the t-shirt challenge and talk with us about their plans for the future.  Hart and Regina as military veterans spoke with students from their own experience.  Regina had brought two jacket art pieces from her Fatigues Clothesline Project to display at our table.  The jackets were covered in statements by veterans who have experienced Military Sexual Trauma (MST), one of the serious issues we raise in our materials.

About 75 students completed the t-shirt challenge over the course of the career fair, and it was good to talk with students about their hopes and plans.  Two students told us about having participated in the historic Women's March on Austin last Saturday (Regina and her daughter and I had also participated), as did a Reagan teacher who stopped by the table, and they all spoke about how empowering and encouraging the huge march and rally were, and we agreed!  We in SOY are very much opposed to the Trump agenda that is already increasing anxiety among families in our community.  Life is challenging enough for our young adults who are working hard and hoping to further their education.  Adding more worry and hardship by threatening to separate families, cut financial aid for college and create more division between people is cruel and damaging to our social fabric.
The Penny Poll results showed the Health Care category as the biggest priority with 28% of the penny vote, closely followed by Education with 27%, then 22% for the Environment, 13% for Humanitarian Aid and 10% for the Military.  As always, if our high school students could decide on our national priorities, we would have a much healthier, better educated society and a more protected planet.
There were 75 written responses to our reflection question, and the majority of students cited racism as the primary supervillain that requires resistance.    Following is a sampling of their responses that are indicative of what was written over all.  Thank you to all Reagan Raiders for engaging with the questions we raised in the t-shirt challenge and for expressing your thoughts on these crucial issues.

A sampling of the student responses to the question:

"Of the Supervillains: Racism, Sexism, Poverty, Militarism and Ecocide, which will you resist?  How?"

Racism – I will resist racism because I am an immigrant that has also been discriminated against and now more than ever I will stand up to racism because “our president” thinks it’s okay to discriminate against people, and as a “citizen” if this country, I WILL NOT let racism happen in my community or around me.
I will resist all the above issues, including Trump’s immigration policy, racism and discrimination.  I will do this by marching, calling my representatives, speaking out on daily discrimination and write and document.

Racism because I believe that we’re all the same regardless so we need to stand up to that!

Sexism because there are still a lot of things that society says women can’t do.

As a rising female, I’m against gender norms.  I don’t believe a woman should only be in the house and only the men should work.  How about we flip the table and let them do this.  Women should be treated equally.  Women overcome so much and I’ll try my best to end it.  I want to make a better world where your gender doesn’t affect anything.

Racism affects me because I am judged because I wasn’t born here, and I want to change this because it’s not about race, it’s about culture, and I am proud to be Mexican.

Poverty, I would try to eliminate all currency in the world.

Of these supervillains, I will resist all.  Just resisting one will make no change.  We have to resist all and come together.

In my opinion, racism would be what I would resist because racism is an every day thing.  And no one is different, everyone is equal to one another and you being a different race does not make you any different from them.

Racism – I would speak publicly about it.

Racism, because no matter your race, you’re still a human being.

I believe that I can resist all of them with understanding and treat everyone with respect because we are all human.

Racism, because it’s all over and people should work on getting along with each other.  What I would do to address it is help people if I see racism around.

I plan to resist ALL, but I will resist racism because people may be prejudiced against me, but it’s all about love at the end of the day.

I would protest against sexism.  I would gather up friends who feel the same and we would protest together.

Racism – because it’s been a constant problem in my people’s history.

Mine is racism – one of the reasons it bothers me is because my family is Mexican and I don’t like it when they get treated bad or called names.  A way that I would change this is by doing my best and show that they are wrong about us.

Racism -- more activity involved with diversity culture.  Sexism -- nothing I can do to change people’s beliefs, just hoping people will open more to the transgender community.

I would make everyone see all the ways we can treat everyone with the same respect and how if all the world united and treated everyone with the same respect, the city would be much better and accomplish more goals in the world.

Ecocide—We need to take care of our environment b/c we live in it.  Racism – We need to respect everyone the way they are.

Racism – because I will let people know how I feel and I will let them know my rights.

I think racism is still a big problem around the world.  Like now w/ Donald Trump as our president, it’s going to be a bigger problem.  How can I stand for this?  I would always be equal to anyone I meet.

Racism – and I’ll try to teach people about history and why what’s happening is happening.  I won’t let history repeat itself.

Sexism – by proving I can be independent and successful before marriage and never relying on a husband.  I will also fight racism by proving immigrants can have a bright future.

Sexism and Racism – We should not be divided in any way such as the color of one’s skin: the only time colors should be separated is on laundry day.  We need to unite.