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Michael Barnes

Caritas of Austin, Concordia University Texas, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Austin Public Schools and Paid to Prosecute

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Laura DeGrush and Houmma Garba at Words of Hope for Caritas Austin.

Laura DeGrush and Houmma Garba at Words of Hope for Caritas Austin.

CHARITY: An inspirational speaker should be able to hold the stage. And Caritas of Austin had that in spades with radio personality Bobby Bones. Now based in Nashville, but deeply rooted in Austin, Bones knows how to think on his feet, how to build a compelling story, how to cut the tension with a quip, often at his own expense. During the charity group’s Words of Hope gala at ACL Live, he talked of growing up essentially fatherless in small-town Arkansas. Both parents were addicts. If it weren’t for surrogate fathers in his life who gave him second chances, Bones might have ended up wasting his life. He deftly wove in references to Caritas, which gives second chances to refugees and others through housing, food, education and employment services. This event, which included a tremendously moving video, used to be a luncheon. Now Caritas can claim not one, but two of the best evening galas each year, the other being the revered Harvey Penick Awards.

Elizabeth Christian and Bruce Todd, honorees at the Excellence in Leadership Awards for Concordia Texas.

Elizabeth Christian and Bruce Todd, honorees at the Excellence in Leadership Awards for Concordia Texas.

SCHOOL: I was asked recently: ‘What’s the ideal number of awards during an evening?’ One, I said. Two, if honoring a couple. Caritas does that with its Harvey Penick Awards. So does Concordia University Texas with its Excellence in Leadership honors. The point: You can spend most of the evening focusing on one or two people through tribute videos, short introductions and heartfelt acceptance speeches. The university did it right by saluting former Mayor Bruce Todd and influential public relations leader Elizabeth Christian, who happens to be his wife. Even though the couple — together and apart — have been public figures for decades, we learned much about them during a well-timed evening at the JW Marriott Hotel. Side note: I had former Downtown Austin Alliance captain Charlie Betts to one side and former American-Statesman columnist Jane Greig and husband Brian Greig, a noted attorney, on the other side at our table. You can imagine that I learned a lot during the generous time we were allowed together.

Cadet Philip and Cadet Pannell, part of the UT color guard during the Concordia Texas gala.

Cadet Philip and Cadet Pannell, part of the UT color guard during the Concordia Texas gala.

STYLE: Now that’s a show! Most New York or Paris fashion models stride down the runway with a pronounced kick and a 1,000-yard stare. No so at the Alpha Kappa Alpha “Pink Ice” event at the Renaissance Austin Hotel. The models executed complicated choreography with the ease of professionals, though all are members or alumna of the AKA sorority. All except the plucky male models, of course, whose swagger matched the supreme confidence of the women. All seemed to have a great time. Some 600 guests also enjoyed lunch, honors and shopping breaks in a space new to me downstairs at the Renaissance Austin Hotel. AKA partners with area elementary schools to motive young folks, among other good deeds. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Sonja Gaines, the associate commissioner for mental health issues at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. She’s seeing more and more emphasis at all levels of government in mental wellness, since everyone is close to someone with such problems, whether we talk about it or not.

Welozette Duffin and Kizzy LeJay at Pink Ice for Alpha Kappa Alpha.

Welozette Duffin and Kizzy LeJay at Pink Ice for Alpha Kappa Alpha.

HISTORY: From private schools to public and back to private in Austin. Taken from Julie Chang‘s insightful story in the American-Statesman. “Early Austinites saw calls for a public school system as strong-arming by a Yankee federal government that wanted to tell them where to educate their children and then tax them to pay for it. That resistance, and the tempestuous history of the city’s earliest public schools, will be featured in an upcoming exhibit by the Austin History Center, slated to open Wednesday. The exhibit covers a 100-year period that ended in 1955 when voters approved the formation of the Austin Independent School District, allowing it to become a taxing entity separate from the city.”

Melissa Fontenette-Mitchell & Kimiko Gordon at Pink Ice for Alpha Kappa Alpha.

Melissa Fontenette-Mitchell & Kimiko Gordon at Pink Ice for Alpha Kappa Alpha.

LAW: Insurance company paying prosecutors to prosecute. Taken from Tony Plohetski and Jay Root‘s incredible investigative story in the American-Statesman and Texas Tribune. “If he had it to do over again, Odessa native Roy Kyees would have ignored what the doctor told him. He would have walked out of that office and never filed a work injury claim for his back pain. He would have just paid for it out of his own pocket. Then he never would have tangled with the largest provider of workers’ compensation insurance in Texas. He never would have gotten indicted for insurance fraud. Never would have been arrested and put in leg chains in his hometown jail. Then again, Kyees didn’t know in January 2006 what he knows now: that his insurance company not only hired the investigators who compiled the case against him; it also pays the salaries of the government prosecutors who got him indicted on felony fraud charges.”