CHARITY 1: Nowadays, the smaller the event, the bigger the social impact. At the Night of 50,000 Lives for Red Cross of Central Texas, we learned a lot, specially from Dr. Mary Agocs, about how little it takes to save a life. Even while the local chapter is responding to the double whammy of area fires and floods, the international arm of the Red Cross is doing things like wiping out measles in Malawi. Each vaccination costs $1. So $1 = 1 life. Astounding. While we enjoyed a deftly managed meal at Searsucker on Colorado Street, I got to know a prosecutor, a defense lawyer, an ace publicist and others who collectively put their shoulders to the wheels of good works. That’s why small events are so effective: The social bonds tend to last.
DESIGN: It’s a hard name to say and to remember. Yet Austin’s 40-year-old Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems will never re-brand, because leaders Pliny Fisk III and Gail Vittori have created a whole universe of sustainable practices under that verbal umbrella atop a hill in East Austin. Guests saluted four decades of global trailblazing with a symposium and reception at the W Austin Hotel. Why there? Stratus captain Beau Armstrong, who developed the skyscraper, is a big convert to the center’s sustainable building practices. You need need buy-in from visionary developers. I chatted with all sorts of experts, including landscape architect Eleanor McKinney, who we’ve interviewed for the upcoming What’s Out There Weekend that will offer guided tours of Austin’s cultural landscapes Nov. 21-22.
SCHOOL: A group that needs no re-branding: Austin Ed Fund. This nonprofit group that supports the work of the Austin school district was reborn at the Performing Arts Center in the Mueller Development. (Which, by the way, is a thing of beauty, soaring and lively, but without any luxury materials or extras.) We heard a heartening State of the District Address from magnetic Superintendent Paul Cruz. All systems are go on graduation rates, scores and school turnarounds. Some of the loudest applause from a stage-full of influential guests came when Cruz railed against state “recapture,” which takes more than $200 million away from Austin, even though its student poverty rate is at 60 percent. Shameful. During the luncheon with its clever bagged meals, Austin Ed Fund announced more than a dozen small grants to help out on school-leve projects. Leaders also said its immediate focus would be emotional training, which is showing formidable results.
CHARITY 2: They mean business. The guests who hit the Settlement Home for Children annual garage sale on the first night never took their eyes off the prizes. “My whole shopping plan is spoiled,” said one newcomer about the superabundance of offerings. “I’ve seen that volume for $25,” said a book expert when I showed her a true rarity priced at $50. One of the warmest people I knew, she never stopped scanning the book spines looking for more treasures. I came away with a dozen real finds — books about Austin and Texas — at reasonable prices. My attitude toward this gigantic fundraiser has completely turned around. It’s a must-do, at least once. Hint: Longer than the lines to get in or to check out are the lines to check bags so that shoppers can jump back into the fray.