Join us in saluting three absolutely great Austin groups

People’s Community Clinic must have sounded vaguely socialistic to cynics when it was founded in the basement of the Congregational Church on the Drag in 1970. Yet is was not a tool of big government, but rather the gift of volunteer doctors and nurses who realized that students, hippies and just ordinary people needed health care not delivered in the usual ways.

Eric Copper and Peter Bay at There’s No Such Thing As a Free Lunch for People’s Community Clinic

Now the Austin clinic serves more than 20,000 people a year at a new facility in Northeast Austin and at the People’s Center for Women’s Health located in its older spot on Interstate 35. It’s not a free clinic, as the leaders will remind you, but patients pay what they can on a sliding scale.

For years, it has staged one of the most simple and effective benefits in town known as “There’s No Such Thing As a Free Lunch.” At the Four Seasons Hotel, they honor one public health leader, this year Dr. Philip Huang, who, among other crusades, has made significant progress on tobacco. Then a distinguished guest speaks. Always extremely informative. And this year’s speaker, Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, was no exception, looking at the ways that public health campaigns fit into larger cultural trends in our country. He’s the author of “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.”

If you get a chance, drop in on this crucial Austin event next year.

Hidden Music for Conspirare

Years ago, I wrote something like this in a review: “Critics hate Craig Hella Johnson and Conspirare. They leave nothing to criticize. They are flawless.”


I must have attended dozens of events put together by this musical group that started out as a festival, morphed into a choir, then became one of the city’s most treasured gems. It is no exaggeration to say that Conspirare comes very close to channeling the soul of the city. It is open, smart, kind, fun and infinitely skillful.

The annual Hidden Music benefit refines all those things down to Johnson himself onstage with a few friends — instrumentalists and vocalists. Johnson’s voice and presentation are uncanny, disorienting and ultimately heavenly. This tightly staged night at One World Theatre, he was joined by his friend Peter Bay of the Austin Symphony, who did not sing, but rather shared with Johnson the joy of conducting Bay wife, Mela Sarajane Dailey, and Laura Mercado-Wright as they sang the Flower Duet from “Lakme.”

Mela Sarajane Dailey and Laura Mercado-Wright at Hidden Music for Conspirare. Contributed

The evening could have ended right there. But I had the additional pleasure of sharing the dinner portion of the evening with Suzanne Mitchell and Richard Zansitis, who wound together so many Austin and Houston threads that I could have listened to them all night.

Hidden Heroes for Alzheimer’s Texas

One key group, Alzheimer’s Texas, held its first traditional benefit at the same time that I had a longstanding date to tour the amazing Texas Archeological Research Laboratory. Killed me to miss the luncheon, especially because the remarkable Becky Beaver, who cares for her husband, John B. Duncan, Jr., was the honoree.

Mela Sarajane Dailey, John Duncan and Becky Beaver at Hidden Heroes for Alzheimer’s Texas. Contributed

We were able to snag some of her comments, however, presented here in an edited version.

“As any family who has dealt with this pernicious disease knows, it affects everyone in the family, and suddenly, with no experience and often with very little information, one is thrust into the role of caregiver and it becomes the most important thing you do every single day.

“The early years were scary, as we were very much in denial. John was relatively young, he was so very intelligent, and he took really good care of himself. But we knew that something was happening and we were losing our husband and father in many ways and he was losing the capacity to do so many of the things that he enjoyed in life.

“Everything we tried often seemed like two steps forward and one step back on the good days … the bad days were one step forward and three steps back. I only wish I had known then of Alzheimer’s Texas to help me navigate those perilous times, to provide me the names and referrals to resources who could help  and to assure me that I was not the incompetent I seemed to be most days.

“This organization is the backstop to provide information, to provide referrals, to provide support and to provide encouragement when things seem the darkest and that there really is no hope. They provide hope to those of us who never know what tomorrow will bring, and work closely with professionals and researchers on medical and therapeutic interventions and  in the tireless effort to find a cure.

“Primarily and ultimately,  this award is for John. He is our care partner extraordinaire. He has worked relentlessly to stay active, to stay involved, to stay interested, to stay in the moment. He gamely joins us in whatever we’re doing and wherever we’re going, and he has stood down this disease with such graceful determination. John, we are all so proud of you, and this one’s for you.”

Quick hits: Top Austin parties and shows for Tuesday, April 25

We’re changing things up a bit here and picking top Austin parties and shows for just one day. I’d be more than happy to spend time at any of these fine events. Believe it or not, on the same day, I’m meeting with the Comanche Tribal Council early in the morning, then heading out to tour the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory at the Pickle Campus at midday. I love my job!

Lorry and Avery Carlson found a calling at the Trinity Center, subject of a benefit on April 25. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

April 25: Barbara Jordan Celebration and Cocktail Hour to benefit the Trinity Center. Bethel Hall at St. David’s Episcopal Church.

April 25: Hidden Heroes Luncheon to benefit Alzheimer’s Texas. JW Marriott.

April 25: Hidden Music for Conspirare. One World Theatre.

April 25: Dining Out for Life to benefit Aids Services of Austin. Various locations.

April 25: “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” opens. Center Theatre Main Stage, Texas State University, San Marcos


The most alluring Austin parties and shows of the week

Mack, Jack & McConaughey and the Moontower Comedy Festival top the social deck this week, but they do not stand alone.

LH save date with logos

April 18: Lift a Fork for Forklift Danceworks. Springdale Station.

April 19-21: Mack, Jack & McConaughey. ACL Live and other locations.

April 19: Heart of Justice by Texas Appleseed and AIGA. 800 Congress Ave.

April 19: Root Ball Gala for TreeFolks. East Eden at Springdale Farm.

April 19: Chris Botti in concert. Long Center.

April 19-22: Moontower Comedy Festival. Various locations.

April 19-30: “The Phantom of the Opera.” Bass Concert Hall.

April 20: Limericks & Haiku. O. Henry Museum.

April 21: “In Order To” opens. UT Visual Arts Center.

April 21-22: Michael J. Love’s “Gon’ Head and Put Your Records On!” Doughtery Arts Center.

April 22: Bosch Bash for Women & Their Work. Private home.

April 22: Butler Opera Center presents “The Magic Flute.” McCullough Theatre.

April 22: WOW: World of Wonders.” Ransom Center.

April 23: Flashback for Explore Austin. Maggie Mae’s Roof.

April 23-24: Chorus Austin presents Lidarti’s “Esther.” St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church.

April 23: Four Women from Women in Jazz. One World Theatre.

April 24: TheThere’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch” for People’s Community Clinic. Four Seasons Austin Hotel


Salute the stunning new Dell Seton Medical Center

The Austin parties are picking up again. We attended three fine ones recently.

Dell Seton Medical Center Big Reveal

Have I mistakenly entered a luxury hotel? That’s the first impression one receives in the ground-level guest areas of the new Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas.

Opening of Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

For the Big Reveal at the $300 million teaching, charity and research hospital, which goes fully operational in May, numerous top citizens sipped bubbly, nibbled on delectables, then set those aside to tour the seven-floor state-of-the-science facility that will take the place of University Medical Center Brackenridge.

Pete and Tomi Winstead at the opening of Dell Seton Medical Center University of Texas. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Fortuitously, among our first contacts in the comfy cafe was Pete Winstead, the Austin power broker who led the charge to raise $50 million for the hospital, along with his charming wife Tomi Winstead. By the way, as State Sen. Kirk Watsonauthor of the 10-point regional health plan that includes this new medical center, pointed out: No taxpayer money was spent on facility. Jesus Garza, retiring CEO of Seton Healthcare Family, and Christann Vasquez, president and CEO of the medical center, were also on hand to salute the sleek new building, filled with natural light and brightened with fine art.

Cafe at this charity hotel feels like Four Seasons Hotel. Opening of Dell Seton Medical Center University of Texas. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

This whole series of medical structures along Waller Creek are so much more pleasing than the old Brack complex and the blocky government buildings that bank up against them. But it’s how the hospital works that keeps one transfixed with such wonders as a hybrid cath lab and OR and a design that will facilitate care of the worst-off patients that impresses the most.

Hybrid cath lab and OR. Opening of Dell Seton Medical Center University of Texas. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Too much spent on the hotel look? Vasquez explains that they chose less expensive materials for the backside and inside of the place, but they wanted people to feel relaxed and at home during traumatic times. And after all, Dallas spent $1 billion on its charity hospital redo and San Antonio $500 million. So Austin’s $300 million looks like a bargain.

Tailwaggers for Austin Pets Alive

As promised, the Tailwaggers “non-gala” or “neo-gala” for Austin Pets Alive at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum was gloriously liberating. A perfect April evening. Unhurried strolls through the lovely gardens to find stations with drinks, animal welfare info or pledge options.

Mike and Catherine Kaviani at Tailwaggers for Austin Pets Alive. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Almost every top social in town — thanks to chair Mary Herr Tally and her team — was present, along with young couples who we’d never met before. Plus some pets.

David Kurio’s floral genius at work during Tailwaggers for Austin Pets Alive. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

The program was short. The Big Band music was romantic. An errant buffet line put the only crimp in the evening, although once self-served, the fresh, healthy food was excellent. I’m not even going to try to list the social movers and shakers who attended, because the list would go on into next week.

We’ve got another signature Austin event on our hands.

Ribbon Cutting for Briscoe Center

“We are not a museum,” said longtime director Don Carleton about his research archives, the Briscoe Center for American History. Well, just a little bit. Along with a first-rate reading room and new gathering spaces, the renovated ground floor of the center — located across the plaza from the LBJ Presidential Library — is quite a bit of exhibition space. As Carleton says: “Now we can share some of our treasures.”

Patia Sandifer and Stephen Bedsole at the grand reopening of the Briscoe Center. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

And we are grateful for it. We’ve been digging around the Briscoe since it was named the Barker Texas History Center in the 1980s. It’s a superb collection overseen by top-notch professionals. And it always bugged me that its historical shows were staged in the hallway to the restroom. (I have the same problem with the admittedly lovelier hallway at the Austin History Center.)

At the recent ribbon cutting for the refabricated center, Carleton welcomed UT bigwigs such as President Gregory Fenves and Provost Maurie McInnis, who said that archival material: “Makes the past real in a way that just reading about history does not.” He also thanked major donors, such as the family of late Gov. Dolph Briscoe and expert on early UT history, Clyde Rabb Littlefield. Also present were Dan and Jean RatherKathy CronkiteBen Sargent and former U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.

We’ll deliver at fuller report on what’s inside the new Briscoe very soon.

Everything you wanted to know about Mack, Jack and McConaughey

The amazing Jennifer Stevens answered 10 of the most common questions that she receives while organizing Mack, Jack and McConaughey, the giant benefit from buddies Mack BrownJack Ingram and Matthew McConaughey, teamed up with spouses Sally Brown, Amy Ingram and Camila Alves McConaughey.

The event returns April 19-21, much of it at ACL Live.

Mack Brown, Matthew McConaughey and Jack Ingram at the Mack, Jack and McConaughey benefit. Contributed

RELATED: Mack, Jack and McConaughey takes a bow.

Whose idea was it to start MJ&M?

Jennifer Stevens: Jack! Jack recalled attending the Ben-Willie-Darrell event as a kid and texted Mack in the middle of the night to see if he was interested in trying to do something similar. Mack responded immediately (to Jack’s surprise) and said yes and then said ‘I’ll text Matthew’.

How much has it raised and what is the impact beyond the dollars raised?

Over $5 million has been given to children’s education, health and wellness charities over the last four years. More than that, the impact of MJ&M is also seen through the partnerships being created between our beneficiaries and the heightened public awareness of the mission of these incredible organizations.

RELATED: Bring back Mack, Jack and McConaughey.

How many events are there for MJ&M?

MJ&M is actually a total of nine events over the course of three days. I tell people it’s the most fun you can have while doing good! And, I tell our guests to rest up, hydrate and get ready!

Nine events in three days? How does that work?

The reason MJ&M is successful is because the guys are personally involved in every detail, there are no egos allowed and every decision is made with a 3-0 vote. We want MJ&M to be an experience, not just an “event.” MJ&M is fun, interesting and engaging at every turn. We want our sponsors and attendees to have an incredible experience and leave wanting to return for more next year. In fact, we were half sold out for this event the day after last year’s!

RELATED: Taking time with lifestyle guide Camila Alves.

Jack Ingram, Jennifer Stevens and Mack Brown at MJM. Contributed

Who decides where the funding goes?

The Browns, Ingrams and McConaugheys determine who the beneficiaries will be and how the proceeds of the event will be distributed. I keep record of any organizations interested in being included but the ultimate decision is theirs. They are incredibly involved and invested in the mission and success of the organization.  We are not interested in granting dollars to just sit in a bank account — we want to see direct impact on kids’ lives with every dollar.

RELATED: Mack, Jack and McConaughey’s smashing fashion show.

What has been the impact on Dell Children’s Medical Center?

Dell Children’s opened a food allergy research center, which is now one of the leading research centers in the country, and because of MJ&M every school in the Austin school district, serving 82,000 students, has at least four epi-pens for children with severe food allergies.

What has been the impact for the Rise School?

The Rise School opened two new classes in Austin, serving an additional 24 students with special needs; they opened a musical therapy room and they provided more than 15,000 hours of much needed therapy for students. 10 children are able to receive financial assistance to the school.

RELATED: Jennifer Stevens: The making of an ‘un-lobbyist.

What has been the impact for CureDuchenne?

Cure Duchenne was able to fund a nationwide research project, leading to the discovery of a new gene. Also, they were able to hire the top researcher in the country, and discovered new groundbreaking therapy for boys who have a Dup 2 mutation on their dystrophin gene, taking us one step closer to a cure for those with Duchenne.

What has been the impact on JK Livin Foundation? 

The foundation has served over 1,000 students in Austin, teaching them about health and wellness and building self-confidence. They hired 10 new teachers in Austin and have provided after-school wellness education for children.

RELATED: Jack Ingram seeks the songwriter in the song.

What has been the impact on HeartGift?

HeartGift has been able to perform over 20 life-saving heart surgeries on children from around the world. These children live in developing countries, and HeartGift enables them to come to Austin for the much needed, life-saving surgeries.


Services announced for political trailblazer John Treviño

Lonnie Limón posted on Facebook the latest information about services for his cousin John Treviño, Jr., the first Mexican-American to serve on Austin City Council and a longtime leader in the community.

Lonnie Limón and John Treviño, Jr. at the UT Community Leadership Awards in 2016.

RELATED: John Treviño, Jr., 78, was 1st Mexican-American on Austin’s City Council

From Limón: “For my friends/family who have asked about services for cousin John Treviño, the visitation is at Mission Serenity Chapel, 6204 South First Street, this Sunday at 4:00 p.m. The rosary follows at that location at 6:00 p.m. The funeral Mass will be on Monday at 10:30 a.m. at St. Louis King of France Catholic Church, 7601 Burnet Road. Internment will follow at Assumption Cemetery.”

This week’s most inviting Austin parties and shows

It’s already April 4? Where do the spring days go in Austin? Below find some of the most inviting parties and shows of the week.

Pete Leibman, Courtney Jacobs, Brooklyn Decker Roddick and Keith Kreeger at the 2016 Opportunity Matters Luncheon for Andy Roddick Foundation.

All hail SaulPaul and the other 2017 AU40 Awards winners!

We couldn’t make the Austin Under 40 Awards ceremony this year, but we can sure follow up on our advance story with a list of winners and a hearty cheer.

RELATED: Matt Curtis sings the praises of the Austin Under 40 Awards.

Austinite of the Year
SaulPaul, Musician with a Message, ReRoute Music Group

WAG Photo SaulPaul 4.14(1)
SaulPaul is the AU40 Austinite of the Year. Contributed

Arts, Media, and Entertainment
SaulPaul, Musician with a Message, ReRoute Music Group

Culinary Arts and Hospitality
Mason H. Ayer, Chief Executive Officer, Kerbey Lane Cafe

Community Service and Nonprofit
Amy E. Mills, Chief Executive Officer, Emancipet

RELATED: Amy Mills takes Emancipet’s animal mission national.

Engineering, Architecture, and Design
Daniel Goodman Carl, Regional Director, BSA LifeStructures

Entrepreneurship and Startup
Matt Stanley, Founder, President and CEO of Sundance Memory Care

Financial and Insurance Services
Rich Coffey, Founder, Coffey Advisory Group, LLC

Government and Public Affairs
Rudolph K. Metayer, Litigator, Chamberlain | McHaney

Milam F Newby, Managing Partner – Austin, Vinson & Elkins LLP

Marketing, Advertising, and Public Relations
Maria Orozova, Founder + President, The MOD Studio

Medicine, Healthcare, and Life Sciences
Lauren Chauret, Partner & Director of Operations, PTV Healthcare Capital

Mentor of the Year
Ann Jerome, Executive Director, American Heart Association

Real Estate
Mark Strub,  überAGENT® + owner of STRÜB RESIDENTIAL

Sports, Wellness, and Fitness
Rashanna Moss, Owner- Pure Barre Austin

Technology and Sciences
Jeffrey Palermo, CEO, Clear Measure, Inc.

Youth and Education
Larkin Tackett, Executive Director, IDEA Public Schools, Austin

UPDATE: Left off of AU40’s original official list was:

Engineering, Energy, Mobility and Systems Sciences
Becky Hollis Diffen, Attorney, McGuireWoods



2012: Ellen Jefferson advocating for animals

We repost this 2012 profile of Ellen Jefferson just in time for the Austin Pets Alive benefit, Tailwaggers, on April 7.

RELATED: Joining the revolt against the traditional Austin gala at Tailwaggers.

tln apa! ellen 03
Ellen Jefferson in 2012 was with Pidgey at her home in Austin. Thao Nguyen/For American-Statesman

While volunteering at the old Town Lake Animal Shelter, veterinarian Ellen Jefferson saw too many animals killed.

“It didn’t feel like I was making a big impact, ” Jefferson says. “But I felt like if I could stop the inflow, fewer would come into shelter, so more could go out alive.”

In 1999, Jefferson founded Emancipet, a nonprofit group which spays or neuters animals.

RELATED: Amy Mills takes Emancipet’s animal mission national.

By the time she left the group – which keeps growing without her – they were performing 16,000 surgeries a year, mostly from a roaming clinic. That superhuman feat, however, didn’t make the expected impact on the number of animals euthanized at the city’s shelter.

“Rabble-rousers were saying that we were still killing too many, ” she says. “And I ignored them. The more I listened to them, however, the more I realized we weren’t actually lowering the kill rate.”

So in 2008, Jefferson – a calm and measured animal welfare activist – reactivated Austin Pets Alive, a group dedicated in 1997 to saving more shelter animals, 50 percent of which were being killed.

Austin Pets Alive, in concert with scores of smaller rescue groups, has, by targeting specific animal groups, put the Austin save rate above 90 percent, the only large city in the country to do so.

Jefferson, whose group now works from the old shelter as well as pop-up adoption centers, says she believes the save rate can be driven up to an almost inconceivable 98 percent.

“It’s exponentially harder to get those last animals cared for, housed safely and adopted, ” she admits. “It’s also exponentially more expensive.”

Destined to help

Married to horse vet Damon O’Gan, Jefferson, 41, was born in Colorado Springs at the Air Force Academy. Her father, Wayne Jefferson, is a retired Air Force pilot and two-star general.

“He’s an impressive guy, ” Jefferson says with a wide grin. “I’m not as much like him as I’d like to be.”

Her mother, Bonnie Wassell Jefferson, was an Austin schoolteacher before raising a family.

“She’s a real people person, ” says Jefferson, who tends toward shyness. “She’s gregarious and fun-loving.”

Like many military children, Jefferson lived all over the place, but she graduated from high school in Alexandria, Va. She studied biology, ecology and other subjects at Trinity University in San Antonio before entering vet school at Virginia Tech University.

“I was planning to open a spay-neuter clinic, ” she says. “I wanted to help the disenfranchised animals of the world.”

Instead, she first entered private practice in rural Rocky Mountain, Va.

“There were no bells or whistles, ” she recalls. “It made me utilize what’s in front of me rather than shifting things off to a specialist.”

After moving to Austin in 1998, Jefferson practiced emergency medicine at a North Austin clinic.

“You can’t predict what will come through the door, ” she says. “There’s typically only one vet on the premises. You think fast and triage. It’s a great learning experience.”

Building Emancipet from scratch taught her many things as well. But it didn’t achieve the original goal: Stop the killing.

“I really thought the only answer to shelter euthanasia was spay and neuter, ” she says. “But we needed to improve the processes at the shelter, not just in the community.”

So Jefferson focused on bottlenecks. The city shelter employed only one part-time behavior evaluator. It couldn’t keep up with in-house spaying and neutering. And the adoption process could take as long as two hours on busy days.

So Austin Pets Alive, like other rescue groups, removed the animals before they were killed.

“So if one part of the process was backed up, ” Jefferson says, “another animal wouldn’t die because there wasn’t enough turnover or space.”

The group and its army of volunteers used a dazzlingly simple method for rescuing the savable animals. They broke them down into categories.

Just a few years ago, any kitten under 6 weeks of age was killed on intake. So her group created a mass nursing ward with bottle feeding for orphans. That saved an estimated 1,200 kittens each year, instantly adopted when they reached 6 weeks.

Back in 2007, as many as 9,500 cats were killed because they came in all at once during breeding season, April to October. So Austin Pets Alive scooped them up and scattered them to foster networks and remote adoptions sites in pedestrian areas.

“We got them in front of people in as many places as possible, ” she says. “That way they were more likely to be adopted.”

Cats with ringworm were killed because they are often contagious to people and other cats. So Jefferson‘s group created a ward to treat them in three to six weeks.

More sadly, cats diagnosed with feline leukemia were expected to live only from six months to two years. So Austin Pets Alive found people willing to adopt for what was understood to be a shorter time than usual.

“Even though it’s painful to lose a pet, they want to give it a home, ” Jefferson says. “It’s like a hospice situation. Sometimes their own lives are in flux, so a short-time pet is not so bad. It saves a life and gives the owner companionship.”

Parvo puppies got a parvo ward.

“It’s pretty labor intensive, but treatable, ” Jefferson says. “You end up with a highly desirable puppy.”

The hardest animals to save were – and continue to be – big dogs with behavior problems.

“I’m not talking about truly dangerous dogs, ” she says. “Just dogs who are down on their luck.”

Complicating matters, big dogs at shelters are seen in rows of cages or on restraints which amplify reactive behavior. So the group now uses pack play time and other methods to retrain the big dogs.

“The longer they stay, the more likely they are to go cage crazy, ” she says. “Play groups prevent that from happening.”

Working with a $2 million annual budget, the group has saved more than 6,000 animals this year alone. The group employs 75 staff members, half of them part-time, and has trained more than 8,000 volunteers over the past four years.

Jefferson, who always keeps numbers and charts handy, is no animal-welfare hardliner.

“I do believe in euthanasia for animals that are suffering and have no hope of getting better, ” she says. “It is the kindest thing to do. It is just that we use ‘euthanasia’ to mean something very different in the animal shelter world.”

She thinks Austin is positioned uniquely to set a national example.

“Recognizing that all the systems are not perfect yet, Austin is at an amazing place, ” she says while tipping her hat to leaders in city government who have supported the evolution. “We, all the animal welfare groups, have accomplished so much. The rest of the country is completely blown away by what Austin has been able to do in such a short period of time.”

She also praises county shelters in Williamson County, which have reached the 90 percent save rate as well.

Jefferson‘s critics believe that Austin Pets Alive emphasizes the quantity of adoptions over the quality of them. They also decry the group’s training methods and its maintenance of the decaying Town Lake shelter.

“There’s so much people drama!” Jefferson says. “Animal welfare tends to be polarizing like most passionate causes. There are few (causes) in America that are centered around life and death, and the fact that no-kill is squarely centered on that topic is in and of itself dramatic.”