An AHA moment: Austin’s heart health success

We are living in The Future, people. The phenomena that we used to call unexplainable or incomprehensible are now being explained, thanks to Science! One notable example is dementia. 50 years ago, losing one’s mind was considered a normal part of the aging process. We know now that’s not the case, and we’re starting to understand why. According to a recent study conducted at UT, there may be a link between middle-age obesity and memory problems down the road. Researchers hope that this information might help prevent the onset of dementia.

Pretty cool, right? What’s really exciting about this story is that a huge part of the credit for the research goes to Central Texans like you. The study was funded by the American Heart Association.  AHA supports some $23 million in research throughout the UT system, and a significant part of that funding comes from fundraising events here in Austin.

One such fundraising event is AHA’s annual Austin Start! Heart Walk, which took place earlier this month. The walk was a huge success, surpassing its $440,000 goal and beating last year’s total by over 75%. Almost 3,000 people came out to support AHA, and what they were able to accomplish is astonishing. Heart disease is an issue that really hits home in Austin, with more than 1 in 4 deaths in the Austin area caused by cardiovascular disease. That makes for a lot of people for which AHA’s mission is personal.

Austin Start! Heart Walk

Almost 3,000 Austinites came out for the Austin Start! Heart Walk

Take, for example, Paul Lally. Paul’s a survivor of heart disease: he underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 2008. Two years later, he’s still fighting heart disease – this time by raising money for AHA. Paul was the walk’s top individual fundraiser, gathering over $15,000 in donations. On top of that, he persuaded his employer to give a $10,000 matching donation.

Ed Baca and Paul Lally

Paul Lally, right, raised over $15,000 for the AHA Heart Walk

Inspired yet? You may have missed the Heart Walk, but there are plenty of opportunities to support the Austin chapter of AHA. Check them out here.

Free glasses for kids at Texas Book Festival

Free Glasses for Kids at Texas Book Festival

Free eye exams and glasses for kids 5 – 12 years old
Prescription lenses and designer frames offered at no cost to families

Texas Book Festival
Saturday, October 16 from 9:00 am-5:00 pm
Sunday, October 17 from 11:00 am-5:00 pm

Texas Book Festival, Children’s Tents, west of capitol,
corner of 13th Street and Colorado

Who is eligible?
Children ages 5-12
Qualify for free or reduced lunch (no proof of income or birth certificate necessary)
Targeting children without vision insurance, CHIP or Medicaid

Parents must sign consent for before exam
Proof of residency or income not required
Exams and prescription glasses and frames will be provided at no cost to families
Dozens of volunteers will be on hand
Se habla espanol

NEED A FLYER? Download the English version or the Spanish version


The Essilor Vision Foundation and the Austin Kids Vision Coalition will offer qualifying  young children free eye exams and glasses at the annual Texas Book Festival, October 16 -17, in Austin, Texas.

A screening team and eye doctors will be on-hand to offer free vision screenings and eye exams from a tent and a large van set up in the children’s area of the festival. Technicians will be able to offer new, prescription glasses to the children who need them but can’t afford the exam or glasses.  Most glasses can be made on-site the same day.  The free 2-day pilot to offer glasses for needy kids is a pilot project called Kids Vision for Life, a collaboration lead by Essilor Vision Foundation, the nonprofit arm of Essilor, the world’s largest manufacturer of ophthalmic lenses.

According to Essilor Vision Foundation’s research, 25% of school children living in the U.S. have a vision problem significant enough to affect learning.  Studies also show that 70% of juvenile delinquents have uncorrected vision problems.

“To think that our children are failing because of the very fixable issue of not seeing well is a problem we can solve, together,” says Ken Gladish, president and CEO of Austin Community Foundation. “I’m proud that so many great Austin organizations are participating in this pilot project and identifying ways to ensure that all the children in Austin who need glasses get them.”

The teams of volunteers, doctors and Essilor Vision Foundation staff will have spent four days working with hundreds of kids at three Austin ISD elementary schools earlier in the week.

Give… but don’t give… to help panhandlers. I think…

PERSONAL NOTE: I keep a few dollars in my cupholder to hand out to panhandlers at a red light. I “tip” panhandlers on the street better than I tip the waitstaff when I go out at night. And when I don’t hand out money, I try to smile and say hello. So all this below is my confused — and confusing – attempt to try to understand this “Know Before You Give” campaign. Geez, people!

Today there was a news story about the “Know Before You Give” campaign, which encourages people to give to social service agencies. Great idea! Please do give to social service agencies.

Need a beer sign

You ever hold a sign like this?

And if you feel like giving a few bucks to a panhandler on your way to drink beers with your friends, go ahead. Throw a few at the valet and the bartender, while you’re at it. Why not? Those guys could use a beer, too!

Wait. What I meant to say was, don’t give money to the panhandler, who probably has to sleep under I-35 (and who will probably just spend the money on beer).

The best way to help him is to give to a charity like Front Steps. Front Steps is a nonprofit that operates ARCH, the homeless shelter. The City of Austin provides the building and a grant to Front Steps to operate the shelter.

So if the city’s giving to Front Steps and you’re giving to Front Steps, these poor bar and club owners won’t have to worry about people outside their doors asking for money — and they can get more of your money inside!

Uh, and what I meant by that was that we should support local businesses and work together to keep downtown safe AND help the homeless. (Except that… well, studies have shown that most panhandlers aren’t homeless, and most homeless people don’t panhandle.* Hmmm.)

Anyway! That’s why we’re asking you, Austin partiers and beer drinkers, to take more responsibility. Know Before You Give partners created this campaign, now it’s your turn: Stop feeding the cats! They’ll just keep coming back! If we stop feeding them, maybe they’ll just go away!

Let’s educate ourselves on the importance of not giving to panhandlers. (At the same time, just in case, feel free to brush up on your own panhandling skills.)

* “Contrary to common belief, panhandlers and homeless people are not necessarily one and the same. Many studies have found that only a small percentage of homeless people panhandle, and only a small percentage of panhandlers are homeless.”  (U.S. Dept of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services)

Win a FREE Wish List Jersey!

Win this Free Wish List Jersey

In 1999, Alissa Magrum and Tammy Stanley met while training for a Texas AIDS ride. Both had HIV-positive family and friends and both were avid “ride for the cure” participants.

“The riders are incredible, and their stories are just so moving,” says Magrum. “We all just bond.”

Wanting to tell their story, Magrum and Stanley reached out to Brian Andreas, a writer well-versed at summing up huge emotions and hope at the same time. He came up with this story:

I wish you could have been there for the sun & the rain & the long hard hills.

For the sound of a thousand conversations scattered along the road.

For the people laughing & crying & remembering at the end.

But mainly, I wish you could have been there.

Stanley, a graphic designer, took the story and, with permission from the writer, designed the Wish List Jersey. They’ve sold thousands to riders who want to honor someone they’ve lost. And all proceeds from the sale of the jersey got to AIDS, cancer, and various other disease-fighting nonprofits in Central Texas.

WIN THIS JERSEY: It’s easy to enter: Just comment on this post and tell us why you participate in a ride, run, or walk for the cure – any cause or organization will work, as long as it’s a race that benefits a health-related nonprofit.

We’ll review the entries and pick a winner. Please make sure to leave a valid email address.

Get more information about the Wish List Jersey (valued at $100).


What’s the #1 reason why Central Texas women are dying of breast cancer?

Today the Austin Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure revealed some alarming breast cancer statistics for Central Texas.

The stats are the results of the 2009 Community Profile report, comprised of breast cancer data and survey information compiled over a two year period from Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson Counties. Komen conducts the study every two years, but has never really publicizes the results, and instead uses them mostly to build its strategy for services. (Download the entire report here.)

The results, however, are disturbing:

1. African-American women have the highest breast cancer mortality rate in Austin’s five-county region.

2. Hispanic women lag behind other ethnic groups in seeking mammogram screenings.

3. A greater percentage of women living in rural areas are diagnosed with breast cancer because of late diagnosis in part due to higher poverty rates, lack of access to healthcare and no health insurance coverage.

4. According to the Texas Cancer Registry, approximately 900 women in the five county region will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and of those women, an estimated 159 may lose their battle with the disease

The point is that these are not women with incurable breast cancer, rather these are women (and it’s mostly women) who are being diagnosed at such a late stage that it leaves them few options. They are being diagnosed at such a late stage because they don’t have access to mammograms.

This from the 2009 CommunityProfile:

The challenges facing the Austin Affiliate are simply that demand has outstripped services.  The current economic times resulted in less money for grantees during the 2009/2010 cycle and as a result, several services were cut back:  the mobile mammography unit had to cut over 20 locations out of its schedule; more and more women are calling the office needing free screenings; many have lost their insurance and are in treatment. Everyday expenses have become more difficult for many, but especially for women battling breast cancer.  Many of the Affiliate grantees have been advised to start looking for additional funding for their programs as economic times remain unpredictable at best.  Williamson County is faced with a shortage of surgeons willing to see uninsured patients and the list grows as that population grows.  

The good news is, you can help.

Did you know that 75% of your donation to the Austin Komen affiliate stays in Central Texas and goes directly to pay for education, support and free or affordable mammograms in these five counties?

If you’d like to have an impact on whether your neighbors are being diagnosed early enough, make a donation to Komen Austin here. And/or enter this year’s Race for the Cure, Sunday, November 1 at the Domain.

Information about free and affordable mammograms in Central Texas.

For Sale: Elliot Smith’s Passat, with money to be donated to SIMS Foundation

Elliot Smith photo from

Elliot Smith photo from

The legacy of singer Elliot Smith  lives on, this time in his car, a 1999 Passat GLX, listed on the Austin Craigslist for $4000. Smith’s brother has listed the car, with the entire amount being donated to the Austin-based SIMS Foundation, which provides access to and financial support for mental health and addiction recovery services for Austin-area musicians and their families.

There seems to be a leaning toward charity with Smith’s life. In 2007, a double-album of his recording was released, with proceeds benefiting an organization called Outside In, a Portland-based nonprofit dedicated to providing diverse services for homeless youth and low-income adults.

This from the austin.craigslist post:

This car means the world to me, and has a very interesting story to tell. Music buffs might get a kick out of knowing who used to own their ‘new’ car. I feel that $4,000 is fair for the vehicle, and I’ll be honest about every issue I’ve known on the car. You would have the knowledge that your $4,000 is helping people struggling with depression, drug abuse, etc., and keeping this world a decent place to live in with good music and healthy musicians. I’ll show you the receipt for the SIMS donation when I make it, within 3 days of the sale. You can even go over there with me when I take ‘em the check if you’d like. Help me help SIMS, feel good about yourself, and get a fun car in the process.

Smith is best known for songs about sadness, like his Emmy-nominated “Miss Misery,” which appeared in the movie “Good Will Hunting” in 1998. Smith reportedly killed himself in 2003.

MAY 4-8: Choose Rio Grande Restaurant this week to help raise money for local charities

It seems like there are opportunities to support local charities in just about everything you do. Here’s another example.

Anyone like tequila? From May 4-8, Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant on San Jacinto is donating a percentage of the day’s bar profits to five selected charities (one each night).

Monday, May 4: A Legacy of Giving, 5-7:30pm
Tuesday, May 5: Austin Sunshine Camps, 5-7:30pm
Wednesday, May 6: Lance Armstrong Foundation, 5-7:30pm
Thursday, May 7: The Austin Theatre Alliance, 5-7:30pm
Friday, May 8: Red Cross of Central Texas, 5-7:30pm

Wow. Great cross-section of local charities there. So let me get this straight:

Q. Is this the first time Rio Grande’s done someting like this?
A. Yes, this is the first annual Rio Grande Philanthropy Week.

Q. It’s a nice mix – kids, health, basic needs… how were the charities selected?
A. Rio Grande wanted support a mix of organizations that do so much for the Austin community.

Q. How much does Rio Grande hope to raise in total for all charities this week?
A. The amount they raise will really depend on how many people come out each night to support the charities. Groups like the Austin Theatre Alliance are pushing out to their members of more than 20,000. So it goes without saying, the more visibility we raise for this event, the more Rio Grande will be able to contribute.

You heard ’em, folks. It’s reason enough for me to make Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant Mother’s Day Date Night Headquarters. And I GUESS I’ll have to have A DRINK or two. It’s for a good cause, right?