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As Central Texans grapple with freezing temperatures, some neighbors have been elevated to 'Snow Angel' status, taking life-saving measures to rescue total strangers from troubles caused by the winter storm.
Need a smile? Read on.
Nathan Burch and Charlotte Bryant
With his four-wheel drive vehicle equipped with snow tires, Lakeway resident Nathan Burch and his girlfriend Charlotte Bryant, drove carefully to Target in South Austin on Monday to replenish their food supply. While there, he overheard survival stories from shoppers, prompting Burch to post an offer to help others on various social media pages. Although he only expected a few people to reach out, within 30 minutes, he received more than 200 responses.
"It blew my mind how many people were without power," Burch said.
Nathan Burch drops off food for a stranded resident in the Lakeway area Tuesday. (Nathan Burch)
His efforts included a detoured, two-hour drive to take a stranded motorist across town; helping a caregiver deliver prescription medicine and food to her patients; transporting an elderly resident from her cold house; and driving a nurse from the Sweetwater community off Texas 71 to her job at St. David's North Austin Medical Center only to pick up another nurse at the same hospital and take her home after an extended shift. For Burch, these heroic measures have kept him up most of the night, getting home around 3:30 a.m. and rising at 7 a.m.
Despite being laid off from a boat charter company on Lake Travis, he declines payment.
"It feels good to be able to help people," Burch said. "I call it 'paying it forward.'"
A Hurricane Katrina survivor, he explained that he knows only too well about doing without during an emergency.
"I know what it's like to not have adequate transportation; I've been without power before," Burch said, choking through tears. "I've seen some people without things. I know what it's like to be stranded."
Tony Iglesias has helped many including a Lexus out of the icy hillside in front of his home. (Tony Iglesias)
Westminster Glen resident Tony Iglesias said he's had a front-row seat to vehicles spinning out of control on the icy hillside in front of his home. One of those victims was a nurse at a psychiatric hospital in downtown Austin, trying to get to work to relieve his comrades who have been taking double shifts. Finding the nurse in his car, Iglesias invited him in and he became his guest for a couple of days until a truck could get him past I-35.
"I admire the commitment of the essential workers, what they would go through to try and get to where they could be of most good," Iglesias said.
And as Central Texas is no stranger to northern transplants, those neighbors who are used to combatting winter storms have stepped up to help. A native of Pennsylvania, Austin Lake Hills-resident Sarah Gosztonyi, said she's used to this type of winter weather that Austinites rarely experience. Using her four-wheel drive Porsche, she has pulled out stuck truck drivers from the snow and helped stranded residents get to safety.
"We're young, we're completely capable and we can drive in the snow, and we're not concerned about it," she said of herself and her two team members at Aura, the security technology company the trio founded. "So we just want to help everybody we can."
Clint and Kat Turner
Without power in their home, North Austinites Clint and Kat Turner spent the past few days driving, helping people needing groceries or gas, from Mueller up to Pflugerville.
"We figured if we could get around and go help, then we might as well instead of sitting in our cold house," Clint Turner said.
Clint and Kat Turner buying groceries to donate. (Turners)
In lieu of accepting money for their troubles, the couple asked for contributions to go toward buying groceries for Helping Hand Home For Children. Amassing about $1,000 to date, Clint and Kat Turner shopped Wednesday to stock up the nonprofit's pantry before the next round of bad weather.
Victoria Winburne and Lynn Brown
The Homestead residents Victoria Winburne and Lynn Brown live on a wooded acre-and-a-half parcel. When they realized the grocery stores were out of firewood, they collected woodpiles from their property, creating bundles to help others keep warm and offering their tract up should residents have further need. Neighbors responded, rolling up wagons and carts to make use of the kindling, including young families new to the area.
"Here's the deal," said Winburne whose house also lacked power. "It's just a small thing but when you think about what extra you might have and who might benefit, it's not a hard leap to make. It's good to give. It's good for the person receiving and it's good for the person giving."
Some of that firewood may have made its way to Kiki Long's western Travis County home she shares with her 72-year-old disabled mother, boyfriend and three small dogs. With the power out and no firewood left, Long took extreme measures into her own hands.
"We ended up burning our bed frame in the fireplace to keep warm," she said.
After Long posted that action on social media, local neighbors dropped off two bundles of firewood on her doorstep.
"It was really touching how random people I didn't even know reached out to me so quickly to bring us firewood so we didn't have to burn anymore furniture," she said.
As for the bed frame? "At this point, we're fine without it," Long said, adding the mattress is lying on a box spring on the floor. "Just to keep my mom and my dogs warm, I would have done more than that."
Michael Dahlhauser created Facebook group "12:31" on Feb. 8, not too long before the winter storms hit. The effort—referencing bible scripture Mark 12:31, love your neighbor as yourself,"—is aimed at linking folks who need help with others who can provide that assistance within the Lake Travis community for small things such as putting together furniture or loading a moving truck.
The timing was perfect.
"Who would have thought that would be put to the test the way it has been the last few days," Dahlhauser said of the group that includes motorists with trucks, chains and four wheel drives who are able to make deliveries, save stranded motorists, provide space heaters and firewood to others as well as lodging. "This is quite literally a community effort."
With the harsh weather, the site sprang into action, including Johnathan Paul Wojtewicz, a native-Austinite and former United States Marine who could put to use his extensive disaster training. Since the weekend, his assistance has ranged from providing a family, including a three-month-old baby, with firewood to taking a woman to the hospital after she fell on slick ice, fracturing her arm. And bringing her back home again when she was released.
With the grocery stores packed, Lakeway resident Robert Ferguson drove his pickup truck yesterday to a Valero gas station off RM 620 for supplies. However, when he reached the register and swiped his credit card, the purchase was declined due to a fraud alert. The line of shoppers behind him soon started to grow as he tried the card again. The next thing Ferguson heard was a man in the back of the line calling out, "I've got it," paying his $42 tab.
Ferguson said he turned around and thanked the gentleman, telling him, 'God bless you.'
"It was just a surprisingly nice thing that somebody did," he said.
Similarly, Marianne Odhner, Cuernavaca resident, was worried about her ex-husband Mark Odhner, who lives nearby. A diabetic, he ran out of insulin on Monday. Travis County Emergency Services District No. 10, also known as the CE-Bar Fire Department, gave him a ride to the hospital emergency room for care but he still came home without the essential medicine. So, Odhner asked for help on her Nextdoor site. A neighbor in a nearby development offered up an extra vial and another resident drove the insulin over in a Jeep.
"Everyone's just being so kind," she said. "It makes you feel happy."
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Soccer, the sport of many names, is reflected on and off the pitch in the multicultural city of Austin, from fan clubs like Los Verdes to the Austin FC roster.
Spanning across four continents and 12 countries, Austin FC's roster comes from all corners of the globe.
Austin FC's first signee, Rodney Redes, hails from Paraguay. So does the club's first Designated Player, Cecilio Dominguez. Five other players' hometowns are in South America, while five others are from Europe or Africa. While most on the roster signed to Austin FC from other MLS teams, Austin FC players have played as far north as Finland, as far east as Israel and as far south as Argentina.
English and Spanish are the most spoken languages on the team, although Zan Kolmanic speaks Slovenian and the club is well-traveled, too: Jon Gallagher has lived in six countries, while Kekuta Manneh, the club's only true Austinite, left behind all he knew in Gambia to move to the city in high school.
The multiculturalism on the pitch goes hand-in-hand with the city of Austin itself. Over 30% of the city's population is of Hispanic or Latino descent, and Austin is a majority-minority city (meaning non-Hispanic Whites make up less than 50% of the population).
It's brought even the most unlikely groups together; while supporters of Liga MX and the English Premier League used to be on opposite sides of the bar, now they come together in green.
Jorge Chavez, a member of Austin FC fan club Austin Anthem, said that Austin FC helps unite a city full of travelers and move-ins.
"A lot people here are from all these different places, and they might not have that much in common with each other, but now they do," Chavez said.
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Less than a week after a fatal mass shooting on Sixth Street and amid rising concerns about violent gun crime, state Republican leaders and gun lobbyists gathered for a celebratory press conference, where Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law seven bills expanding gun rights, including one allowing permitless carry.
"This is a prolific day for the Second Amendment in the state of Texas," House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, said at Alamo Hall in San Antonio on Thursday.
The bills take effect Sept. 1 and include:
- Senate Bill 19: Prohibits state contracts with companies that plan to divest from firearm ammunition companies
- SB 20: Bars hotels from prohibiting guests from bringing guns into their rooms
- SB 550: Permits a person to carry a gun in any type of holster
- House Bill 957: Exempts suppressors made in Texas from federal regulations
- HB 1500: Designates firearms and ammunition sellers and manufacturers as essential businesses
- HB 1927: Allows residents 21 years of age and older to carry a handgun without a permit
- HB 2622: Designates Texas "Second Amendment Sanctuary State"
This expansion of gun rights comes as violent crime rates rise in major U.S. cities, including Austin, where murders were up 50% year-over-year in April.
This week, Austin police arrested two juveniles in connection with the mass shooting on Sixth Street early Saturday morning, left one dead and 14 others injured. Two months ago, a former Travis County sheriff's deputy shot and killed three people in North Austin, prompting an hours-long manhunt.
"We support the right of every law-abiding American to be able to have a weapon to defend themselves," Abbott said. "That is different from teenagers unlawfully getting access to guns to commit crime. Those are people who deserve to be behind bars for the rest of their lives."
Local public safety advocates have attributed this rise to police budget cuts, which Austin City Council enacted last August, but cities that increased their police spending are also seeing increases.
In light of rising violent crime rates, the Austin Police Department launched a gun crime prevention program in April. Although not all violent crime involves guns, gun violence is increasing and may involve stolen guns or illegally manufactured "ghost" guns. "I'm just very concerned about the number of illegally possessed firearms and how we can curb that," Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon said during an April 15 press conference.
Rising violent crime rates continue to spur gun sales in the Austin area—and around the country. "In this increasingly dangerous world, people want to be able to protect themselves," embattled NRA President Wayne LaPierre said at the press conference Thursday. "Thank god Texas is leading the way in making that possible.
A long shot
Conservative activists have lobbied for permitless carry for years, without success. But state lawmakers reached a compromise last month after the Senate added a series of amendments to address concerns from law enforcement groups, which worried permitless carry would endanger officers and make it easier for criminals to access guns.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick celebrated the bill's passage, which he described as an expansion of Texans' freedoms. "The media needs to understand that you are so far out of touch with where Texans and Americans are on this issue," he said.
Nearly 60% of Texas voters opposed permitless carry, according to an April University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll. Melanie Greene, lead volunteer for the Moms Demand Action Austin group, recently told Austonia that state lawmakers are likely motivated to pursue such legislation because of a small, vocal minority of gun rights activists and the threat of drawing even more conservative opponents in primary elections.
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Austin's tech labor market, which was already tight heading into the pandemic, has grown even more so as California companies flock to the capital city. It's made for a situation where employers are listening more to worker demands to fill job openings.
For tech workers—like their counterparts in the restaurant, construction and myriad other industries facing labor shortages—that means setting their own terms, such as remote work options and higher wages.
"We are living in times when the employees are the king or the queen," said Angelos Angelou, founder and CEO of local consulting firm AngelouEconomics.
A talent center
Lured by the state's business-friendly climate and Austin's growing tech scene, California-based companies such as Tesla, Oracle and TikTok built factories, relocated headquarters and opened offices. Austin posted the highest tech migration rate of any city in the country between May 2020 and April 2021, according to a recent LinkedIn analysis.
With so many new resident businesses, job growth kept pace. The Austin metro ranked fourth nationally for tech job postings growth in March, according to Silicon Valley Bank's latest State of the Markets report.
Oracle relocated its headquarters to the Riverside location in Austin. (Shutterstock)
To fill these roles, local tech companies have to look beyond the city limits. Employers poach from their competitors, recruit recent graduates from area colleges and universities or look to the national labor market for talent, Angelou said.
Summer Salazar, director of employer engagement at the University of Texas at Austin, has seen a huge influx in tech sector job postings on the university's job board in recent months. "We feel that demand," she said.
An employee's market
Jaime Cabrera, 28, recently graduated from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and is looking for a policy job at a social media company. He didn't go into his job search with plans to stay in Austin but has seen various intriguing openings, citing Bumble, Lyft and TikTok. "I didn't realize how many companies are here," he said.
The tech labor market also affects employees who are not looking for a new job but instead seeking better benefits or internal policy changes from their current employer.
Lawrence Humphrey, 27, lives in North Austin and works for IBM. Shortly after the murder of George Floyd, he co-founded Tech Can Do Better, which advocates for a more equitable industry. Since then, there has been little quantitative progress in terms of more diverse hiring and other metrics. But there has been a qualitative shift. "Issues around racial equity are just far more of a priority from the perspective of the employees, so therefore it's far more of a priority for the employers," he said.
OG vs. newcomers
Although the pandemic has accelerated the growth of Austin's tech industry, the industry was already established. In the latter half of the 20th century, the city attracted big tech originators like IBM because of its enticingly low labor cost and spawned homegrown giants like Dell—trends that continue today.
The arrival of Silicon Valley tech transplants in other growing tech cities, such as Miami, has led to tension with the so-called old guard. In Austin, such competition has forced companies to compete for workers, leading to more mobility.
"When I was in the job market, my god if you changed jobs often—and often meant once every three years—you were considered a traitor," said Angelou, who headed the Austin Chamber's economic development department from 1984 through 1995, helping to recruit companies such as IBM, Apple and Samsung to town. "Now people change jobs every nine months, it appears, and that is considered a plus."
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