Jamie Wallace-Griner made thousands of people cry all across the world.
The founder of nonprofit Safe in Austin, which has a mission of rescuing animals who in turn help heal children who have special needs or have come from hard places, Wallace-Griner and her story were featured in Season 6 of “Queer Eye.” Almost as soon as the season was released on Dec. 31, 2021, Safe in Austin began hearing from people around the globe who were inspired—and in tears—because her selfless dedication and unyielding passion for animals, many of whom who, without her, would end up dead.
“An out-of-body experience is the best way to describe it at the moment,” said Wallace-Griner, adding that the nonprofit’s Instagram, which had 12,000 followers before “Queer Eye,” has now surpassed 100,000. “I am unbelievably grateful. I’m just trying to juggle making sure everyone knows how grateful I am and not letting this whole thing go by without realizing the magnitude of it. Sometimes I feel like I’m living a dream.”
Jamie Wallace-Griner runs Safe in Austin, where she saves animals and helps children with special needs. (Jamie Wallace-Griner)
A self-described “special-needs mama that likes animals,” Wallace-Griner founded Safe in Austin after witnessing the incredible bond between her son, Jackson, who has autism, and his service dog, Angel. These days, Safe in Austin, which is set on the family’s 10-acre property in Leander, serves as a permanent home to more than 200 rescue animals including pigs, cows, horses, turkeys, ducks, dogs and cats.
On any given day, to walk the property is to witness magic in the making. In addition to frequent public days, Safe in Austin also hosts private Healing Hearts tours that pair children who may have special needs or a history of abuse or neglect with animals that have experienced the same traumas. Safe in Austin also hosts children’s birthday parties and, should turnout ever be low, has a list of on-call kids who will eagerly show up.
“These (on-call) kids have been through a lot and may have significant extra needs themselves, but they’re able to say, ‘Yes, I’m coming, I’m going to be a friend to this kid,’ even when they might not have very many of their own friends,” she said. “They feel special for helping this person, that person feels so much love from them doing that and they all get to share the animals they’re helping with. It’s like you could burst if you think about all the different areas of joy that it brings in.”
The Fab Five surprised Jamie Wallace-Griner with a much-needed barn. (Queer Eye)
Shot over five days in June 2021, the Safe in Austin “Queer Eye” episode spotlights Wallace-Griner’s undying passion for animals and children while also focusing on her need for self-care.
“All five guys are exactly as they seem; there’s nothing fake about what they’re doing,” said Wallace-Griner, a longtime fan of the show. “They’re just genuinely those people that you love on the screen, even when the cameras aren’t going. That was a real gift to find out.”
The admiration was mutual.
“I’ve really never met anybody like you, and I felt that the moment that I came here,” “Queer Eye” cast member Antoni Porowski said in the episode. “Every single person that I speak to tells me you gave them purpose, and that is the most unbelievable thing that you can do for somebody else, just by being you and by creating a safe environment where they can feel loved and protected and taken care of.”
Antoni Porowski, food expert, helped Wallace-Griner find her confidence in the kitchen on the show. (Queer Eye)
Wallace-Griner said she’s still in touch with several of the “Queer Eye” cast members, including Porowski, Bobby Berk and Jonathan Van Ness, who met an orphaned puppy during filming at Safe in Austin and ended up adopting it. In addition to the lessons on self-care and self-love Wallace-Griner received from the Fab Five, there was also a tangible gift—“Queer Eye” built her a barn she so desperately needed for the animals.
“We’ve done so much in the last six months because we have that space. It’s really incredible,” she said, adding that the barn is now “dramatically different than what the world saw. We had to take what they gave us, which was amazing and wonderful, but kind of tweak it into what works for us, specifically for special-needs animals and special-needs children that come out.”
Wallace-Griner would also like to clarify that while she cried a lot during the episode, she really is doing well.
Jamie Wallace-Griner cried during the Queer Eye episode but said she is is OK and understands the stress she is under. (Jamie Wallace-Griner)
“There’s been a lot of concern for my mental health, I guess because I just cried the whole time (in the episode),” she said. “I’m a little bit insane, obviously. You can’t do what I do without being an open-hearted and little-bit-crazy person. But I understand the stress I’m under, I understand when I hit an emotional peak, or like our kids say, when our sensory cup is filled completely. I’m OK. I swear. I just cry a lot.”
In addition to the increase of followers on social media, Safe in Austin has seen more traffic on days that they’re open to the public—Wallace-Griner estimates that 90% of the people visiting in recent weeks learned about them from “Queer Eye.”
“I still speak to every single person that comes on the property first. This is an important thing to me. I want them to share my heart and where we’re at,” she said. “Never before ‘Queer Eye’ did they applaud after my speech, but they keep doing that now, which is super weird. People ask to take pictures with me now, too, which they didn’t before.”
Karamo Brown speaks to Jamie Wallace-Griner on the show about taking time for herself. (Queer Eye)
Of all the ways “Queer Eye” has positively impacted Wallace-Griner’s life, she said the most important is the platform it gave her to inspire others to get involved with special-needs animals and children.
“So many people are saying that they’ve always wanted to do this concept and that I’m inspiring them to follow their dreams,” she said. “I love that aspect because there just can’t be too many people helping animals and children in the world. There’s no such thing as that. So that might be one of the best parts of the whole thing—inspiring that connection.”
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In his third brown bear hunting trip to Alaska, Austin resident Jack Suh came across a piece of history.
On the south side of the Alaskan peninsula, he found a bottle with a note in it on the beach. The letter, typed with a typewriter, was dated 1977 and written by 11-year-old Butch Zimmerman. It told the story of his life, giving details on his dad, who was in the Coast Guard and his mom, who didn't have a job at the time. He said his sisters were named Marci and Lisa and his German Shepard-collie mix was named Rex.
Though Suh had little to go off to track down the sender, he took to the internet to find Zimmerman. Through Zimmerman's mother's obituary, Suh connected with the family.
Zimmerman thought it was a scam at first but he knew no one would know that information written in the letter. He told KTUU in Alaska he remembers the day he wrote the letter and tossed it into the harbor off Kodiak Island. His sisters, now Lisa Bontempo and Marci Holder, didn't know their brother wrote that letter. All three were shocked the bottle had survived the rough waters; Suh said it was in good condition when he found it with the note just a little damp.
The note brought back fond memories for the three siblings they say. All three now live in North Carolina.
"It's a piece of mom and dad, you know? And it's a piece of our memory of good times. Being in Alaska, being a family, being together," Zimmerman told KTUU. "When I got the letter I went back in my mind and I could picture that day just walking out to the back of the ship and throwing it overboard."
Suh says the experience is now a memory for him and asked only one thing in return for sending the letter back to Zimmerman: a photo of the three siblings holding the note.
As if you needed more of a reason to visit local-Austin chain Kerbey Lane Cafe, server Wanwisa "Aye" Sanguanrueang is, literally, drawing some attention.
Sanguanrueang has been working at Kerbey Lane, located on 2606 Guadalupe St., for five years now, and it was two years ago that she picked up a hobby that delights: caricaturing.
She started small, only drawing friends or coworkers in the beginning, Sanguanrueang said, until she realized how happy it made other people to receive an impromptu image of themselves.
Then, she started drawing all her customers.
Sanguanrueang was born in Thailand and has been living in the U.S. since 2007. She said her caricatures gave her something to talk to her customers about in a time where she felt uneasy speaking English.
"After I do the caricatures, I feel more connected to the guests," Sanguanrueang said. "At the end, they have a big smile on their face."
Sanguanrueang said drawing was completely new to her when she started. She originally learned how to draw via YouTube as a mode of self-expression, bit by bit, starting with faces, gradually learning new features as they came up.
Now, she can draw all sorts of things: cats, robots, even airplanes. Each caricature she draws for a customer takes no more than a minute and sometimes she even adds colors or stickers.
Kerbey Lane customer Sophia Alaniz said she and her friends were instantly obsessed with their drawings, which they all took home with them.
"It was like nothing I've ever experienced at a restaurant," Alaniz said. "I honestly love the idea of a server making their job more enjoyable by making the customer smile extra big."
Associate manager Gabriel Chaligne said Sanguanrueang's caricatures have led to people asking to be seated in her section, bringing her more business.
"I think it shows that we encourage our staff to go the extra mile for the guests," Chaligne said. "People seem to love it."
In addition to Kerbey Lane, Sanguanrueang can also be found giving out caricatures at Haru Sushi, 9503 Research Blvd., and Haru Ramen, 2525 W. Anderson Lane.
Sanguanrueang said she is very grateful to work at places and with friends who support her creativity and she even has a wall dedicated to caricatures of all her coworkers.
"I've worked at many restaurants before but this is the best place to work," Sanguanrueang said.
Sanguanrueang frequently features her work on Instagram, under the username @sarang_aye_yo.