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There are places in the world where books are a rare luxury, schools where reading can't be practiced because, well, there's nothing to read. Kenya is one of those places, and Sunday you can help by donating a book, while catching some amazing food and music at the Eat Local / Act Global concert at CTC Garden.

Libraries provide an opportunity to share great reading and sharing is what 1000 Books of Hope is all about — filling five new Kenyan libraries full of books. Not just any books; the group is asking for books you love.

“Rather than stacks of old books that are no longer wanted,” says organizer Turk Pipkin, “we’re looking for donations of favorite books that have had great meaning in your life. Write your name, hometown and a short note about why you love the book in the front cover. Those notes are the bridge to a world of learning and friendship for eager readers in Kenya where few communities or schools have libraries.”

Austin icon Turk Pipkin and his wife Christy know something about schools in Kenya. Their film Building Hope chronicled efforts to build schools in rural Kenya. It's an effort that has succeeded with amazing results.

Pipkin also knows something about Austin music, and Sunday, with the help of CTC International, he's put together a celebration concert with Ruby Jane, Sara Hickman and African music band, Zoumountchi!

The Nobelity Project’s Kenya Schools Fund supports libraries at Mahiga Hope High, the Kabiruini Girls School, Irbaan Primary, the Joe Gracey Library (named in honor of the legendary Austin DJ and music producer) and the upcoming CTC International’s Knowledge and Resource Center. These libraries will serve boys, girls, men and women, from pre-school to adult literacy.

Take a book to the concert, or if you can't attend, there are 11 drop-off locations around the city:

  • CTC Garden – 1102 E. Cesar Chavez St.
  • Cenote – 1010 E. Cesar Chavez St.
  • Fiat of Austin – 11011 Domain Drive
  • Hyde Park Bar & Grill – 4206 Duval or 4521 West Gate Blvd.
  • Irie Bean Coffee – 2310 S. Lamar
  • Lola Savannah’s Coffee Lounge – 6317 Bee Caves Rd
  • Monkey Nest Coffee – 5353 Burnet Rd.
  • 
The 263 Restaurant – 1705 N. Cuernavaca Drive
  • 
Progress Coffee – 500 San Marcos St
  • 
Precision Camera – 3810 N. Lamar Austin
  • University of Texas - Liberal Arts Advising Office (Gebauer 2.306)

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Tickets for Eat Local / Act Global are still available for $25. Give a book and get $5 off. The Nobelity Project has more information. Book donations can be made all over Austin or by mail to The Nobelity Project, PO Box 161925, Austin, TX 78716.

Austin's philanthropic community gives back at The Big Give

Culture of Giving

For five years, I Live Here, I Give Here has been nurturing the philanthropic culture of Austin by supporting and building a community of donors young and old.

On Sunday, Sept. 23, the organization will celebrate its fifth anniversary with The BIG Give at the Driskill Hotel, a night of fun and celebration of philanthropy, honoring those who give well in Central Texas.

The evening will also celebrate the BIG Giver, an individual who has exemplified outstanding service in the nonprofit community.

The winners of the $10,000 Whole Foods Market BIG Prize and the $5,000 Merecedes Benz of Austin Little Prize will be awarded to two I Live Here, I Give Here partner nonprofits that model great donor stewardship.

The evening will also celebrate I Live Here, I Give Here's BIG Giver, an individual who has exemplified outstanding service in the nonprofit community. The 2012 award honors Rusty Morrison of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Austin Area.

In addition to awards and fundraising, the celebration will include tunes from Austin honky-tonk original Mike and the Moonpies and a silent auction.

The BIG Give kicks off at 6 p.m. on Sept. 23 at the Driskill Hotel. If you're interested in attending, tickets are still available online for $100 per person.

For more information on I Live Here, I Give Here's mission, visit the organization's website.

  • Amplify Austin kick-off at City Hall
    Photo by Kevin Benz

Amplify Austin sets out to crank up the giving and raise $1 million in 24 hours

Culture of Giving

There are many things to be proud of in Austin, but our level of philanthropy — the art of giving for the good of the community — is not one of them.

Today, Austin ranks 32nd on the list of philanthropic giving in the nation's top 50 metro areas. That may not seem like good news until you learn we are up 16 spots over the last five years; we were 48th.

I Live Here, I Give Here was formed to battle that number. Since its founding five years ago, you could say the organization has been pretty successful, but No. 32 is still not where Austin is used to being when it comes to lists of cool stuff.

So get ready for Amplify Austin, a massive 24-hour festival of giving slated for March 4 - 5, 2013 in Austin and all of our surrounding counties. The goal is outstanding: raise one million dollars in one day, online.

It's been done with great success in other cities, now it's Austin's turn. I Live Here, I Give Here kicked off the six-month awareness campaign Wednesday afternoon at City Hall with Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

"There are too many unmet needs still in our community, too many people who need your help," he explained. "There is no cause more deserving than to support the nonprofit organizations that help support our city."

"We plan to mobilize 8,000 philanthropists, donating to over 300 non-profits," said Patsy Woods Martin, Executive Director and Founder of I Live Here, I Give Here. "And we are more than one-third there. We’re exactly six months away from the big day and it’s time for the community to step up and really engage.” Consequently they are asking for ambassadors to help spread the word and get more nonprofit organizations involved.

"We are building an army of advocates and ambassadors who will reach out to their networks in support of the cause of philanthropy," said Evan Smith who is leading the Ambassador program. "We need to build new philanthropists along the way," he continued, "and we are harnessing the tools of technology to solve problems. That is what Austin is all about. This is an online giving day."

Already $118,000 has been raised, or at least promised, by corporations like University Federal Credit Union, which created an incentive pool with $100,000 to be donated pro rata to every nonprofit earning more than $100.

If you really want to get fired up for the event, or just want a heart-warming smile at the moment, check out the wonderful Amplify Austin video produced by Onion Creek Productions.

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Amplify Austin will begin at 7 p.m. March 4, 2013 and continue through 7 p.m. March 5, 2013. If you would like to get involved beyond giving money next spring, you can find more information on the website.

  • Cover of GivingCity Austin 2011 Philanthropists Issue.
  • 2011 GivingCity new philanthropists in Austin.

Austin's newest role models: Honoring innovation in philanthropy and service

GivingCity nominations

There are those who give and those who make giving part and parcel of their lives.

GivingCity, a non-profit magazine here in Austin announced a call for nominations for their 2012 New Philanthropists. The idea is to recognize men and women in Austin who take giving to new heights through innovation and creativity.

"These aren't awards, really. They're more about recognizing the path people are on and encouraging that," says GivingCity Founder and Editor, Monica Williams in a statement. "By featuring them in the cover story, we are essentially pushing these folks to the front of the stage to encourage them and offer them as role models for others in the community."

Nominations will go the GivingCity Austin Board of advisors and those chosen will be featured in the July issue of GivingCity.

Past winners include entrepreneurs and innovators — like Alex Winkleman of CharityBash, a non-profit organization that helps a new generation get into the habit of giving, and Leo Ramirez, founder of MiniDonations, a non-profit that collects small donations through retail and social giving — as well as regular work-a-day Austinites who make daily sacrifices of time and money through volunteerism and service.

Last year GivingCity recognized 30 New Philanthropists.

"Each of them stood out because of the personal, financial and professional risks they take and sacrifices they make to go above and beyond for Austin's neediest people," wrote Williams. "If there's anything to learn from these folks it's that it doesn't matter if it's not perfect. All that matters is that you start."

Here are the rules for nomination:

  • Nominees must currently reside in Central Texas.
  • Nomination forms must be complete to be considered.
  • Only one nomination per person is all that’s required; nominees aren’t judged more favorably by multiple nominations.
  • You may nominate yourself.
  • Nominations close April 30.
  • 4th Annual International Women's Day Award winners (Left to Right):Animal Welfare: Abigail Smith, Chief Animal Services Officer, City of AustinHumanitarian: Diana Claitor, Cofounder and Director of Texas Jail ProjectEnvironment: Brandi Clark Burton, Founder of Austin EcoNetwork
  • International Women's Day handmade box and bracelet.
  • Ten Thousand Villages store on South Congress.

The International Women's Day Awards have spoken: These Austin women arecreating positive change in the world

finding inspiration

It’s a tough world out there. But three Austin women have dedicated their lives to making it a better place, and were recently recognized for their amazing work.

In collaboration with Ten Thousand Villages, Austin’s only 100% fair trade retail store that sells artisan products from around the world, three Texas women were honored at the fourth annual International Women’s Day Awards. The awards recognize outstanding women changemakers in three categories: Humanitarian, Environment and Animal Welfare.

The 2012 winners were Diana Claitor (Humanitarian), Cofounder and Director of the Texas Jail Project; Brandi Clark Burton (Environment), Founder of Austin EcoNetwork; and Abigail Smith (Animal Welfare), Chief Animal Services Officer at the City of Austin.

“Humanitarianism, respecting the environment and animals are all integral to our mission as a nonprofit fair trade organization,” says Kitty Bird, Ten Thousand Villages Store Manager. “Women in particular benefit from fair trade because it gives them opportunities to handcraft goods and earn sustainable living wages to support their families. So International Women’s Day is the perfect time to recognize and honor local women who are making significant social impacts in our community and around the world.”

Claitor, Burton and Smith were selected as winners by a panel of judges: Meg Goodman Erskine, Cofounder and Executive Director of Multicultural Refugee Coalition; Carol Thomas, Director of Development at Caritas of Austin; and Monica Williams, Editor of GivingCity Austin and Communications Manager at Austin Community Foundation. Bird says that the judges had a tough job selecting the finalists and winners, because there were so many nominations of ordinary women doing extraordinary things.

“Women in particular benefit from fair trade because it gives them opportunities to handcraft goods and earn sustainable living wages to support their families."

Ultimately, the judges agreed that more people need to know about Diana Claitor’s humanitarian accomplishments and what’s happening to pregnant women in Texas prisons. Claitor was the force behind getting Texas legislature to pass HB 3653, which restricts the practice of shackling incarcerated pregnant women during labor and delivery. She continues fighting for a complete ban on such barbaric practices, which still happens in prisons in Texas as well as other states.

Abigail Smith stood out in the Animal Welfare category because in just one year with the largest municipal animal shelter, she has led Austin to become the first major urban city in Texas to officially reach No-Kill status. Smith reorganized and led 90 staff members into a new way of thinking about how they treat more than 20,000 animals that enter Austin Animal Center each year, and achieved what no other major Texas city has done: a 91-percent live animal outcome rate for 2011.

Judges chose Brandi Clark Burton as the Environment winner because she is Austin’s most influential force in building and empowering the sustainability community. Through Austin EcoNetwork, Earth Day festivals, and events such as It’s My Park! Day and the Green Festival, Burton has been leading and raising awareness of socially and environmentally responsible practices for residents and businesses since 1996.

“The nominees were amazing,” says awards judge Monica Williams. “We cover phenomenal people all the time in GivingCity Austin, but I had never even heard of some of these women. I hate to use such a trite term, but these are truly unsung heroes. Diana Claitor just blew me away with her work to change the policy that incarcerated women must wear shackles while they give birth. Her work to bring light to this tortuous practice and get the state to change its policy is the definition of heroic.”

Bird has seen the awards ceremony grow in its four years, from a simple idea to a major event that bestows well-deserved gratitude to the honorees for their roles as changemakers in Austin.

“The link between this special day of the year and what Ten Thousand Villages does each day is powerful yet simple,” Bird says. “Fair trade empowers women. Through fair trade work, women are respected in their community and within their families and most of all can help provide an education for their children. To honor the women who do so much good through animal advocacy, environmentalism and humanitarianism closes the link between Villages global impact and our impact here in Austin.”

Williams would love to see the International Women’s Day Awards grow even bigger in future years. “I know it seems like there are a million honoree events in Austin, but this event is different. It's not just about people who give, it's about people honored for their work in humanitarian and peace issues, rather than social needs.”

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To read about the three winners, as well as all the finalists, you can visit the Ten Thousand Villages blog.

  • Romana and Alex enjoying their day in South Padre Island
  • Alex and his family learned about many sea animals
  • Alex's wife Ramona helps him gear up for a family boat trip
  • Alex Vargas and his family at South Padre Island

New non-profit helps people "leave" without regret

Making a difference

It seems like every day another non-profit pops up. There are so many problems in the world and so many people wanting to solve them. They all tug at your heart strings, but I recently discovered one that tugged a bit harder than most.

Without Regrets Foundation is a new non-profit created by Tara Ballard and Che Heinroth, two moms from Dripping Springs wanting to help terminally ill parents create lasting memories with their family.

Their inspiration stems from a friend who lost her husband to cancer before realizing his dream of taking his son to Yankee Stadium.

Ballard and Heinroth decided something had to be done for families facing this situation stating on their website that "the memories a child has of a parent can last a lifetime and for some children memories are all they have." This belief lead the two on a fundraising journey and search for their first family.

Their search lead them to Alex Vargas, a 38-year-old with End Stage ALS. With a prognosis of six months or less to live, Alex wanted nothing more than to take his wife and three kids on a fishing trip to the Texas Gulf Coast. When Alex was younger he loved to fish and wanted to share that experience with his family, some of whom had never seen the beach.

Without Regrets Foundation is a new non-profit created by Tara Ballard and Che Heinroth, two moms from Dripping Springs wanting to help terminally ill parents create lasting memories with their family.

Now, a fishing trip may not sound like a big deal to some but when you are knee deep in medical bills, confined to a wheel chair and speak through a computer device, a trip to the beach seems daunting and impossible. But nothing is impossible when you have Ballard and Heinroth on your side.

Through a series of parties and other fundraising efforts Ballard and Heinroth raised enough money to send Alex, his wife, two teenage sons and 9-year old daughter to South Padre Island for five days.

Together the Vargas family made memories hanging out at their condo, going on boat rides, and watching the dolphins.

"It felt good watching them have fun," Alex says.

They took tons of photos while in South Padre Island. Seeing the smiles on everyone's faces made all the hard work Ballard and Heinroth had done worth it.

"All the ups and downs of trying to start the organization and fundraising all came together and I knew this was why we are doing it," says Ballard.

Ballard and Heinroth are in the process of raising more funds to help other families. In fact, they are looking for support in their efforts to knock out the Austin 10/20 - a race on April 15th benefitting several charities including Without Regrets.

In addition to raising more money they are also planning a trip for their second family with hopes of helping many others down the line and inspiring all of us to live life today without regret.

Alex's oldest son Manuel Vargas said it best.

"Don't let anything keep you down and always keep your head up. Cherish everything you have and if something is going to make you smile, do it."
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Without Regrets Foundation is a member of I Live Here, I Give Here. You can donate to Without Regrets Foundation directly from our site using the new donation tool below.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Austin Pets Alive and Austin Animal Center launch $31 pet adoptions for the holidays

New home for the holidays

Two Austin organizations are looking to get local pets into their "furever" homes this holiday season. In a special December promotion, Austin Pets Alive! (APA) and Austin Animal Center are working to get as many animals out of the shelter as possible, by making all adoption fees a flat $31.

The promotion runs December 1-31. According to a release, APA's director of lifesaving operations, Stephanie Bilbro, sees this as a great opportunity to clear out the shelters and make a great impact heading into 2023.

“The holidays are a great time for the Austin community to come together and add to their families. We have so many precious kittens, puppies, cats, and dogs just waiting for their turn to find a family,” said Bilbro. “We hope this is a chance for any family who’s been looking to add a pet to theirs to do so right in the middle of the holiday season. We know Austin is in the upper echelon when it comes to animal welfare. We hope this promo sets us and AAC up for a successful end to 2022 and a fast start going into 2023.”

Both shelters are also seeking fosters and volunteers throughout the holiday season, for Austinites looking to help the shelters without making a long-term commitment.

APA has two locations, one at 1156 W. Cesar Chavez St., and one in Tarrytown (3118 Windsor Rd.). Both locations operate 12-6 pm daily, except Christmas Eve (12-4 pm), Christmas Day (closed), and New Year’s Eve (12-4 pm). The Austin Animal Center is located at 7201 Levander Loop and is open every day from 11 am-7 pm for adoptions. For holiday hours, AAC will be closing at 5 pm on December 23 and will be closed December 24-26.

'Famous' rooftop igloos return to Austin hot spot for the coolest experience this winter

Stay Cool

There aren’t so many winter wonderlands in Austin during the holiday season, but things get colder at higher elevations. The Hotel Van Zandt fourth-floor rooftop may not be high enough to change the weather, but visitors throughout December are invited to hang out in its self-proclaimed "famous" all-weather igloos, snacking on bites from inside and themed cocktails after the sun goes down.

Each private, six-seat igloo at the “South Pole” contains a Christmas tree, board and card games, festive records, and other cozy holiday decorations. It’s as private as Austin dining gets without completely breaking the bank, but the poolside mini-village of transparent igloos creates a warm feeling of togetherness. And in case it actually does get cold (a Christmas miracle!), the vinyl globes are heated.

It's not just a fun gimmick — as cute as the igloos are, Geraldine's is a great foodie destination. Visitors can expect (strong) drinks like the “Dandy Andes,” a minty chocolate mix of Grey Goose vodka, crème de cacao, crème de menthe, and matcha tea. “Santa on a Beach” combines tropical flavors with cinnamon, and other drinks include unusual ingredients like Chartreuse whipped cream, pistachio, and chocolate mole bitters.

Geraldine’s menu focuses on classic Southern cuisine without getting weighed down by tradition; that means a roster of semi-adventurous gourmet comfort foods, like mole birria short ribs, smoked carrots, and salty Brussels sprouts with serranos and mint. Shareables are a good idea, since the igloos are intimate (read: not especially convenient unless you like balancing a dinner plate on the couch).

Two rounds of two-hour seating will be available every night, and reservations will go very fast. As of December 5, there are only a few dates left. Reservations ($100 upfront) entail a $200 minimum on food and beverage, plus a 20 percent service charge. Book on Eventbrite.

Acclaimed Texas chef toasts the Italian liqueur that's perfect for the holidays

The Wine Guy

Editor's note: Long before Chris Shepherd became a James Beard Award-winning chef, he developed enough of a passion for wine to work at Brennan's of Houston as a sommelier. He maintains that interest to this day and covers it regularly in a column for CultureMap's Houston site. Here, he talks not about wine, but the perfect after-dinner sip.

All right, team! Listen up! I’m going to give you some very important holiday information to help you get through all of the parties, family gatherings, and large festive dinners. We are not going to talk about wine today. We’re going to talk about another love of mine — the life-saving amaro.

What is amaro, you ask? It’s an Italian herbal liqueur that’s traditionally consumed post-meal as a digestif. Think of it this way: you start your meal with an aperitif — could be a martini, Campari, or Aperol spritz — to get your palate going and your body ready to eat. After dinner, amaro will help you get through the rest of your night. This elixir will magically and quickly break down everything you just consumed.

Most amari are from Italy, but fortunately new producers with similar styles are popping up all over the world. Some are sweeter, some are more bitter. You just have to find the style you like. Producers don’t traditionally tell you what’s in their amaro, because most of them are made up of dozens of herbs and spices. It’s all about trial and error to find the one you love.

I drink it neat, but some people drink it on the rocks. More and more, you’re seeing amari in cocktails, too.

The amari selection at our house is awesome. My wife and I are firm believers in this beverage as a night cap, and it’s even become part of my regiment pre-dinner as a spritz. Kill two birds, you know?

Unfortunately, not a lot of restaurants carry multiple amari, so it’s up to you guys to get this trend moving. The more you ask for it, the more they’ll stock it.

Our No. 1 go to at home? Montenegro. It’s easy to find, and it’s easy drinking. It has flavors of vanilla and orange, but it’s not too sweet and not too bitter. It’s had the same recipe since 1885, and I hope they never change it.

My wife’s favorite is Braulio. This spirit is from the Italian Alps and aged in Slavonian casks. Using more medicinal herbs and fruits means it skews more bitter than Montenegro, but it has a nice sweetness at the end.

A newish player in the amari game is Amaro Nonino. The Nonino family is historically one of the best grappa producers in the world — they’ve been distilling grappa since 1897 — but they didn’t start to produce their namesake amaro until 1992. (By newish, you get what I mean.) It has lots of honey, vanilla, licorice, and orange flavors. It’s a tad less sweet than most, but I think it’s fantastic.

Pasubio is really different from other amari. If you’re a fan of blueberries, this is for you. It literally tastes like crushed blueberries.

The next two are really cool and unusual, because they're made here in the U.S. An all-time favorite is Southern Amaro from High Wire Distilling Co. in Charleston. Yaupon is one of the main characteristics, which is found all over Texas.

High Wire built its reputation on using regionally grown and foraged ingredients. If you’re ever in Charleston, you should stop into the distillery and say hi to Scott and Ann! Also, try some of their Jimmy Red Corn whiskey. Actually, everything they make is delightful.

Heirloom Pineapple Amaro is made in Minneapolis. To me, this is fantastically bitter but also tastes like roasted pineapple in a glass. One of my new favorites, for sure.

Now, here’s a helpful tidbit of info. You may have heard of fernet. That’s a general term for an amaro with very little to no sweetness. Branca is a producer that makes fernet, and it’s the most well-known. Search out others as well, because they’re all pretty cool.

Almost everything I listed can be found at most liquor stores. Don’t be afraid to try something. Yes, sometimes it tastes like taking your medicine. But I’ll bet the smell of Jägermeister penetrates your early 20s, and surprise — that’s a style of amaro as well.