If you spend any time in Austin, Texas, you quickly learn that the people who live here are intensely proud of their city. As a lifelong Austinite, there are many things I personally love about this city, but lately I have been thinking a lot about what I value most in Austin. It is no secret that the city where I was born and raised is changing quickly. Tens of thousands of new residents are moving here every year, and this population boom is driving some significant transformations. Some of the most visible changes are the new buildings springing up everywhere you look—downtown, in old neighborhoods, along busy corridors, and in once sleepy corners of the city. It is easy to get swept up in these striking signs of growth, but I want to make sure we don’t lose sight of building something even more important: stronger connections between people and communities.
Executive Director, Keep Austin Beautiful
Every day, I feel lucky to work for an organization, Keep Austin Beautiful, that is committed to connecting people through service. In the past year alone, we organized more than 100 of our own events and supported over 1,300 community-led service projects, creating 37,000 volunteer opportunities. Our thousands of volunteers tackled a wide variety of projects. They built community gardens and pollinator gardens in neighborhoods that have long lacked usable public green spaces. They combed parks, waterways, and greenbelts for litter, cleaning 185,000 pounds of trash and 23,000 pounds of recyclables from the environment. They cared for local creeks by removing invasive vegetation and planting 20,000 native trees. These efforts encompass much more than caring for the environment—they are about building relationships and public spaces that can sustain a stronger sense of connectedness between the diverse people who live in our city.
In a city that is changing as quickly as Austin, I strongly believe that civic engagement will only become more important to the volunteer work we cultivate at Keep Austin Beautiful. I am inspired when I see people from different communities coming together to work on transformative projects. Through service, we learn more about each other and begin to build bridges between communities that have not always interacted in the past, which is especially important as we face the new challenges associated with Austin’s growth.
We are therefore aiming to make 2018 Keep Austin Beautiful’s “Year of Service.” That means continuing to build on our relationships with volunteers from all walks of life in every part of Austin. It also means connecting new residents to their communities through service projects. In that spirit, we are thrilled about this year’s Keep Austin Beautiful Day, a citywide day of service taking place on Saturday, April 14. This event will bring together more than 4,000 people to work on 150 community improvement projects in every corner of the city.
It is my hope that efforts like Keep Austin Beautiful Day will help volunteers see themselves as part of a community that encompasses all Austinites. I believe that meeting and working alongside our neighbors—especially those who don’t live right next door—makes us more invested in building an equitable future for our city. In a time when so much is changing so quickly, volunteerism and service help us hold on to what really matters in Austin: the health and wellbeing of the communities who call this city home.