Central Texas

(Left to right) Computer science seniors Matt Ebeweber, Bri Connelly and Niko Lazaris display their $100,000 award from the IBM Watson University competition. They were among seven students who worked to develop the prototype app called CallScout.

Photo Credit: Charlotte Carpenter | Daily Texan Staff

After winning a $100,000 award in the IBM Watson University Competition, a group of seven computer science students plan to develop an mobile app that connects users to local social services, such as clothing banks and health insurance programs. 

As their winning entry, the students developed a prototype app named “CallScout,” aimed at meeting the needs of users in Central Texas.

Bri Connelly, computer science senior and project member, said CallScout will provide useful information directly to callers in need, so callers won’t have to find or wait for human representatives. 

“Right now, when people have questions about social services, like where to find a homeless shelter, or if they need help paying their rent, they call the 211 hotline,” Connelly said. “Through the app, people can ask those questions and Watson will answer them, and they’ll also be able to do things that they can’t normally do over the phone, like have favorites and rate and review services.”

The Callscout app uses IBM’s automated question-answering software, known as “Watson.”

According to Bruce Porter, computer science department chair and class instructor, IBM’s Watson software was popularized by its appearance on “Jeopardy,” when it played against human opponents and won. 

“It’s a program that enables computers to interact with people in English — for a person to ask Watson a question, and Watson to deliver a specific answer,” Porter said.

The students began work on the app in September as part of a capstone projects class, which was designed to combine education and career-oriented research.

Connelly said with the help of the Longhorn Startup Lab, an on-campus group that helps students form start-up companies, the team will use the award money to produce the application.

Porter said he believes the students won the competition because their project focused on helping people in the real world.

“My guess is that one differentiating factor was that the students here built a system for a real client, in this case, the United Way of Central Texas,” Porter said. “It wasn’t just a class project.”

Niko Lazaris, computer science and finance senior and project member, said the group learned more than what they expected from a computer science class.

“I think what we expected to learn was a lot more technical insight into how Watson works, and we did learn that, but I think what kind of surprised us was the whole product development that goes behind it and figuring out a viable pitch to the competition,” Lazaris said.

If you want to stay in Central Texas after graduation, consider this: Austin is growing at an unprecedented rate. The population has grown 37.7 percent since 2000. Some estimates state that as many as 110 people move to Austin each day. Because Austin sits on the Balcones Escarpment, part of a fault line running north and south through much of Central Texas, the geography of the city and surrounding areas presents uncommon challenges to that physical growth while at the same time stretching our natural resources. What this means for upcoming graduates from UT is that there is opportunity in the area for young professionals in many disciplines. Some of those opportunities are unique and require creative approaches that will enable many of us to put theory into practice.

For example, when I attended a western Travis County public water utility district meeting recently, many challenges of growth became evident. The training and education we receive at UT could provide meaningful leadership as Central Texas transitions. This area west of Austin needs knowledgeable engineers willing to work on the special problems of waste water treatment plants and water delivery in a geographically diverse and demanding, yet sensitive environment. Parts of this district are situated over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone, an area that supports important groundwater as well as a popular swimming hole, Barton Springs. The karst formations of the aquifer allow pollutants to pass quickly and almost entirely unfiltered to local waterways. One of the area’s wastewater treatment plants was originally built only to serve a subdivision development but is now serving many more customers, including commercial customers. The plant was never intended to operate under these conditions. Failures in infrastructure of this kind could threaten the aquifer.

A new hotel development in the western Travis County area underscores further evidence that creative thinkers with a wide range of skills are needed to handle problems unique to Central Texas. On Sept. 18, a storm dumped more than seven inches of rain in less than 24 hours in the city of Bee Cave. The hotel’s parking garage, which is situated beneath the hotel, filled with drainage water from the site. The water made its way into the city’s storm drains. Unfortunately, this city drain was not designed to handle the additional water, despite the fact that rain events such as this occur frequently in Central Texas, and the storm water ended up in the sewer system. University of Texas graduates trained to use innovative techniques in civil engineering, landscape architecture and architectural engineering will be in demand as these problems begin to surface and require novel approaches.

Finally, Central Texas needs professionals trained to think holistically about infrastructure problems in such a sensitive environment. Luckily, Austin has already made progress toward this goal. In the 1970s, the city’s Watershed Protection Department began to introduce planners into the engineering-dominated field. Since that time, both groups have learned to value lessons taken from each discipline and have created a department that thinks outside the box about how to innovatively solve Austin’s storm water problems.

The fast-growing areas outside of Austin — once small, sleepy communities in the country — need advanced problem-solvers now. University of Texas graduates should pursue opportunities in these cities, bringing with them the enthusiasm, energy and cutting-edge knowledge that we learn in our academic programs which can help solve the area’s burgeoning growth problems.

Harris is an architecture graduate student from Athens.

Photo Credit: Connor Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

On the shores of Lady Bird Lake, Celtic history and culture come to life. Rows of Highland dancers in bright kilts take to the stage while vendors along the path sell everything from pastries to Scotch eggs. The air fills with the sounds of Irish fiddles and Scottish bagpipes. This is the Austin Celtic Festival.

The 18th annual Austin Celtic Festival will be held Saturday and Sunday at Fiesta Gardens near Lady Bird Lake. The festival will feature authentic Celtic music, dance, crafts and sports.

Funded in part by the City of Austin Cultural Arts Division, the festival is the largest gathering devoted to Celtic culture in Central Texas and seeks to celebrate and preserve Irish and Scottish history through the arts.

“Above all, I will say that, when the story of many nations are asked to be told, they will go to the library and pull down great books,” said Donnelle McKaskle, Austin Celtic Festival director. “But when the story of the Celts are told, we tend to go to the shelf and take down our fiddles.”

The Prodigals, an American band whose sound fuses punk music with traditional Celtic melodic elements, is among the musical groups playing at the festival. 

“We meld those roots, which is what I and our guitarist grew up with, along with the wonderfully mad musical anarchy that is New York,” said Gregory Grene, the band’s frontman.

Grene said folk music has the power to make history and culture accessible to modern listeners.

“The music acquires the force of subversion,” Grene said. “And that power stays with the music, even after the politics behind it has changed.”

The festival will also feature historical reenactments, in which historians set up reconstructed artifacts and activities in a historically accurate manner so observers can have a vivid sense of what ancient life was like.

Texas Coritani, an Iron Age living history group based in Central Texas, will set up a Celtic campsite on festival grounds to educate festivalgoers about the life and history of ancient Celts.

“Our members, as living historians, assume the role of interpreters rather than actors,” Texas Coritani member Jeff Scharp said. “This affects our displays and interactions to be much more personal instead of being like a cold museum or store window.”

Careful work goes into Texas Coritani’s setup process to ensure an authentic experience.

“We’ve narrowed our focus on a tribe in the East Midlands,” Scharp said. “It allows us to have an expert knowledge of time and place by having materials [and] items that go together, rather than a mish-mash of random Celt-ish stuff.”

Before the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, two months ago, many Americans were unaware of the U.S. Department of Defense’s 1033 Program. Shocking photographs of police officers launching military-grade tear gas into crowds and riding through the streets of Ferguson in armored vehicles flooded news outlets. These images were made more shocking by the subsequent realization that the 1033 Program, which is currently under review in Congress, has distributed surplus military supplies to more than 10,000 American communities and has armed several Central Texas agencies with military-grade vehicles and weaponry. Included in these state agencies are Central Texas school districts, as well as the UT System. 

Ten Texas public school districts have acquired 18 M-14 rifles, 25 automatic pistols and 4,500 rounds of ammunition in total. The UT System (not the University of Texas Police Department) has also acquired one mine-resistant, armored-protective vehicle and two other military trucks. The subject of providing schools with the materials some believe are needed to protect Texas’ youth is colored by gray areas, but it comes down to one question: Should we draw a line when it comes to the protection of our community’s campuses and youth? 

I cannot argue that Central Texas campuses and public school systems do not deserve the best protection that can be afforded to them. As any police officer would state, and as two police officers told me while I was writing my first column on militarization, the chief role of the police is to be prepared for any threat against communities.

The problem is that arming Texas school districts is not the best protection for anyone. The 1033 Program does not enforce standard orders or procedures for the use of military weapons and materials or designate training for their operation. Therefore, allowing such materials to be used by communities, especially school districts, is vulnerable to misuse. And of course, because the armored vehicles and weapons granted to law enforcement agencies by the 1033 Program were created for combat zones, the misuse of such materials is incredibly dangerous.

Some communities are beginning to forsake the materials granted to them by the Department of Defense. Central Texas school districts would do well to follow that lead. The city council of the college town Davis, California, ordered the police department to return the $700,000 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, known colloquially as an MRAP, which was given free of charge to the Davis Police Department. Despite the police chief’s statement that the vehicle was “perfect” for rescues and active shooter situations, the Davis City Council decided that its community is better served without it. This decision is unique, as it is the first community reported to have made a distinction between community interests and a law enforcement agency’s desire for such a machine. This is also a groundbreaking development in the militarization of local police forces because it highlights how little public outreach was attempted before the acquisition of the machine to gauge the community’s response.

Congress may decide soon that all communities are better off without surplus military equipment and the 1033 Program, which remains under review at President Barack Obama’s behest, but a line must be drawn now, especially with communities made vulnerable because of their young members. Fortunately, school shootings are so rare that they don’t warrant the attainment of so many weapons by Texas school districts. The reality is the campuses that have acquired these materials have no use for them. In the event of an emergency on one of the nine university campuses in the UT System, it could take hours for the UT System’s armored vehicle to reach the campus, and it could very well be too late for anything to be accomplished by its use. The risk that such materials pose to campuses outweighs the probability of their usefulness.

We must draw a line when it comes to protecting our communities: a line that separates the interests of communities and the wants of law enforcement agencies. Increased weaponry does not equate to safety. The 1033 Program only gives police officers the opportunity to misuse combat vehicles and weapons when the materials are not also accompanied by standard orders and protocols for officer training and use of the objects. Any misuse of combat materials is unacceptable and a true danger to us all. 

Smith is a history junior from Austin.  Follow her on Twitter @claireseysmith. 

Photo Credit: Omar J Longoria | Daily Texan Staff

With both Capital Metro and Austin City Council endorsing Project Connect’s recommended route for urban rail, the council is expected to discuss bond language in August for the $1.38 billion project connecting East Riverside to ACC Highland.

If Austin residents approve a bond proposal in November, a three-year environmental assessment and engineering process will determine how to safely construct the rail, the bridge across Lady Bird Lake and the possible tunnel through North Austin. 

“Things could change,” project lead Kyle Keahey told The Daily Texan last month. “There’s lots of opportunity for public involvement at this stage.”

The urban rail proposal is a part of Project Connect, a collaborative vision for Austin’s transportation system between the city, Cap Metro and other Central Texas planning organizations. The approved route will run along Trinity Street through downtown and travel on San Jacinto Boulevard through the UT campus. Three of the rail’s proposed stops are on campus at the future site of the Dell Medical School, Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium and on the northeast side of campus.

While some have complained about a lack of public engagement in the planning process, Mayor Lee Leffingwell said Project Connect and Capital Metro have hosted more than 200 public meetings to relay information about the rail and hear from the community.

“I believe that this has been one of the most open, transparent and inclusive processes I’ve ever seen,” Leffingwell said.

City council decided to limit public discussion to 30 minutes for both sides before they voted on June 26, excluding several in attendance that hoped to address the council. Among them was Jamie Nalley, an architectural engineering senior and Student Government representative.

“Students are a highly transit-dependent population,” Nalley wrote in his prepared speech, given to the Texan. “This current plan fails to take us into account.” 

The Student Government assembly has passed resolutions in recent years calling for an urban rail alignment along Guadalupe Street and Lamar Boulevard instead of the recommended alignment on the east side of campus.

The route on San Jacinto is incorporated into the University’s 2012 Campus Master Plan and was recommended to Project Connect by University officials.

A light rail on Guadalupe and Lamar was proposed in 2000 and lost a bond election by a narrow margin. The city later pursued bus rapid transit along those streets, and the Federal Transportation Administration awarded Austin $38 million in 2012 for the MetroRapid service, which began running in January. 

“It would be near impossible to justify additional FTA funding for this corridor so soon,” Leffingwell said.

The city will seek FTA funds to cover half of the project’s cost, with the remaining portion locally funded. The city has set aside $600 million for urban rail, leaving $100 million unfunded.

Mike McHone, who represents businesses, churches and residential communities near UT on behalf of University Area Partners, said he feels the city has placed MetroRapid where urban rail should be.

“We’ve been given buses instead of light rail. We never thought buses were the right way to go, but we got them,” McHone said. “So we’re going to compound a mistake?”

Thomas Butler, transportation director for the Downtown Austin Alliance, an organization with the goal of improving downtown Austin, said the route is designed for what the city will look like a decade from now. Butler said it will serve a population growing to the east, as well as the future ACC Highland campus, the Dell Medical School and an innovation zone for technology development expected to flourish in the northeast corner of downtown. 

Butler emphasized the route’s connectivity to the larger transportation system, including the rapid bus lines and MetroRail. Robert Svoboda, co-director of the Student Government city relations agency, said his main concern was that Project Connect failed to seek input from the student population.

“The plan approved is not perfect, but it’s a step toward more options for transportation and all students want that,” Svoboda said. “It’s been a hands-off relationship with city government, and we want to change that. Our goal is to educate students so they can vote.”

Correction: This story has been edited with the correct source of the $600 million funding for the project. It is coming from the city's strategic mobility plan and not the Central Texas Regional Mobility fund.

Clay Johnston, inaugural dean of the Dell Medical School, speaks to media after the new medical school’s ground-breaking ceremony on Monday morning. The Erwin Center and Cooley Pavilion site will be relocated in order for the new school to be built on the intersection of 15th and Red River streets.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

The University launched construction of the Dell Medical School on Monday during a groundbreaking ceremony with state, city and University officials in attendance.

The medical school will feature an education and administration building, a research building, a medical office building and a parking garage, totalling 515,000 square feet. The predicted cost is $334 million and will be located at the intersection of 15th Street and Red River.

Seton Healthcare Family, which runs several hospitals in Austin, committed $295 million last year to build a teaching hospital for students enrolled at the medical school. The school is scheduled to accept its first class of students in 2016. 

At the ceremony, President William Powers Jr. asked the speakers at the event and community members in attendance to write one word on a poster board, summarizing their individual hopes for the medical school. Powers wrote, “Innovation.” 

“If we all express our hopes and then pull together to make those hopes a reality, we will have a true treasure in our community and a great new source of health and healing,” Powers said.

Clay Johnston, dean of the Dell Medical School, said he wanted to focus on advancing medical practices in the new facilities. 

“We have a responsibility to take advantage of our newness, to test out different ways of doing things that could become models for the rest of the country,” Johnston said.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who has supported the addition of a medical school in Austin, said the school will transform the Central Texas area. 

“We’re all going to experience this transformation — it will be big,” Watson said. “Really, it probably had to be big. I don’t know that this community would have come together for something incremental, something folks might or might not notice as they went about their lives. We invested in something that will change what it means to live in Central Texas.” 

Mayor Lee Leffingwell and UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa attended the event. In February, Cigarroa announced he is resigning as chancellor in order to practice medicine full-time as head of the pediatric transplant team at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.

“It, fundamentally, really brings a focus, at least for me, that education saves lives,” Cigarroa said. “It’s extremely meaningful because I well know how lives are going to be impacted for the better as a result of this.”

Construction for the medical school will result in various road closures, while the University works to complete multiple construction projects simultaneously. The Erwin Center, along with the Denton A. Cooley Pavilion site, on Red River will be relocated in the next six to 15 years to make room for the medical school.

Because of the extensive construction on Red River, the road will be closed between 15th Street and the Erwin Center between May and December. 

Powers said he hopes the medical school will contribute to advancing the Austin community. 

“It’s a great day for Central Texas,” Powers said. “It’s a great day for health.”

In six weeks, the Austin City Council will vote on a public rapid transit system plan to integrate with the existing transportation infrastructure in Austin and central Texas, but, first, the Project Connect team must complete its evaluation of ridership demand and cost models.

Project Connect is a collaboration between Capital Metro, the City of Austin, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, Lone Star Rail and other stakeholders. A project committee for the Central Austin area previously narrowed the modes of transportation down to two — urban rail and bus rapid transit, each with a dedicated guideway. The team will determine the best mode of transportation and how it will be delivered based on several factors, including ridership demand, cost and effect on area economic development.

Bill Spelman, city council member and LBJ School of Public Affairs professor, said he hopes the system will be able to accommodate increased future demand.

“One of the things that we’re hoping to have happen is that demand during peak hours will go up,” Spelman said. “Ten years hence, if the demand is there for five-minute frequencies [from 10-minute frequencies], is that something that we’ll be able to take into account?”

According to Kyle Keahey, HNTB Corp. vice president and lead consultant on the project, two lines will be built. A bridge, short tunnel or long tunnel will be built from East Riverside Drive, travel north across Lady Bird Lake and end at 17th Street. The team must also choose between two different routes for an additional line that will begin just north of Hancock Golf Course and run north just before U.S. 290.

Keahey said, when deciding between the two Hancock line alternatives, the team must weigh the benefit of allowing riders to transfer to the already-existent MetroRail Red Line.

“If we introduce other lines to the system and we interline, all of a sudden, we end up with the Dallas example … where everything is funneled through a single alignment,” Keahey said. “Those are issues that we are looking at not only in this project but also … as we move forward beyond just this first project,” Keahey said.

Because the project relies on receiving federal funds, Keahey said, the team must ensure that the proposed project meets Federal Transit Administration requirements, including cost-effectiveness criteria. Keahey said there are several aspects of ridership that must be considered, including people’s perceptions and willingness to ride each transportation mode.

“I think BRT [bus rapid transit] is starting to dispel some of [the] notion that, if you provide frequent, clean service, that you can be competitive, but still what we’re seeing in the literature and FTA’s experience is that, if people have to choose, they choose rail over a bus, typically,” Keahey said.

According to Scott Gross, Austin Urban Rail program manager, as the city expands the transportation system, the cost-effectiveness of urban rail and bus rapid transit may become very similar over time.

“Urban rail does become more cost-effective per seat,” Gross said.

Keahey said bus rapid transit would require less capital investment, including not having to build an operations and maintenance facility. Keahey also said buses can make sharper turns, which means the city may have more route options if it chooses to expand the system.

The team will make a formal recommendation on May 2, and, making any necessary alterations, the council will take a vote on the locally preferred alternative on June 13.

Dakoda Dauner buys cookies from Girl Scouts Mackenzie Soldano (left) and Emma Schmidt in front of the University Co-op. For more than ten years, the Co-op has allowed Girl Scouts to sell cookies in front of the store.

Photo Credit: Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

As students plunge into the throes of Thin Mint season, young girls toting boxes of cookies and bags of change seem to take over every street corner — but, in reality, the University only allows two Girl Scout cookie booths on campus.

The on-campus booths are organized by the Girl Scouts of Central Texas council, which includes smaller service units, such as Sunnyside. The booths are located on the West Mall and outside the Perry-Castaneda Library. According to Cindy Cassidy, Sunnyside’s service unit director and cookie manager, girls who sell at these two booths must be in sixth grade or older.

The University determines the locations and the dates with the Girls Scouts of Central Texas council. Service units may sell at council booths based on a lottery system.

Assistant dean of students Mary Beth Mercatoris said both nonprofit and for-profit organizations are usually restricted from coming on campus and selling items. The Girl Scouts were authorized to use the sites in a letter from Marla Martinez, associate vice president for financial and campus services.

Despite restrictions on campus, Sunnyside service unit tries to target college students in another way — by selling in West Campus. The six booth locations include the Co-op, Kerbey Lane, Wag-A-Bag and three different apartment buildings owned by The Block. 

To mark the beginning of cookie season, almost 200 boxes were sold by a Sunnyside booth at the Co-op on Sunday, and more than 53,000 cases of cookies were delivered to the Austin area, according to Cassidy. Booth sales began Saturday and will continue through Feb. 21.

Hulan Swain, University Co-op corporate assistant to the president, said the business has allowed the Girl Scouts to sell in front of the store for more than 10 years.

“They’re part of our community, and our mission is to support our local community,” Swain said. “We allow them to sell in front of the Co-op because we like and respect what they stand for.”

Swain said the only problem Sunnyside has had with the location is girls from other areas selling individually within sight of the cookie booth in front of the Co-op. Currently, girls are only allowed to sell in residential areas or at their service unit’s designated booths. Sierra Fernandes, product program manager for Girl Scouts of Central Texas in Austin, said the term “residential” has not been clarified yet, so individual Girl Scouts may technically sell on Guadalupe.

“[The Co-op is] an awesome location,” Cassidy said. “The students are always friendly and buy lots of cookies.”

Sunnyside’s disadvantage to its student-centered boundaries is its lack of a shopping mall and big stores that many units have the luxury of being able to sell at.

“It’s not like we have the best place in the city,” Cassidy said. “There are other places that have great cookie sales also.”

As traffic congestion increases in Austin, Austinites for Urban Rail Action met Thursday to discuss alternative transportation methods in Central Texas — including a potential light rail system called Urban Rail.

Representatives of the group spoke at the meeting about the future of Urban Rail, a system that has been effective in many major cities in the nation, and how it could be implemented in Austin. This is partly in response to Austin’s rapidly growing population. According to the Austin Chamber of Commerce, 7 percent of Austin’s residents in 2011 lived elsewhere in 2010.

Urban Rail is a light rail system which is imbedded in the streets and runs alongside existing streets and highways. According to the Urban Rail website, Urban Rail railcars take up the same space as six Jeeps lined up front to back but hold 165 people, providing a cost, energy and space efficient alternative to being stuck in traffic.

Phase One of the Urban Rail project is estimated to cost roughly $275 million locally, with matching federal funds contributed for a total of $550 million. 

The changes in Austin transportation are spearheaded by a nonpartisan initiative called Project Connect, a partner of Capital Metro, LStar, Campo and the city of Austin. Kyle Keahey, one of the Urban Rail initiative leaders from Project Connect, spoke at Thursday’s meeting. Keahey said that his goal is to keep the people of Austin informed on the data and details of the Urban Rail project, using Austinites for Urban Rail Action as one of his outlets for disseminating information.

Jace Deloney, founder of the group, said the organization’s goal is to increase transparency in the transportation changes coming to Austin.

“We’re trying to make this process as open, transparent and data-driven as possible,” Deloney said.  

Austin citizen Mike Gorse said he felt confident that increased transparency is necessary to generate support.

“I think if people feel informed, then [the legislation will] be more likely to pass. It seems like something that the public will want,” Gorse said.

Andrew Houston, an architecture and urban studies senior, said he has high hopes for Urban Rail.  

“My hope is that Urban Rail will become a part of Austin in the near future,” Houston said.

Julio Gonzalez, a member of the Austinites for Urban Rail Action executive committee,  said he feels optimistic about the future of the Urban Rail process.

“Hopefully, the data will help us get together, and it sounds like the time is now,” Gonzalez said. “It’s up to you to help make this process a success.”

The American Red Cross of Central Texas awarded a $1.5 million community grant to the Bastrop County Long Term Recovery Team on Tuesday.

The funds granted will be used to complete the construction of 30 new homes for families whose houses were destroyed in the 2011 Bastrop wildfires. The Recovery Team is a non-profit, non-government affiliated organization dedicated to providing assistance to uninsured and underinsured low-income families who were affected by the wildfires. The fire charred 34,000 acres of land, turning 1,691 homes to ash. Concerned citizens as well as survivors of the disaster formed the organization to help affected families.

Suwetha Amsavelu, president of the American Red Cross Club at UT, said members of the student organization pitched in last year to help a Bastrop woman who was displaced from her home by the wildfires. 

“We were only able to help one woman, but even years later there are still so many of the affected out there,” Amsavelu said. “This grant will help so many more people.”

Janice Butler, the executive director of the Recovery Team, lost two houses in the wildfires. 

“I was really fortunate to have insurance to pay to rebuild one of my homes,” Butler said. “Other families are not so fortunate, but through cut costs and donations we are able to build [30 houses] with the bare necessities between $45,000 and $50,000 dollars, and the families are just so thankful.”

In the past two years the Recovery Team has been able to build 79 homes for affected families, and with the new grant the team’s goal is to complete the new homes by April 2014.

“Thirty families who remained on our waiting list for assistance will now be able to rebuild their lives because of this grant,” said Christine Files, president of the Recovery Team. “We are so thrilled, and we hope this serves as an incentive for the Central Texas community to help us finish the recovery efforts that have been started.”

Assisting with the recovery program is the Mennonite Disaster Service, an organization that sends volunteers from the northern states and Canada to build homes at no cost to the families or the organization. These volunteers make it possible for houses to be built at such a low cost because they do not accept payment for their work.

“These families experienced devastation, numbness and fatigue,” said Kevin King, the executive director of the service. “We want to create a storm of compassion and be a new generation of generosity and healing hope for Texas.”