In 2011, a group of community leaders convened with one focus – improve the quality of life in Austin by 2020. This group became known as Vision2020, and from that work Austin Aspires was formed in 2013 to bring educational excellence to our community. Five individuals stepped forward to form the first Austin Aspires Board of Directors – past board members Jana Haynes, LeeAnn Ettinger, Craig Johnson, and current board members Chad Sayles and John Engelstad.
These five individuals recognized that Austin is a resource rich community. We are fortunate to have several organizations that work to provide support in various areas. The missing link was an organization that could bring these resources in alignment to achieve a common goal.
In September of 2015, Gema Alvarado-Guerrero became the sixth member of the Austin Aspires board, and the work of the board continued. Information was gathered from cross sector groups of the community to learn more about what was needed to ensure a world class education for all. Five very specific areas were identified at that time: Readiness for kindergarten; high academic achievement; empowering parents/caregivers as the primary influencer of our learners; career and college readiness; and social, emotional and mental health of all learners. Those five areas continue to guide our work today!
As we close out 2021, it is time for us to express our extreme gratitude to three of our earliest board members – Mr. Chad Sayles, Mr. John Engelstad and Ms. Gema Alvarado-Guerrero.
Each of these incredible individuals have played a significant role in developing Austin Aspires into the organization that it is today. Their leadership over the years have ensured that Austin Aspires has become steadfast in the community, providing support to children, families, and partner organizations in these key areas. Their commitment to our organization, and our community, shows in all facets of the work we do.
Austin Aspires has grown from one staff member to seven staff members, our roster of community partners has grown, and the number of donors and grants received since our 2013 inception has grown. Although much has changed, Mr. Sayles, Mr. Engelstad and Ms. Alvarado-Guerrero have ensured that our commitment to becoming a community that is “recognized as a leader in education” has never wavered.
On behalf of the staff, the Austin Aspires’ Board and the community, thank you so much to each of you for all that you have done to make Austin Aspires become a reality for the children and families in our community.
By Jayne Gibson In 2011, a group of community leaders convened with one focus — to improve the quality of life in Austin by 2020. Hundreds of volunteers came together, inspired by the successes of other communities. LeeAnn Ettinger was one of those volunteers; however, the role she played made her more than just one of many. It made her unique in that she not only played a key role in the creation and launch of Austin Aspires, she became an active board member to ensure success from the start. On the eve of 2020, her consecutive terms as a board member will be complete. As Jennifer Lawhead, the first Executive Director of Austin Aspires, reflected on the role Ettinger had in the organization, she said, “I don’t think anything would have happened with this work without her passion for the project, educational prowess and care for the education of young people in our community. She cares deeply about this work and was so actively engaged that she was a gift to our organization.” For many of the years as an Austin Aspires’ board member, Ettinger served in the role of President of the Board. During this time, Austin Aspires was able to secure financial support, establish itself as an independent 501c3, become part of the statewide coalition of the Education Partnership Coalition, engage numerous community partners in this work and numerous other things that proved instrumental to successfully launching Austin Aspires in a meaningful way. Ettinger’s commitment is evident in the fibers of Austin Aspires. Austin Public Schools Superintendent David Krenz said, “Through LeeAnn’s leadership, not only as a Board Member but also as an active participant in many of the Austin Aspires’ Action Committees she has provided insight and direction as we, Austin Aspires and Austin Public Schools, work to achieve our goals as a community and as an educational organization.” The close of December 2019 will mark the completion of Ettinger’s time as an official member of the Austin Aspires’ Board. Although she will no longer play an official role in the organization, her lasting impact will be evident throughout the organization and the work in the community the organization has done. On behalf of Austin Aspires, we want to publicly acknowledge Ettinger for the incredible work she has done on our behalf. We are extremely grateful to Ettinger for the sharing of her time, wisdom and passion for others. Every organization needs a champion as committed to their cause as Ettinger was for us from day one.
Director of Austin Aspires In April, 2019, a collaborative of several Austin community organizations, including the Community Learning Center, Woodson, Pacelli Catholic Schools, the Parenting Resource Center, Wee Learning Center, Austin Public Library, and Austin Aspires, was awarded a grant from the PrairieCare Child and Family Fund to help support healthy emotional development in our youngest learners with the implementation of Dr. Becky Bailey’s Conscious Discipline practices throughout our organizations. Conscious Discipline is a tool that empowers parents and adults with the mental shifts and practical skills needed to ease the negative effects of stress on children. Childhood stress is a big deal. In a 2013 study, about 60 percent of adults reported childhood trauma including verbal, physical or sexual abuse, or family dysfunction such as incarceration, mental illness or substance abuse (Gerwin), all of which have the effect of causing tremendous stress among our youngest learners. Some reports suggest the stress level is even higher in our children today. As adults, we understand that every day life evokes a variety of emotions. We accept that situations will bring us happiness, joy, anger, sadness, frustration and many others. However, as parents, we often forget to talk to our children about their feelings and appropriate ways to express them. Additionally, as adults, we respond to a child’s behavior and range of emotions differently depending on our own childhood experiences. For example, if a parent was raised in a home where it was seen as a sign of weakness for a boy to cry, the parent may punish or berate his/her young son for crying. Brain research tells us that we react in the ways we are most familiar and in the ways that have been modeled for us. Conscious Discipline helps provide the tools to help us understand that as the adult in the situation, we need to take a step back and find out why our son is crying, what he is trying to tell us, and how can we empower him to understand his options. Adults must learn to interact in ways that promote mutual respect and being responsive to the needs of others. That is the key to healthy relationships. When adults model this behavior for children, as well as engage children in meaningful conversations in safe environments, children are set up to better understand and handle the stressors of life. Receiving this grant has provided an opportunity for multiple agencies to work together toward a common goal. Sharing resources, knowledge and learning together, these agencies have made each other stronger and better equipped to meet the needs of our children and families.
By Jayne Gibson Austin Aspires Austin Aspires and Austin Positive Action Coalition are pleased to co-sponsor the Austin Bright Spots Award.Jayne GibsonRecipients of the Bright Spots award are teachers, community members, organizations, or businesses who demonstrate compassion and availability, support and inspiration and welcome and approachability to individuals in Austin. They show care and concern and are engaged and accessible. They provide encouragement or emotional help. They react to others with enjoyment and approval and are friendly and easy to talk to. Congratulations to each of the nominees for this year’s award. The committee honored the following six nominees at the Positively Austin event held at Ruby Rupner Auditorium on Oct. 10. • Ms. Deborah Cook from Sumner Elementary School was nominated for creating a positive relationship with students by visiting them at their homes, sending postcards during breaks and donating time to get students involved in the community on weekends. Her Dressing Room project allows students to “shop” for dress outfits prior to the holiday music program so everyone can go up on stage feeling and looking like a million bucks! • Justice Tabor and Sarah Wermager were honored for the work they have done with the More Than Pink community education program. This program inspired more than 70 girls in grades third through sixth to be true to themselves and live free from societal stereotypes. Justice and Sarah served as Bright Spots to each of these young women, by being someone they could talk to, trust, reach out for support, and learn from. They served as true role models for the participants in the program. • Mr. Chandler Pratt was recognized for the compassion and calm demeanor he brings to every situation. He gives 100 percent in all aspects of life and makes those around him want to be a better person. As the nomination read, “he would give the shirt off his back if someone needed it.” • Ms. Danielle Nesvold was recognized for the many hats she wears in our community — all with the common goal of helping others. When children of her neighborhood showed an interest in what she was doing in her garage, she showed them how they too could workout, gain confidence, and live a healthier lifestyle while having fun and supporting others. The gathering of the neighborhood children to workout became known as 10th Street Muscle. Additionally, she has been an active voice to raise awareness around human trafficking, bullying, neighborhood watch and more in our community. • Ms. Gretchen Erickson’s tireless work to support readers in our community was recognized through the Bright Spots awards. Gretchen does so many things in our community to support literacy for all. One of those include the Reader’s Café that partners with the summer lunch program at IJ Holton. “Gretchen is a consummate volunteer and shows up ready to engage and work. She is a good listener and is always ready and willing to take the time to talk with children.” Congratulations to this year’s recipients of the Bright Spots Award. Thank you for making our community a brighter place for all.
44 roosters harvested during hunt AUSTIN — By all accounts, this weekend’s ninth annual Governor’s Pheasant Hunt Opener was a success. One-hundred seventy hunters joined Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan Saturday in fields surrounding Austin and throughout the area to kick off the pheasant season. By day’s end, despite wet conditions and delayed field harvests, 44 roosters were taken. On Friday night, 457 people attended the community banquet. But in some ways, the success of the opener was highlighted in two different fields. Gov. Walz broke a years-in-the-making drought with a rooster in the field he was walking. “It’s been a nine-year curse at the governor’s hunt,” Walz said. “I broke it.” Elsewhere, in a field owned by Gus Maxfield, 13-year-old Preston Schlichter scored his first ever pheasant, smiling when the bird was handed to him. These were just a couple of the successes Austin and organizers can claim this weekend. “Hats off to all the people that helped,” Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener committee Chairwoman Sandy Forstner said. “There’s been a lot of people involved, and I think it’s gone as well as it could have.” The day started in picturesque form as the sun painted the landscape in a perfect fall scene. But in the field Schlichter was hunting, along with his uncle and hunter host Guy Kohlnhofer, hunter host Kirk Rolfson, and hunters Mark Norquist and Jamie Carlson, conditions quickly changed in about a half an hour. Snow began falling, and by the time hunters were showing up around 11:30 a.m. at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center to register their take, the snow changed to thick and heavy flakes. Combined with that, winds blew briskly over the fields, further complicating the hunt. In the end, the group had only a scattering of opportunities, resulting in just two birds. The second was taken by Java, Rolfson’s British labrador, who caught the bird as it was running. Yet for all of the group’s challenges, the team still found the day to be a success. “With the snow, it was better,” Carlson argued. “The sun’s out, everybody gets their limit — it’s a perfect day, fun. But these days won’t leave my memories.” “Every experience is fun,” he added. Norquist agreed. “Just being out in this beautiful country,” he said. “The winds were blowing, and it was just fun going for a walk.” Walz reported his group came across eight to nine roosters during his time in the field and they got a couple good shots off. In his mind, the day was another indicator on how the weekend went. “I couldn’t ask for anything better,” he said. “This is why we do it.” Looking back over the two days, Forstner said the event came together on all fronts, highlighting the community and the area. “I think it’s gone great,” he said. “It’s been exciting and enthusiastic, not just with the hunters, but in the community.”
Executive Director Austin Aspires
Although weather forecasts may indicate otherwise, our calendar tells us that summer is coming – and the 2018-2019 school year is almost done! This time of year generates numerous emotions for children and families alike.
It is an important time for parents to talk to their children, and really learn how they are feeling. It is also a time to be intentional about summer calendars.
Studies show that students and parents must be deliberate about how they spend the summer months to avoid the “summer slide”. “Summer learning loss equals at least one month of instruction” according to research completed by Harris Cooper. Low income students suffer a steeper rate of loss than their peers according to several studies.
The good news is families and communities, working with school districts, can make a positive difference in learning, and minimize or avoid the summer loss. Summer school is a good option offered to some students. Summer school however is not the only option.
Talk to your child and learn more about their interests. What do they want to invest their time in this summer? Is there something they have been wanting to learn more about, and haven’t yet? Summer may be the perfect time to do this!
Did you know that the Hormel Nature Center offers summer learning opportunities for students? What about the STEM Camp that is being offered at Riverland Community College for high school students? The Salvation Army offers a summer day camp program, and the many of the fitness studios in our community have options specifically designed for youth during the summer! You can learn more about some of these incredible opportunities in the Youth Activities Catalog that can be found on our website (www.austinaspires.org). Available activities vary in costs, starting at free, and some have scholarships available.
Contact the organizations directly to learn more.
Thank you for being an engaged partner in our community -- you help make this a community where residents can live, learn, work and play. Strong schools and families also make this a great community and your support helps to ensure we maintain our high quality schools while accommodating our growing student population and providing a quality environment for our kids to learn.
“One of the marvelous things about community is that it enables us to welcome and help people in a way we couldn't as individuals.”
– Jean Vanier