Austin learns a lot from Larry Wright, Evan Smith and Amy Mills

The Library was the place to be. Not the Central Public Library. But the blue-and-red rectangular meeting room at Hotel Van Zandt.

It was the location for a Toast of the Town salon to support the Neal Kocurek Scholarship Fund for health sciences careers, operated by the St. David’s Foundation. Thirty of so lucky souls were treated to an enlightening public talk between journalist and author Lawrence “Larry” Wright and journalist and Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith.

Evan Smith and Larry Wright at Hotel Van Zandt for Toast of the Town. Contributed by Matthew Fuller/St. David’s Foundation

The two had met soon after Smith moved to town in the 1992 to join the staff of Texas Monthly. He was assigned to edit Wright’s piece on the chemical castration of sexual offenders. Wright was for it.

Smith went on to lead Texas Monthly and now the Texas Tribune, while also interviewing top minds on “Texas Monthly Talks” and then “Overheard with Evan Smith” on public television.

My nominee for best reporter in Texas, Wright has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since he left Texas Monthly in the early 1990s. His books include the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11” as well as “The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State,” “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prism of Belief” and “Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin and Sadat at Camp David.”

If those accomplishments were not enough, he writes plays and screenplays, appears on stage, and basks in the glow of the lauded TV adaptation of “The Looming Tower” now streaming on the Hulu channel.

RELATED: Toast of the Town one of the classiest acts around.

Can you see why I dropped everything for this benefit dinner? Smith devoted his early questions to terrorism and world affairs. Wright believes, for instance, we are ignoring the proliferation of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State beyond their Middle Eastern origins while we are distracted by other crises. He continues to state that the intervention into Iraq was the single worst foreign policy decision in American history.

Smith then moved on to main subject for the evening, Wright’s recent book, “God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State,” parts of which appeared in The New Yorker. On that field in inquiry, both sharp minds need no urging.

Wright’s editor at The New Yorker had asked him to explain Texas, a big task. He did not rely on the standard reports about the recent changes in the state; he spent a year observing the Texas Legislature. After all, Texas could tell us more about the future of the country, especially if its voters participated in elevated numbers.

He came away from his research with with a volume full of conclusions and an urge to run for governor. Wright thinks that the primary jobs of state government are education and infrastructure. Those needs tended to be ignored while state leaders spent an inordinate amount of time and energy on bathroom rules and sanctuary cities. He lays heavy blame on traditional business advocate Gov. Greg Abbott, who sided late in the session with radio personality Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick against outgoing Speaker of the House Joe Straus, who held together state government against all odds.

Wright has much more to say about state and national politics and culture, but as they say, buy and read the book.

Emancipet Luncheon

One speaker in town who could give Smith or Wright a run for their money is Amy Mills, CEO of Emancipet, an Austin nonprofit that provides free or low-cost spay, neutering and veterinary care at seven clinics in four cities.

Melissa Levine and Mary Herr Tally at Emancipet Luncheon at Hyatt Regency Austin. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

The early part of its annual luncheon, which has moved gracefully from the Four Seasons Hotel Austin to the larger banquet hall at the Hyatt Regency Austin, was spent on the tasty vegan fare, video stories of clients and statistics shared by eager board members.

The room grew hushed when Mills rose to the stage. After all, she can so cogently and quickly explain a rapidly expanding and sustainable nonprofit, she would likely trounce every other participant at Philanthropitch.

RELATED: What caused all the excitement at nonprofit pitch fest.

That fast-action pitch session from nonprofit leaders was an early-week Austin highlight. (I can’t tell you how many ambitious Austin nonprofits are exporting their great ideas around the world. Just a few decades ago, they didn’t look beyond the Austin city limits.)

Some statistics appeared in the printed program. In 2017, the group provided

• 71,539 preventative care visits

• 33,300 free or low cost spay/neuter surgeries

• 622 heartworm treatments

• 177 special surgery procedures

• $883,930 in free services to Houston-area families affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Mills expanded on the last number. With animal welfare partners, they focused, not on lost pets, but on vet care for families hit hard by the storm. They announced that their clinical services would remain absolutely free for 90 days. As workers arrived the first morning, more than 100 people were in line. Some had never visited a vet before. They saw a total of 6,641 animals.

RELATED: Amy Mills takes Emancipet mission national.

Also in 2017, Emancipet opened its largest clinic ever in Northeast Austin and its first in Philadelphia. It responded to rising vet care costs by seeing 93,576 pets. Just as importantly, they trained 28 vets to take their business model to other markets. They can’t do it all themselves.

Mills saved the most dramatic news for last. Hurricane Maria scattered pets all over Puerto Rico, who then rapidly multiplied. Emacipet with 23 other groups is headed there to spay/neuter 20,000 of them. They will then leave their surgical tools and other equipment there for vets they will train to keep up the work.

Hard to beat Mills. Hard to beat Emancipet.

Last chance to hit the best of Austin spring party circuit

Soon it will be hot. Very hot. For many, too hot to party in Austin. That’s why we urge you to savor the last semblance of spring and hit this circuit of more than 40 parties hard.

April 26: Little Artist, Big Artist for Chula League. Mondo Gallery.

April 27-29: Austin Food + Wine Festival. Auditorium Shores and Fair Market.

April 27-28: Texas Burlesque Fest. Paramount Theatre.

April 28: Putting on the Ritz Gala for Sam Bass Theatre. Marriott North La Frontera.

April 28: Songs for Trees for TreeFolks. Lemon Lounge.

April 28: Town Lake Links 30th Anniversary Celebration. UT campus locations.

April 28: Council on At-Risk Youth Distinguished Speaker Event. AT&T Conference Center.

April 28: Viva EASB! for Elizabeth Ann Seton Board. Camp Mabry.

April 29: An Afternoon in Neverland from Ballet Austin Guild. Driskill Hotel.

April 29: A Marvelous Party: Delovely for Penfold Theatre. Kindred Oaks.

April 29: Bollywood Meets Borscht Belt from Hindu Charities and Shalom Austin. JCC Community Hall.

May 1: Great Futures Spring Luncheon for Boys & Girls Clubs. Fairmont Austin Hotel.

May 1: Hope Awards for iACT. Bullock Texas State History Museum.

May 2: Taste of Mexico for Mexic-Arte Museum. Brazos Hall.

May 3: I Heart HealthStart Gala. Gather Austin.

May 3: Opal Divine’s American Whiskey Festival. Austin City Hotel.

May 3: Evening of Honors for Heman Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights. UT Alumni Center.

May 4: The Blue Bash for Austin Chamber Music Center. River Place Country Club.

May 4: Best Party Ever for Leadership Austin. Brazos Hall.

May 4: Austin Book Awards for Austin Library Foundation. Austin Central Library.

May 4: HeartGift Gala. JW Marriott Hotel.

May 4: Texas Monthly Live. Paramount Theatre.

May 5: Red, Hot and Soul. Zach Theatre.

May 5-6: Pecan Street Festival. East Sixth Street.

May 5: Down & Derby for the Shade Project. Mercury Hall.

May 6: Urban Roots Austin Tour de Farm. Fair Market.

May 8: Philanthropitch Austin. LBJ Auditorium.

May 8: Shoal Creek Awards. Cirrus Logic Conference Space.

May 9: Farm to Plate for Sustainable Food Center. Barr Mansion.

May 10: Due West: West Austin Studio Tour kick-off party. Central Austin Library Gallery.

May 10: Official Drink of Austin Party for Austin Food and Wine Alliance. Fairmont Austin Hotel.

May 11: Reach for the Stars Gala for Ann Richards School Foundation. Four Seasons Hotel.

May 11: Emancipet Luncheon. Hyatt Regency Austin.

May 12: Paramount Gala with the Gipsy Kings. Paramount Theatre.

May 12: Mother’s Day Jazz Brunch for the Frederick Douglass Club of Austin. Crowne Plaza Austin.

May 14: There’s No Such Thing As a Free Lunch for People’s Community Clinic. Four Seasons Hotel.

May 15: Spring For Water for Clean Water Action. Zilker Clubhouse.

May 17: Molly Awards Gala for the Texas Observer. Four Seasons Hotel.

May 19: Austin Under 40 Awards Gala. JW Marriott Hotel.

May 20: Cochon555 Culinary Competition. Four Seasons Hotel.

Two dozen Austin parties you don’t want to miss

It’s been a while since we previewed key upcoming Austin parties. Sorry. SXSW intervened. As well as some Austin news that made it hard to celebrate.

But we are back with some prize-winning dates, including the last hurrahs for 2018 Rodeo Austin.

March 23: Rodeo Austin Youth Livestock Auction. ACL Live.

March 23-May 12: Performance Park. The Vortex.

March 24: Fab Five Event for Seedling Foundation. Westin at the Domain.

March 25: Ignite for Shalom Austin. JW Marriott.

March 31: Texas Whiskey Festival. Bullock Texas State History Museum.

April 3: Lift a Fork for Forklift Danceworks. Springdale Station.

April 5: Generosi-Tea for Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area. Hotel Ella.

April 5: Quest for the Summit for Explore Austin. Fair Market.

April 6: Storybook Heroes Luncheon for BookSpring. Renaissance Austin Hotel.

April 7: Partnerships for Children Gala. Cover 3 Downtown.

April 7: Manos de Cristo 30th Anniversary Gala. ACL Live.

April 7: Tailwaggers Neo-Gala for Austin Pets Alive. 7Co.

April 7: Bandana Ball for Ronald McDonald House. Wild Onion Ranch.

April 10: Breakthrough Champions Celebration. Austin Central Public Library.

April 12-13: Mack, Jack & McConaughey. ACL Live and other venues.

April 14: Capital Area Dental Foundation Gala. JW Marriott.

April 14: I Am Art for Women & Their Work. Private home.

April 11: DSACT Cocktail Bash. 800 Congress Ave.

April 13-14: Art City Austin for Austin Art Alliance. Palmer Events Center.

April 21: Andy Roddick Foundation Luncheon. Hilton Austin.

April 26: Women of Distinction for Girl Scouts. AT&T Center.

April 26: Umlauf Garden Party. Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum.

April 28: Putting on the Ritz Gala for Sam Bass Theatre. Marriott La Frontera.

April 27-29: Austin Food + Wine Festival. Auditorium Shores and Fair Market.

April 29: An Afternoon in Neverland for Ballet Austin Guild. Driskill Hotel.

 

Scenes from Harvey: Austin nonprofits in action

It was a given that Austin nonprofits such as the Austin Red Cross, Austin Disaster Relief Network and Central Texas Food Bank would send immediate aid to coastal Texans reeling from Hurricane Harvey.

Nancy Flores has been sharing the ways that Austin groups have rallied to support the stricken.

Also, as Matthew Odam has reported, Austin’s always generous food community, is lining up to help out.

  • MORE STORIES: Mary Herr Tally sends us additional reports from Austin Pets Alive. I especially like the two van loads of Labs and Goldens headed for Pennsylvania.

“The rescue stories are so powerful and evolve quickly — daily or by the minute, from a tiny puppy found alone and brought in badly needing to

“Or a young dog with a particularly traumatic rescue that the rescuer wanted it known. The muddy pup had a fresh a head and shoulder wound and injured pelvic. She’d shut down emotionally and wouldn’t eat for days, and after being held closely for hours and lovingly talked to, perked up and was later jetted off by Oakland-based MAD Dog Rescue.

“MAD Dog volunteers arrived yesterday morning, walked thru APA’s Burnet site to cherry-pick 60 seniors, dogs needing medical care, and puppies that they would then fly out last night.

“The APA Harvey dogs are leaving quickly, yesterday a Golden Retriever Rescue group from Pennsylvania left with two vans loaded with Golden Retrievers and Labs. Another rescue group from California sent a plane on Saturday.”

  • From Mary Heerwald at Austin Pets Alive, which has rescued more than 330 animals since Thursday afternoon.
Contributed
“We received an incredible dog family named Snow White, Prince Charming and each of the seven dwarves (puppies), no less, that was abandoned in a truck port in Columbus. This Facebook plea was sent to us via our Positive Alternatives to Shelter Surrender line and we were able to help coordinate their evacuation transportation and get them all safely into foster homes in Austin.”

• From Margo Sawyer, the distinguished Austin artist whose old Elgin building — not her studio or house, but one she had planned for a sculpture garden — was destroyed in Harvey’s high winds and rain.

Contributed

“This is especially devastating as I have had a  summer meeting with artist friends, investors, realtors and architects thinking and dreaming what this special place could be a sculpture garden or sculpture garden and spa with art that doubles as ice plunge pool to be a relief of the summer heat. I know there are many horrific situations in Texas right now, but as artists we often take the big risks in living in areas or building building the need a lot of work, as we see the potential value.” Visit Sawyer’s GoFundMe site to stabilize and rehabilitate the building.

• From Chelsea Rodriguez at Austin Humane Society:

Shawn with Roco and Mimi. Contributed

“As Hurricane Harvey began to make its way to the Texas coast, Shawn of Rockport, Texas was preparing to weather the storm. Many people in the Rockport area had already fled to outlying towns, but there were some who stayed behind. Little did Shawn know, this would be one of the most terrifying events he had ever experienced. “’We ended up being buried into our house. We live next door to a recycle yard so there were pieces of metal and boats, you name it, on top of us.’ Shawn, his wife and their two dogs, Roco and Mimi, were able to dig themselves out of the debris on Saturday morning. “I was a smoke jumper in California for the National Forrest Service for 17 years and this was the scariest thing I have ever been through.”

Lewis and Jade. Contributed
“Lewis and his 8-year-old Doberman, Jade, were among the fortunate to have evacuated from Rockport before Hurricane Harvey hit. ‘We went to Mathis to ride out the storm, when it was over we made our way back to Rockport around 10:30 in the morning and my house was gone.’” Along with his home, Lewis, a small business owner, found that his construction shop had also been destroyed. AHS was able to provide general wellness vaccines and microchipping for the pets of the victims of Hurricane Harvey. For the hundreds of people like Shawn and Lewis that are seeking refuge in Toney Burger Activity Center and Stadium in Austin, Texas, the future is unclear.”
Brandon, Tess and Harvey. Contributed
“Hurricane Harvey has continued to devastate Texas and its surrounding states, but like they say, ‘every cloud has a silver lining.’ For Rockport evacuees, Brandon and b, that silver lining comes in the form of a tiny four-legged friend. Just as Brandon and Tess were preparing to evacuate their home, a beacon of hope showed up on their doorstep. ‘He just came out of nowhere and we knew we couldn’t leave him behind. The water was starting to rise and we expected alligators to show up pretty soon,’ said Brandon. The duo, now a trio, scooped up the adorable German Shepherd pup and headed out. When morning came, Brandon, Tess, and their new furr-baby traveled back to Rockport and came to find that their house had been completely destroyed. ‘All that matters is that we’re together. All 3 of us,’ said Tess. When asked what they decided to name their new little guy, they responded, ‘Harvey.'”

•  Some nonprofits are helping out indirectly. Consider the Paramount Theatre, whose system is pretty efficient and clever.

“In response to the widespread damage caused by Hurricane Harvey, the Paramount is offering free admission to this week’s Summer Classic Films to Red Cross donors. In order to redeem their free ticket, patrons are encouraged to donate $10 to the Red Cross by texting REDCROSS to 90999. All they need to do is show the text at the Box Office, and they’ll receive a free ticket to that day’s film(s). Additional ways to donate will be available on site. More details and other giving opportunities here:http://rdcrss.org/1OjHxYG.”

MORE STORIES AND IMAGES TO COME … SEND YOURS TO MBARNES@STATESMAN.COM

RELATED: Before Harvey, nightmares of Texas hurricanes past.

RELATED: Central Texans with coastal property await word.

RELATED: Thrall holds pre-Harevy rain record at 38 inches.