Episode 23: The Tale of Two Austins | Susan McDowell

In today’s episode we have a very inspiring talk with Susan McDowell, executive director of LifeWorks, who shares with us with her story of how she got involved in this nonprofit, and what it does for Austin’s community. We discuss the stark contrast between some given opportunities and advantages over others, and what Susan and her team are doing to help remedy that. Susan is fully dedicated to help youth and families along their path to self-sufficiency.



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Key Takeaways:

[2:26] Susan moved to Austin in 1989, when Austin was in financial trouble. The banking industry had gone down. She moved downtown to go to grad school at University of Texas, with a focus in philosophy. Her love for the community turned into a completely different path of helping people.

[6:04] She was academically drawn to philosophy at University of Texas, since the program is so renowned, but also it was very hard at that time to find a career in finance or other sectors. So hard, in fact, that they hung up rejection letters from potential employers in her college hallway.

[7:57] She was a teaching assistant and working with about 80 students. It didn’t feel quite right since she was 23 years old, with not as much teaching or life experience as she wanted. To gather more skills and gain aptitude, she started volunteering at an adult literacy program. She first gained inspiration and confidence as a teacher working in the program with a single father the same age as her, working as a security guard trying to make ends meet.

[14:38] Working with this single father showed her what young adults need to be successful. Other adults taking interest, and opportunities like scholarships, jobs, and career connections, are some key advantages that she noticed she had, when others just have a challenge being noticed.

[18:38] Susan discusses the “Tale of Two Austins.” One Austin with a thriving culture, music, and community, ranked as one of the top places to live. The other Austin is marked by economic segregation, gentrification, and poverty. We need to pay attention to it moving out from the city center, because that is also when it becomes invisible.

[22:25] Once Susan got a taste of service and engagement from working at a nonprofit, she started working with teenage parents.

[25:08] Thank you to our Sponsor, the Papasan Properties Group.

[23:46] Susan explains how LifeWorks came about from four different organizations merging together in 1998, as a collaborative process with the help of many others in Austin. She was one of the executive directors, and encouraged others to put ego and turf battles aside, and work on what’s best for the community.

[27:39] Transition age youth are between the ages of 16-26, who are living at-risk lives of extreme vulnerability. For examples: homelessness, foster homes, or history of trauma.

[29:08] Lifeworks houses 140 homeless youth every night. There are about 900 homeless youth in Austin.

[29:42] Lifeworks helps youth get past barriers of unemployment by helping youth with their goals and interests. They usually want to be a nurse, social worker, or teacher, since that is what they are exposed to.

[32:06] Youth in foster care are twice as likely as U.S. Iraq veterans to suffer PTSD. Lifeworks believes everyone has the right to heal from all types of trauma.

[34:24] Lifeworks collects the data they need to learn how to get better, and how to know what is and isn’t working.

[35:13] They are working along with a national movement to end youth homelessness by 2020.

[39:25] If someone is listening and wants to help, check out www.lifeworksaustin.org and check out their one-hour tours where they give an overview of the organization and you can meet and speak with a youth in the program.

[41:50] Volunteering benefits your health — it lowers depression and gives people meaning and passion.

[44:10] Susan’s favorite taco is the Baja Shrimp Torchy’s Taco’s.

[28:47] Next week we’ll talk to Susan McDowell, executive director of nonprofit organization LifeWorks.

The Taco:

Torchy’s Tacos | Baja Shrimp

Mentioned in This Episode:

University of Texas

Lifeworks

Papasan Properties Group



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