• May 03, 2017 8:58 AM | Janice Friesen

    Bert got involved with the Prison Entrepreneurship Program when he heard someone ask the question, “What if you were best known for the worst thing you have done in your life?”

    He had lots of life experiences that gave him the possibility to advance professionally and even to start successful businesses. He decided it was time to give back.

    He volunteered with the organization for 5 years. Now he is the Chief Empowerment Officer.

    Several important and shocking facts:

    • The USA is only 5% of the world’s population, but we have 25% of the world’s criminals.
    • The rate in which people return to jail after release is 50%-60%
    • We spend 80 million dollars annually on prisons.
    • Children of prisoners have a higher chance of going to prison.
    • People with low income have a higher chance of going to prison.
    • 1 in 30 prisoners is white, 1 in 6 Mexican, and 1 in 3 Black!

    The Prison Entrepreneurship Program was started in order to teach prisoners to start and run a business. It is like an MBA program in prison.

    The program has high standards for entry into the program.  They look at several things. One is the applicant's level of education. It is really difficult to succeed in the program if a prisoner is starting without being able to read, for example. Most important, they look for men who are committed to change. The program requires an application and out of 20,000 prisoners who apply only 1000 a year are accepted.

    The curriculum is intense.  A textbook from college is used. It starts with a three month leadership academy which includes character assessment and development.

    It ends with a Business Plan competition. Anyone can attend these. Look for a schedule online. It is like the Shark Tank although there is no money to be won.

    After the rounds of presentations there is a very emotional graduation service and successful participants are presented with a certificate. They are encouraged to have four family members attend who are willing to give them one more chance.

    They are also given reentry support. They receive job leads, mentoring and transitional housing is available. They get help preparing for interviews.

    If anyone wants to donate to the program to help with getting started capital go to Kiva.

    According to an outside study there is no selection bias and 100% of their graduates have their first job within 90 days of release from prison!  After a year about 90% are employed. The recidivism rate is below 7%.


    RJ Rodriguez is a graduate of the program. He shared his situation with us. He was incarcerated at age 17 and did not graduate from High School. He talked about how depressing prison can be and how hopeless he felt. He said that most of the population in jail rots.

    For him hope came when he received a postcard telling about the program and how to apply.

    He has been home for 5 years. He got his GED and is going to ACC. He has been accepted to UT and will start in the spring.

    Bob Leaver is a volunteer. He shared his experience. He said that volunteers dress up in business attire. He encouraged anyone to come and see what it is like. On the table there were Get into Jail Free cards which showed how anyone can visit the program.


    • The organization is coming to Austin.
    • Right now they only work with 2% of the prison population. They hope to increase it to 10% by 2026.
    • They are working toward a similar program for women.
    • The program is tough, very intense. About 35% of those who start the program do not make it to the end.

  • March 14, 2017 3:54 PM | Paola Marie Aguillon

    Jim is an experienced city planner and has worked for the City of Austin and consulted with many other cities. He was nominated as an advisor to the process by Mayor Adler. He started his presentation by showing us some headlines and stories that were very unhappy with Code Next. Not everyone is happy with it, but he explained how important it is and how we can be involved.

    The Code is a LONG OVERDUE revision of the city code. The draft is 1100 pages long and is available for bedtime reading!

    http://www.austintexas.gov/department/draft-ldc- review-and- comment The planning team is hoping that people will look over this and comment.

    Code Next is has its origin in the Form Based approach to City Planning. Here are the approaches along with how Jim described them.

     Use Based - Keeping the pigs out of the parlor

     Performance Based - Defumigating the pigs

     Form Based – Putting lipstick on a pig

    The approach they are using has its origins in the New Urbanist Movement. In the new Urbanist movement the design is as important as the use. This approach considers the total environment and mandates design details. The goals of this movement are:

     Traditional Urban Neighborhood

     Walkability

     Public and Private use

    Easier to mix uses
    Codifies design guidelines
    Considers links to public agencies
    Attention to the visual.

    Takes a long time
    No strong emphasis on social equity
    Considered by some as a cure all

    One more concept that was helpful once it was explained was the transect. It is a tool for planning and organization. For example:

    Transect 3 T3

    Low rise
    Front parking
    No sidewalk
    Auto oriented

    Transect 4 T4

    Low rise
    Parking in back
    Auto and walking

    Transect 6 T6

    High Rise
    No Parking

    Austin has 13 transects described. You can see all of them with detailed descriptions here.


    Mr. Duncan ended by saying that successful plans have follow through. His example was the city of Miami, Florida. The set up for follow through in Austin is controlled by several different departments. He showed a reorganization that he thinks would make more sense and be more successful in going forward. He emphasized the fact that this should be undertaken ever 5 years.

    To read more about it and search through the website. There are videos about it available in English and Spanish:


    The city is looking for lots of public feedback. Here are the public meetings that are scheduled:

    March 25, 2017

     Stephen F. Austin High School (1715 Cesar Chavez St.)

     Noon to 2 p.m.

    April 1, 2017

     Westwood High School (12400 Mellow Meadow Dr.)

     Noon to 2 p.m.

    April 8, 2017

     Anderson High School (8403 Mesa Dr.)

     2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

    There are parts of this project that everyone will not like. It is important to attend a meeting if you have opinions or questions.

    Contributor: Janice Friesen

  • February 19, 2017 9:34 PM | Paola Marie Aguillon

    Self-care and mental health wellness enhances work performance and develops a satisfying personal life.  Studies show that in our fast-paced, instant response, technical overload life, many people are stressed, burned out, and over- burdened.  Such conditions often lead to substance abuse, depression, and anxiety disorder.   Research  indicates practice of the following ten wellness strategies will have an immediate positive effect on work and home life.  All are free, can be done in a work setting, and are time efficient.

    • 1.       You’re Number One – Sometime during your busy day, take 10+ minutes to do something for you that makes you happy.  Don’t let the needs of customers, staff, family, and all the other drains on your energy allow you to ignore your needs.  Put another way, put the oxygen on you first, and then you can help someone else.  Do it.
    • 2.       Ask For Help – The very act of asking will engage you with another person, make that person feel good in giving help, and  you will move forward on your task.  Communicating with another person affects your brain chemistry in a positive way.  In the end you will likely get the answers you need when you are stuck.  Ask
    • 3.       You Are Good Enough – Are you a perfectionist?  Then this one is for you.  Think of all you have accomplished in a lifetime; you have every reason to feel proud of yourself.  Sure you have made mistakes, who hasn’t?  You likely have survived your family, accomplished a good bit of education, survived in a work environment, accomplished some projects and goals at work,  made friends, have some good family relationships.  That’s a lot.  Yes, you are good enough and don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect. You are.
    • 4.       Set Boundaries – You can’t do everything for everybody.  You have to say NO sometimes.  Take a good close look at your daily life and try to eliminate a couple of things that don’t bring you joy or make your living or help others.  Keep what is meaningful to you and throw out some of the junk and that which wastes time and energy.  Say No
    • 5.       Make Connections – Singularly this affects your brain chemistry in positive ways more than any other action.  Evolutionarily we are pack animals and being together influences our mental health in good ways.  Whether it is a group for business, self-help, social, religious, or  charitable, the camaraderie will make your day better.  Engage
    • 6.       Practice Gratitude – This is a way to get rid of that awful negative thinking and have better thoughts.  Research says if you will make a short gratitude list daily for 6 months you will be happier than 6 months after you win the lottery.  Really!  It is a quick, simple, free exercise, that if you do it, really has the power to change old habits and to make  you a happier person. Write
    • 7.       Learn To Relax – This is really hard for hard driving people.  They stay in fight/flight mode 24/7, and don’t go to rest/recuperate mode like our bodies require, again since evolutionary times.  To recover, the mind and body must relax, the research tells us.  Otherwise that anxiety, depression or  substance abuse can slip in.  The literature is full of science on mindfulness and meditation so start small and learn this new skill which is truly what is ‘hot’ in the wellness field. Breathe
    • 8.       Help Others –This is  the other side of asking for help. Service to others and compassion is recommended throughout the psychology field and in worldwide spiritual practices.  Usually it is a sign of confidence in you,  that you are asked for help. It is so easy to say YES, within your boundaries, and you will likely get more out of the experience than the person you help. 
    • 9.       Expand Your Spirituality or Consciousness -  What is important to you?  Is your work meaningful to you?  Are you making a contribution to life? Simple answers, maybe with the help of others, will put you  and keep you on the path of wellness.
    • 10.   Laugh: Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously – Laughter creates another brain chemistry surge of positive endorphins and serotonin.  Laugh a lot.  Read funny books and go to funny movies.  And laugh at yourself!
    Contributor: Cameron Vann

  • January 30, 2017 9:27 AM | Paola Marie Aguillon

    Ever watch a magician pull a rabbit from an empty hat? Was the hat really empty? No. It was just a trick. An illusion. The rabbit was there all along. Nothing had really changed. You were just not allowed to see the rabbit until the magician was ready.
        We spend our lives adapting to change. In our personal lives, there will be new family members, new jobs, new geographical locations, new interests and activities. There will also be financial problems, ethical challenges, illness and death. This year was not like last year, and next year will be different in as yet unforeseen ways.
        We even keep changing the channels on our television and the apps on our many digital devices.
        In our professional lives, we are also constantly dealing with change. Businesses merge, consolidate, downsize, right size and lay off staff. We get a new boss. We move to a new office. Our primary software needs to be updated again. There is another reorganization.
        As individuals, we can get swept up in the winds of change and carried far from home…beyond our control. Like Dorothy’s famous cyclone ride to the Land of Oz, “I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!”
        But what if we could tear aside the curtain and see change for the illusion it really is?  Nothing decreases productivity or stands in the way of reaching our goals more than the fear of change. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
        Professional speakers and authors Tom Britton and Kent Cummins help groups discover that change is often an illusion, mostly smoke and mirrors. Once the pressure is removed, you are free to start putting the positive power of change to work for you. This power will improve your business life, your social life, and your personal life…almost like magic.
        But you don’t have to be a magician to use the many tricks that you will learn from their book, The Magic of Change. It is filled with personal stories, specific techniques and real-world examples. They want you to enjoy your journey through The Magic of Change.

    Contributors: Tom Britton and Kent Cummins

  • November 04, 2016 7:50 PM | Anonymous

    On October 12, 2016, MBC members and guests were treated to guest speaker Sarah Hernholm, the founder of Whatever It Takes. Based in San Diego, with locations in St. Louis, New York City, and now Austin, WIT provides the only 6 unit college credit social entrepreneur and leadership program for high school teens in the U.S.

    During breakfast, MBC learned that WIT founder, Sarah Hernholm, came to be the founder of WIT after being laid off from elementary school teaching -- not once, but each of the four years she taught.* While she was teaching, Ms. Hernholm found that all her students could "benefit from entrepreneurial thinking," as it encourages them to be "solution-oriented people."

    One way that WIT differentiates itself from other high school programs focused on business is that her program "highly encourages failure." WIT believes in allowing teens a space to take risks -- and bounce back from that failure -- a necessary life skills. 

    WIT participants are not in a pitch contest, but rather are charged with designing and launching a social enterprise or project. When asked about why WIT explicitly calls for a social enterprise, Ms. Hernholm's response was two-pronged. First, she replied that as millennials become a significant economic force, they are demanding that the market provide products and services which have a social impact. And youth today want careers where they help improve human and environmental well-being. Second, "if all people were doing what they were passionate about, the world would be a very different place." Ms. Hernholm emphasizes that teens can do both: make money and do good, and has found her calling doing the same with WIT.   

    *See California's "Last in, First out" policy.

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