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Austin Runners Provide Life Line for Harvey’s Smallest Victims

Steve Bush with his helicopter and delivery of breast milk from Mother's Milk Bank of Austin

Question: What do helicopters, flood victims, and medically-necessary breast milk have in common?

Answer: Austin runners.

Harvey Hits Houston Hospitals

Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Friday, Aug. 25, bringing a wide swath of destruction to Texas’ coastal cities. Just four days later, the Mother’s Milk Bank at Austin was faced with a crucial problem: four Houston-area hospitals desperately needed donated human breast milk.

Opening of the new Mother's Milk Bank at Austin location.
The new Mother’s Milk Bank at Austin opened in July 2016. Photo courtesy of Mother’s Milk Bank at Austin.

At Tuesday’s Board of Directors meeting, Executive Director Kim Updegrove explained the increased demand. While Mother’s Milk Bank of North Texas in Ft. Worth had picked up evacuees’ needs, the Austin facility would cover Houston-area hospitals. Due to flooding, mothers couldn’t reach babies in NICU (neonatal intensive care units) and power outages had reduced stock. Donated human breast milk is usually delivered by Federal Express or other courier service, but roads were awash and routes impassable.

Mother's Milk Bank of Austin volunteer works with donated human breast milk during Amplify Austin fundraiser.
Volunteering during Amplify Austin fundraiser. Photo courtesy of Mother’s Milk Bank at Austin.

Board member Julia Weatherby listened, and she, Updegrove, and fellow BOD members weighed delivery solutions. Boats? Too problematic. Helicopters? Hospitals have helipads, so flying would be best…but Updegrove hadn’t found an Austin-based pilot with access to a helicopter. There was another problem: how the nonprofit would fund the emergency mission.

“The situation was becoming critical,” Weatherby explained. “The process of acquiring donor milk is very similar to donor blood. For inpatient recipients, the hospital manages their supply (they order in a big batch, usually not specific for a patient)…A small percentage [of donated milk] goes to outpatients, babies who are healthy enough to be at home but still need donated breast milk because they’re not healthy enough.”

Why not substitute formula? Those vulnerable babies have no choice. That donated human breast milk is medically prescribed.

Without appropriate nutrition–babies at different stages require breast milk with different components–these tiny patients couldn’t thrive. Without breast milk, they’re at risk of developing serious disease, like NEC (necrotizing enterocolitis, which damages the intestinal tract).

For these Houston-area babies, this milk delivery was a matter of life and death.

The clock was ticking.

Austin Runners to Babies’ Rescue

Weatherby pondered the Mother’s Milk Bank’s need. How could she help?

Julia Weatherby and Michelle Garel at Mother's Milk Bank at Austin function
Julia Weatherby (right) with Michelle Garel, her friend and fellow runner and Mother’s Milk Bank at Austin volunteer and committee member. Photo courtesy of Julia Weatherby

Now, members of Austin’s running community know Weatherby well. She’s a popular figure who’s combined her love of travel, running, triathlon, and technology in a variety of community services. Naturally, Weatherby thought to tap her local resources–perhaps a pilot friends was available? Some six of her buddies fly small or commercial planes.

Being social media-inclined, Weatherby turned to Facebook.

“I thought about tagging [my pilot friends],” said Weatherby. “But then I decided, tonight, I’ll just send a generic message and talk to people tomorrow.” She posted a simple status update at 8:18 p.m.

At 10:05 p.m., Jill Beardsley was checking Facebook from her bed and breakfast on Lake Bemidji in Minnesota. Beardsley and her husband Dick (that’s right; Dick Beardsley, the famous American marathoner) moved to Minnesota a few years back, but they’re near and dear to the Austin running community and maintain those friendships. She saw Weatherby’s post and immediately thought of more Austin running royalty: John Conley.

“I know John is taking flying lessons. I figured he would know someone or, at the very least, someone who could take it one step further to finding [a pilot],” Beardsley modestly commented. She tagged her good buddy (and John’s wife) Stacey Conley.

The Conleys have been pillars of the Austin-area running scene. Through their company Conley Sports, they managed many classic road races and events before retiring in 2016. Stacey and Jill are fast friends and past running partners. At 11:19 p.m., Stacey responded to Jill’s tag.

Screenshot of Facebook request for helicopter pilot for Mother's Milk Bank delivery

Stacey connected Weatherby with Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services Special Operations Captain Steve Bush. Bush, the owner of Lone Star Helicopters LLC.,had helped the Conleys for years with the Austin Marathon support.

Steve Bush with his helicopter and delivery of breast milk from Mother's Milk Bank of Austin
Captain Steve Bush of Lone Star Helicopters with his precious cargo. Photo courtesy of Mother’s Milk Bank at Austin.

“I gave Julia Steve’s number and thought, if it’s meant to happen, it will. I was thrilled when I heard Steve would help out. I assumed he’d be swamped with other rescue efforts and wouldn’t have any free time at all (which, for all I know, is probably true),” Stacey explained.

“Out of all the volunteering and donating I’ve done, this is by far the most satisfying.”

Less than 24 hours after Weatherby’s post, Bush and his team had delivered those crucial life-saving and health-enhancing milk deliveries.

[Want photos, video, and accounts of the actual flight? See these Mother’s Milk Bank at Austin and Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services Facebook write-ups.]

It wasn’t until another running friend posted–“Love you and our friends!”–that Weatherby made the connection. Her Austin running community had come through for those babies and their families.

“I never even got to my pilot friends,” Weatherby mused with a smile. “It’s funny because everybody’s so humble (‘All I did was post a message’) but having that link is so crucial to getting what you need.”

Volunteers and Lone Star Helicopter delivering donated human breast milk to Houston hospitals flooded by Harvey.
Evening milk delivery, thanks to volunteers and Lone Star Helicopter. Photo courtesy of Mother’s Milk Bank at Austin.

How Can You Help?

Donate breast milk or money to Mother’s Milk Bank at Austin

Volunteer in the Mother’s Milk Bank at Austin office, lab, and outreach events

Share your donor and recipient stories on the Mother’s Milk Bank at Austin blog

 

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September 2, 2017

Locals We Love: Paramount Theatre’s Jim Ritts

Jim Ritts, CEO and executive director of Austin's Paramount Theatre, inside the historic building

Since 1915, Austin’s Paramount Theatre has been a shining beacon to central Texans seeking exciting and eclectic performances. Its gloriously restored blade and distinctive marquis blaze forth, announcing that magic is about to be made.

Paramount Connections Across Generations

Facade and sign of Austin's historic Paramount Theatre
The Paramount blade was recreated in 2015 for the 100th birthday of Austin’s historic theatre.

From comedy to music, theatrics to political commentary, classic films to cutting-edge cultural events, the Paramount and neighboring sister, the State Theater (or “Stateside”), transcend the past.

“No strictures to what we can or can’t do,” said Jim Ritts, CEO and executive director of the Paramount and Stateside, as he sat in the original 1935 film projection and vault room and chatted with Top Trip Rentals. “[The Paramount’s] a connector.”

Ritts recounted a special time when he experienced the power of the Paramount.

The scene: the Paramount’s performance of Mark Twain Tonight, Hal Holbrook’s one-man show since 1954.

That night, Ritts met a father/son duo attending the show. That night was the boy’s 13th birthday. The father’s father, Ritts learned, had taken him to the Paramount for the same show on his 13th birthday.

That generational continuity carried an emotional wallop.

“I choked up. This place is truly the fourth character in every performance; it’s what is central—the Paramount, Holbrook’s Mark Twain—and the river flowing through connecting a grandfather, father, and son.”~Jim Ritts

Jim Ritts, CEO and executive director of Austin's Paramount Theatre, inside the historic building
Jim Ritts, CEO and executive director of Austin’s Paramount Theatre. Photo Credit: Paramount Theatre

Artists who perform here also attest to the theatre’s impact. Ritts pointed out that many—he mentioned Lyle Lovett, specifically—were inspired here, and subsequently chose the venue to kick off tours and new releases. Lovett’s not alone. The theatre estimates that some 10,000 performers have graced the stage throughout the Paramount’s storied life. And every year, more than 200,000 audience members experience the Paramount’s magic.

Sidewalk star at Austin's Paramount Theatre honoring singer Lyle Lovett
In addition to honorary sidewalk stars, performers are encouraged to sign the backstage “Artist Wall.” Photo Credit: Paramount Theatre

Engaging Austin’s Theatre Community Beyond the Show

Classic seats in Austin's historic Paramount Theatre
35mm and 70mm film exhibition make the Paramount a must for classic screen lovers. Photo Credit: Paramount Theatre

The Paramount opens minds, hearts, and doors through a variety of outreach programs.

“Literacy to Life”  introduces third graders to stagecraft. Professional “Story Wranglers” help students learn techniques to improve skills and build confidence while they write an original theatrical production (you can see finished works online at the Paramount’s website).

The Summer Classic Film Series Family Film Festival introduces young and old alike to the wonder and joy of iconic movies. With discounted prices and matinee times, the weekly series is a wonderful way for adults and kids to pass the dog days of Austin’s summer months.

And did you know that the Paramount Theatre plays a role in SXSW Edu? That’s right; the Paramount staff has promoted the importance of arts education at this annual Austin conference (here’s the 2018 SXSW Edu schedule).

 

Top Trips’ Paramount Picks

The Paramount Theatre’s “Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival” is as unique as those iconic Austin light towers. During the festival, a wealth of comedic genius graces stages around ATX with more than 100 live performances.

Be sure to take a look at the Paramount Theatre’s current list of events (films, shows, performances) when you plan your next night out. When you book a stay at Littlefield Lofts on Austin’s signature 6th St., you’re just a short walk from the Paramount and State Theatre (between 7th and 8th St.), Congress Avenue, and the stately Texas Capitol grounds.

Interior view of Austin's historic Paramount Theatre
Classic architecture and details, such as the original 1920s fire curtain, add period glamor to the Paramount. Photo Credit: Paramount Theatre

 

#goplaystay

Logo for the Paramount TheatreWhether you went Paramount or Stateside, we want to know about your ATX cultural night out.

What’d you see? What did you wear? Was your night special? Did you make a Paramount connection?

Tag us at @TopTripRentals so we can feel the magic.

 

 

August 22, 2017

Top Trip Rentals Supports Musicians During SXSW

Artist Lizzo album cover SXSW 2017

In honor of two anniversaries–30 years of South by Southwest, Austin’s premier festival  (1987–2017), and Top Trip Rentals’ 10th anniversary, we gave SXSW 2017 musicians a special promotional rate during their stay. Yes, while ATX room rates hit high notes, we lowered rates to $30 a night so musicians could conveniently rock a 6th Street launch pad during their SXSW’s performances.

Crazy, right? Well, Top Trip Rentals believes Austin’s soul is its artists. We wanted to tip an appreciative hat to artists of all stripes (musical, visual, theatrical) who’ve made success possible. When SXSW emerged out of the Austin Chronicle’s think tanks in 1987, some 700 people attended; my, how things have grown! In 2016 alone, SXSW brought $325.3 million into Austin economy’s. The average nightly cost of an ATX hotel room that year? $350.

So, yeah, Top Trip Rentals thought our 10th anniversary was the perfect opportunity to give back to SXSW bands.

“We wanted to support the original mission of SXSW, the music portion, because that’s what basically put Austin on the map as a destination city,” explained Chereen Fisher, owner of Top Trip Rentals.

Top Trip was honored and thrilled to have artists from all over the world at our vacation rentals. This year’s list of SXSW musicians and bands included

Lizzo,

The TonTons,

Tunde Olaniran,

White Reaper,

Sundara Karma,

Margo Price,

and more.

We couldn’t have asked for better guests, and so Top Trip Rentals created a tradition. During big festivals and events, we’re reserving a portion of our vacation rentals at affordable prices for performers, those souls who get on stage and give their energy, genius, and artistry every night.

 

Lizzo is a hot ticket at SXSW 2017

Come Stay with Us During Your Gig!

Are you a performer (musical, visual, theatrical) who needs an affordable place to unwind during Austin’s legendary festivals and creative events? Talk to our offices: email at info@toptriprentals.com or talk to a human at (512) 522-8747.

March 14, 2017