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Set in corporate Dallas, Chandler Baker’s buzzy thriller Whisper Network dives into the complicated world of sexual harassment at work during the #MeToo era and earns her a spot on Reese Witherspoon’s book-club list.

By Courtney Runn, Author photo by Eryn Chandler

On July 1, Chandler Baker got the Instagram notification she had been waiting months for: “Reese Witherspoon tagged you in a post.” 

After being sworn to secrecy, Baker could finally announce to her friends and family and the world that Witherspoon chose her sixth novel, Whisper Network, as the July pick for the Hello Sunshine Book Club. Women have been buying books from celebrities since Oprah’s wildly successful book club and Witherspoon is one of the latest to lend her star power to authors in the digital age. From theSkimm to NBC’s new #ReadwithJenna series, digitally marketed book clubs are creating instant bestsellers and long library waitlists. 

The Whisper Network is the 26th book to be featured in Witherspoon’s digital book club, each marked by Witherspoon’s yellow stamp of approval, and the 19th of which to be a New York Times bestseller. Set in corporate Dallas, the thriller dives fearlessly into the #MeToo era and opens with the ominous one-line prologue, “If only you’d listened to us, none of this would have happened.” 

Three Women

by Lisa Taddeo 


Never Look Back

by Allison Gaylin 


City of Girls

by Elizabeth Gilbert

ON CHANDLER BAKER’S READING LIST

The novel’s three protagonists – Grace, Ardie and Sloane – have worked together for years but the sudden death of their boss and the potential promotion of a notorious coworker spurs them to stop relying on their internal “whisper networks” and face the question, is it a woman’s duty to protect other women from bad men? And then a murder complicates everything. 

Baker, who lives in Austin and has previously only written for young adults, felt compelled to write after countless conversations with friends as the #MeToo movement exploded in the fall of 2017 and continued to gain momentum in 2018. 

“It seemed like such a present part of my life,” Baker says. “And…while we have everyone’s attention finally about the #MeToo movement we wanted to tell people about all these other things women are dealing with in the workplace.” 

From postpartum depression and pumping at work to sexism and secret parenting, Baker tackles a breadth of issues facing women in the workplace wrapped in a juicy murder mystery. A common reaction she saw from men while researching was, ‘Is it really that bad?’ Her book responds with a resounding yes. Reality and fiction are blurred as the characters grapple with scenarios of harassment that are all too real. Baker’s characters ask the same questions women around the country have been asking and continue to wrestle with:  Will anyone believe me? Was it actually my fault? What if that’s not my experience with him? Is it really that bad? 

When the New Yorker and The New York Times exposed Harvey Weinstein, actresses like Meryl Streep were instantly vilified for having supposedly known about his behavior and not said anything. On the opposing end, not all the women at NBC were sexually harassed by Matt Lauer and were left to wrestle with the implications of his double life. While the Whisper Network is reminiscent of these splashy headlines, it is also made up of countless stories of everyday women who confided in Baker. 

“I feel like I’ve become my own little human whisper network,” Baker says. “For better or worse, I’m the person everyone tells their stories to now.”

While women across America will see themselves and their friends in the book, Texan women in particular will feel at home in the Dallas setting. Instead of setting her story in New York or London, Baker purposefully chose Texas to explore how her protagonists are products of their environment. 

“I think Southern women have such an interesting way of handling things because you can kind of use your Southernly woman wiles to say things that are rather pointed in this nice, non-confrontational way and get away with it and I think that’s such a powerful thing,” Baker says. “… But at the same time I think we are also often doing that so as not to make others uncomfortable…and that can also be a disadvantage when someone may need to be made more uncomfortable.”

While slow to build, the Whisper Network gains momentum with each secret spilled and plot twist revealed, culminating in a dramatic finish. The final pages deliver the satisfying conclusion readers want but simultaneously ends heavy, for while the fictional world of harassment and fear ends on the last page, the reader is sent back out into her own. A weighty look at our culture, Baker’s work is a witness to its evils and a rallying call for a better future. 

“I just tried to tell myself the problem isn’t in being the one who says that it’s happening, it’s that it’s happening,” she says. 

Baker has checked off New York Times bestseller and Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club on her bucket list, but she’s already on to the next milestone, planning her first overseas book event. But she’s trying to remind herself to soak in the moment, too, because it’s not every day you get an Instagram notification from Reese Witherspoon. 

The post Austin Author Chandler Baker Tackles #MeToo Era in Whisper Network appeared first on Austin Woman Magazine.

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Targeting Generation Z nano-influencers, Ava McDonald is connecting influencers with brands in hopes of creating a more authentic social-media experience. 

By Harshita Avirneni

For many teenagers, social media is their whole world. One Austin teen took it to the next level. 

After seeing the lack of authenticity throughout the social-media market, 17-year-old CEO Ava McDonald created Zfluence, a platform that enables Generation Z influencers to partner and work with brands they love. She intentionally works with nano-influencers who have less than 10,000 followers on Instagram and are between the ages of 13 and 16. 

“We want to be sure that our influencers, or Zfluencers, are able to have real relationships with their followers,” McDonald says. “Being on social media a lot as a teenager, you see advertisements from Kim Kardashian and all these celebrities, and they are all copy-and-paste messages and are super inauthentic, so you don’t really know if the influencer is really using the product. I wanted to create something where influencers, who are real people who just have influence in their communities, can become ambassadors for their favorite brand.”

McDonald first got the idea for Zfluence in October 2018, spending the rest of the fall and winter researching the marketplace. After she spent five months planning the structure of the business and financial model, Zfluence launched in March. 

Ava McDonald

The platform currently has almost 200 Zfluencers and works with 19 local and national brands.

“We want to really have people who are leaders as part of our network,” McDonald says. “I think the biggest thing that we want out of a Zfluencer or someone who would make a good Zfluencer is somebody who is a leader or wants to do something outstanding in their generation.” 

To become a Zfluencer, each candidate must fill out an application with brands they are interested in working with, noting what makes them an influential and outstanding member of Generation Z. Once accepted, Zfluence introduces the brands to the Zfluencer. If the brand chooses to work with the influencer, the platform connects the brand and the Zfluencer. 

“My favorite part about Zfluence is that it gives anyone and everyone a chance to be an influencer for someone out there,” 19-year-old Mason Yarbrough says. “Zfluence is important because it connects driven people with great brands, giving them a chance to do great amounts of brand storytelling through social media.”

Yarbrough is currently a sophomore at the University of Texas and is majoring in advertising. She started working with Zfluence in February and has recruited more than 10 people to become ambassadors for Zfluence. 

“A member of my sorority sent a message out on Facebook about Zfluence, so I went to their website and applied to be an influencer, specifically for Snap Kitchen,” Yarbrough says. “Since then, I have loved working with Zfluence. The company really cares about their ambassadors.”

Similar to Yarbrough, 17-year-old Mae McMillin, a senior at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School,found out about Zfluence through a friend. McMillin has been working with Zfluence since it launched. 

“What first drew me to Zfluence was the opportunity to work with brands I love,” McMillin says. “I have been going to Love Cycling Studio for months before I applied for Zfluence, so being able to become an ambassador for my favorite spin studio has been an amazing experience. What really sticks out to me about Zfluence is that the influencer initiates the relationship and selects the brands that they love and want to work with. I also love how they promote authenticity and encourage us to use our own voices in our posts.”

Although Zfluence’s mission is to help nano-influencers partner with brands they want to work with, McDonald says she also hopes Zfluence helps brands find an ultrafiltered group of influencers who love their products. 

“I think the collegian [and] postcollege-age women are the future, and I like working with them,” says Kate Hersch, owner and designer of August Morgan. “I love seeing how the women style my clothing to fit their own style.”

She says Zfluence is different from other marketing companies because the younger audience helps expand her company’s visibility. Hersch started working with Zfluence four months ago, after McDonald reached out to her.

“I have known Ava and her family for 14 years,” Hersch says. “She comes from a very smart, industrious and creative family. Anything Ava does is [done] well and with style.”

McDonald plans to end Zfluence’s beta launch Aug. 1 and expand the company into other college towns. Right now, she’s hoping to expand with local businesses in College Station, Texas, and Dallas to target Texas A&M and Southern Methodist University students. According to McDonald, Zfluence has also received interest from students at the University of Oklahoma, Brown University and many schools in California. 

“I would love a million Zfluencers; that’d be pretty cool,” McDonald says, “So, we want to make sure [influencers outside Texas] have local brands in their areas that they can work with too.” 

McDonald says the most rewarding aspect of Zfluence is seeing her vision come to life through influencer posts. 

“I hope Zfluence encourages and empowers members of Generation Z to be their most authentic selves and helps them to understand that it’s not all about being a celebrity,” McDonald says. “You can still be influential by being yourself, just by achieving within your own community.”

The post This 17-year-old Austinite Created Zfluence for Gen Z Influencers appeared first on Austin Woman Magazine.

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If you think you can skip sunscreen just this once, think again. TruSkin answers your questions about SPF and why you need to wear sunscreen every day.

By Tolu Ogunsola, Sponsored Content by TruSkin

What is SPF?

SPF stands for sun protection factor. Its goal is to do exactly what is says it will do: protect you from the sun. Its original goal was to protect from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet-b waves, or UVB. UVB are what actually cause sunburns. It at first was thought to be the only sun-related factor that could cause skin cancer. SPF grades are based on their ability to protect our skin from UVB rays. In contrast, ultraviolet-a waves, UVA, were thought to mostly contribute to aging and wrinkling.However, over the past few decades it has been found that UVA rays play a major factor in the cause of skin cancer as well, which is where the idea of broad-spectrum sunscreen comes into play. Broad-spectrum sunscreen protects us from both UVB and UVA sun rays. Therefore, this would be the type of sunscreen I would recommend.

How does SPF work?

SPF grades indicate how long it will take for the skin to become reddened or slightly burned while using the product. If someone was to use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15, it would take 15 times longer for their skin to begin burning than someone with no protection.Sunlight exposure and UV radiation damage the skin’s cellular makeup, or DNA, which can cause those cells to mutate, or change, and this leads to skin cancer.SPF works by repelling or absorbing these UV rays. A chemical sunscreen will create a protective layer on the skin that absorbs the damaging sun rays and changes them into heat that your body then releases. In contrast, a physical sunscreen contains zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide and they sit on top of the skin, reflecting the damaging rays from the skin. This is why physical sunscreens tend to be thicker.There are factors in both types of sunscreen that do a better job at protecting from either UVA or UVB rays. This is why ideally it is best to use a sunscreen that has both chemical and physical protection.

SPF 15 protects the skin from about 93 percent of UVB rays, whereas an SPF of 50 protects you from about 98 percent of UVB rays. This is one of the reasons it is said getting an SPF of 100 is not going to provide you with that much more protection from the sun. Most people run into problems with burning not because of the SPF they chose, but more so due to the amount of sunscreen they applied to their skin and the mistake of forgetting to reapply every 2 hours.If you do not follow those two rules, then it does not matter whether you choose SPF 15 or SPF 100; you can still get a sunburn.

Tru-Skin Dermatology was founded on the principles of healthy skin. Our mission is the prevention, detection and treatment of skin cancer. Learn more on our website.

The post Why You Should Wear Sunscreen Every Day appeared first on Austin Woman Magazine.

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If you think you can skip sunscreen just this once, think again. TruSkin answers your questions about SPF and why you need to wear sunscreen every day.

Sponsored Content by Tolu Ogunsola

What is SPF?

SPF stands for sun protection factor. Its goal is to do exactly what is says it will do: protect you from the sun. Its original goal was to protect from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet-b waves, or UVB. UVB are what actually cause sunburns. It at first was thought to be the only sun-related factor that could cause skin cancer. SPF grades are based on their ability to protect our skin from UVB rays. In contrast, ultraviolet-a waves, UVA, were thought to mostly contribute to aging and wrinkling.However, over the past few decades it has been found that UVA rays play a major factor in the cause of skin cancer as well, which is where the idea of broad-spectrum sunscreen comes into play. Broad-spectrum sunscreen protects us from both UVB and UVA sun rays. Therefore, this would be the type of sunscreen I would recommend.

How does SPF work?

SPF grades indicate how long it will take for the skin to become reddened or slightly burned while using the product. If someone was to use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15, it would take 15 times longer for their skin to begin burning than someone with no protection.Sunlight exposure and UV radiation damage the skin’s cellular makeup, or DNA, which can cause those cells to mutate, or change, and this leads to skin cancer.SPF works by repelling or absorbing these UV rays. A chemical sunscreen will create a protective layer on the skin that absorbs the damaging sun rays and changes them into heat that your body then releases. In contrast, a physical sunscreen contains zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide and they sit on top of the skin, reflecting the damaging rays from the skin. This is why physical sunscreens tend to be thicker.There are factors in both types of sunscreen that do a better job at protecting from either UVA or UVB rays. This is why ideally it is best to use a sunscreen that has both chemical and physical protection.

SPF 15 protects the skin from about 93 percent of UVB rays, whereas an SPF of 50 protects you from about 98 percent of UVB rays. This is one of the reasons it is said getting an SPF of 100 is not going to provide you with that much more protection from the sun. Most people run into problems with burning not because of the SPF they chose, but more so due to the amount of sunscreen they applied to their skin and the mistake of forgetting to reapply every 2 hours.If you do not follow those two rules, then it does not matter whether you choose SPF 15 or SPF 100; you can still get a sunburn.

The post Why You Should Wear Sunscreen Every Day appeared first on Austin Woman Magazine.

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Meet our new publisher! Dawn Weston joins the Austin Woman team and shares her vision for the magazine and her favorite spots in Austin.

Photo and story by Courtney Runn

Austin Woman is excited to announce Dawn Weston is the magazine’s new publisher. With a career in media and advertising, most recently as associate publisher at Edible Austin, Weston will be an incredible asset to the magazine and we’re looking forward to continuing our mission of celebrating Austin women with her at our helm. 

An adopted Texan by way of Illinois, we asked her a few questions about what she’s looking forward to at Austin Woman and her favorite spots in Austin. 

Austin Woman: What drew you to Austin Woman? 

Dawn Weston: Melinda [Garvey] originally, I would say. She’s a powerhouse and it’s really inspiring. … I’m a print junkie; my background is print media. I started doing ad sales when I was in college in 2002. I’ve always had this love for print. I subscribe to tons of magazines and so I’ve always been a reader and a fan of Austin Woman so when the opportunity came to join the team, I was honored to say yeah this is something that seems like a great fit for me and be able to work with such an awesome, strong woman team. 

AW: What are you looking forward to in your new role?

DW: Just being part of the community overall. The community that the publication has built over 17 years and then being able to carry that forward and really work with the team to empower women and continue the mission. 

AW: What’s on your reading list? 

DW: I’m rereading one of my favorite books I’ve read like five times and it’s Basic Black: The Basic Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life). It’s by Cathie Black and she has a long history in media. … One that I just ordered is Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy. … I have two audio books I’m currently listening to. One is When Giants Walked the Earth and that is basically the story of Led Zeppelin and then the Mueller report. … And then anything Brené Brown. 

AW: What’s your go-to coffee order and your favorite Austin coffee shop? 

DW: My go-to coffee order right now is a decaf Americano but usually I would take it just straight black. … And I would say my favorite coffee shop just because it’s most frequented is Radio. My husband and I walk there on the weekends. 

AW: Who is your Austin woman crush? 

DW: Brooklyn Decker because she’s hilarious. I want her dry sense of humor. She’s just real; her mom life, her things that happen in general and she’s a tech entrepreneur with Finery and I think that Grace and Frankie is hilarious. 

AW: July is our philanthropy issue so what is your favorite Austin nonprofit? 

DW: Central Texas Food Bank because I love volunteering there and I think they do a great job getting out in the community and really educating, and of course every dollar that goes to the food bank goes back to the community and they’re very transparent about what’s happening. 

AW: Who has mentored you throughout your career? 

DW: The women in my family just overall. My mom [has] always taught me to be independent and [have a] fend-for-yourself mentality. … Marla [Camp] was also a huge mentor to me and really introduced me to the Austin community. 

AW: What does it mean to you to be an Austin woman?

DW: I’m honored to be part of the history Austin Woman is making and the example it’s setting for future generations of women because I think that so many times in my life, in history, there’s steps forward and steps backward, so I think documenting the steps forward and highlighting the people who are taking those steps is really important so there’s role models for future generations to be like, ‘I can do that.’ … When I was in college there were no female sportscasters. It didn’t even cross my mind to do that and looking now, there’s more but…I probably would have loved to do that but never thought it was something I could have done so I think having those role models is super important because you could miss out on your calling if you don’t even know it’s an opportunity for you. 

The post Meet Austin Woman’s New Publisher Dawn Weston appeared first on Austin Woman Magazine.

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Go behind the scenes of Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic with event-producer Joetta Velasquez Bessenhoffer.

By Jordan Burnham, Photos by Jordan Burnham and Courtney Runn

  • By Jordan Burnham

She stood behind the entrance, dressed in her typical black skirt, black top, black leather booties and vivid red lipstick, tattoos of a dragon and a guitar decorating her arms, and skimmed the restless crowd. A voice crackled through her walkie talkie and coolly said, “Alright guys, that’s gates.” It was 11:10 a.m., and Willie Nelson’s 46th Fourth of July Picnic had just begun. 

A sea of stars and stripes flooded through the gates with bright yellow and green lawn chairs, some walking just quick enough to get ahead of the crowd but slow enough to avoid the curt voice of a security guard yelling, “Hey you, no running.” The Texas sun beat down on the concrete with a tumultuous fervor, almost as if it didn’t get the holiday memo. Country music began to resonate through the air as thousands poured in to enjoy the lineup of 16 different artists. While groups sang along with songs from each band and sipped cold beer, Joetta Velasquez Bessenhoffer and her team worked tirelessly behind the scenes to bring together the beloved Austin festival. 

Velasquez Bessenhoffer has worked hundreds of events in her lifetime and music has always played a crucial role in her career and life. She and her husband own a combined total of approximately 20,000 records and she says, “It’s one of those things that I followed my heart into something that I actually love to do and love to be a part of.”

Velasquez Bessenhoffer got her start at the Funhouse, a divey punk-rock club in the heart of Seattle. She then went on to help launch the Seattle Rat City Rollergirls before moving to Los Angeles to freelance. After moving to Oregon for an event-management job with the Portland Mercury, she moved to Austin where she worked in production for Bass Concert Hall and ACL Live at the Moody Theater before freelancing. Now, she is the events and projects manager for music and entertainment for the Austin 360 Amphitheater and Austin Bold FC. And if that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, she’s also getting certified as a pyrotechnician. 

The Circuit of the Americas has hosted Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic for the past five years, making this year the fifth time Velasquez Bessenhoffer has managed front-of-house operations for the festival, a role that involves a strategic blend of detail-oriented planning and the ability to swiftly adjust when those details go awry. For Velasquez Bessenhoffer, creating a seamless plan begins months in advance and continues until all amphitheater lights are out. 

  • By Courtney Runn
ONE MONTH OUT

One month out from the picnic, much of the work is done through the creation of computer-aided design (CAD) drawings. By creating a map of the infrastructure of the venue, Velasquez Bessenhoffer is able to determine the location of stages, tents and vendors and plan staff assignments efficiently.  She says that for a larger concert such as Willie’s picnic, she is in charge of 500 to 600 individuals at any given moment.

“So, I pretty much manage all of the venue operations from the stage forward,” Velasquez Bessenhoffer says. “So, all of the staffing, all of the scheduling, the logistics…all of the moving pieces of the event of the concert from A to Z.”

ONE DAY OUT

With 24 hours before the event, staffing deployments, logistics and infrastructure are in place. All that’s left is the final infrastructure setup, which has to be complete before the bands arrive the following day Lightning briefly delayed the team during setup this year, but stages were successfully loaded. Velasquez Bessenhoffer was awake until midnight answering emails and preparing before she woke up at 5:30 a.m. to get ready for the big day. 

ONE HOUR OUT

Velasquez Bessenhoffer arrived at the Circuit of the Americas at 7 a.m. to begin prepping for the nearly 19-hour day. With an hour left before gates open, any final setup must be completed before guests are able to enter the venue. For Velasquez Bessenhoffer, this hour means deploying her team and running last-minute errands on her golf cart, which helps her navigate the acres of land on which the Austin 360 Amphitheatre is located. This year, in the hour preceding gate time, Velasquez Bessenhoffer and her team had to fix WiFi problems, make sure all vendors were in place, clear all cars from the front of house and send out last-minute emails. 

  • By Courtney Runn
  • By Courtney Runn
  • By Courtney Runn
SHOW TIME

After gates open, Velasquez Bessenhoffer’s behind-the-scenes action begins. Throughout the day she answers questions from staff and ensures that venue operations continue to flow smoothly. When small crises in the amphitheater pop up, Velasquez Bessenhoffer remains calm, tapping into her meditation practice she first started two years ago. 

“…I try to incorporate that into show night by taking deep breaths,” Velasquez Bessenhoffer says. “Taking time away from everybody, just trying to remember not to react but to think through things.”

Small details, such as the size of each blanket allowed into the venue, can affect the success of the show drastically. If blankets are too large during a sold-out show, lawn space can fill up too quickly and prevent all guests from finding a space. 

“A lot of the times when guests come and they’re seeing the show they don’t know everything that goes on behind the scenes to make it work,” Velasquez Bessenhoffer says. 

Texas heat can cause many problems for an outdoor venue, but during this year’s festival Velasquez Bessenhoffer says more shade for guests allowed for a smoother show day. Not only was general admission able to access a shade tent, but the new Bold FC stadium provided additional shade for showgoers. 

After approximately 20 years in the entertainment industry, Velasquez Bessenhoffer says she can’t imagine working in any other field. 

“You have to work at what you love and it’s something that I’ve always been excited to be a part of,” Velasquez Bessenhoffer says. “And it’s interesting to see that it grew into a career because it was something that was fun for me and that was more so a lifestyle that somehow grew into a career.”

A few minutes before midnight, Willie Nelson invited the other performers on stage to finish the night with a group rendition of “I’ll Fly Away.” As the final notes floated over the arena, guests started the long trek back to their cars, sunburned and sweaty and happy. Velasquez Bessenhoffer had been awake for almost 19 hours and in 365 days, she’ll do it all over again

The post Meet the Woman Running Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic appeared first on Austin Woman Magazine.

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This button and app will let you subtly alert friends or the police if you’re in a dangerous situation.

By Lindsey Logan, Pictures courtesy of Rally for Safety

This week, Rally for Safety is launching a wearable emergency-alert button and mobile app, quite literally aiming to put safety at the fingertips of its users. 

Founded by two former U.S. Army Rangers, Mike Murphy and Chris Espe were inspired by Murphy’s mom to create a subtle, easily accessible method of protection. One night, he received a precautionary phone call from his mom, who wanted to chat until she made it safely to her car. She was not comfortable carrying Mace or a taser; Murphy realized how vulnerable she would be if something were to happen. 

According to Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, an American is sexually assaulted every 92 seconds and one in six American women are the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Influenced by the prominent sexual assault case People v. Turner, Murphy and Espe intentionally incorporated community into their business model. In the 2015 case at Stanford University, the victim was found by two passersby who were able to stop the attack and call for emergency services.

“They saved her, but it was just luck they were there; we want to make it so it wasn’t luck,” Murphy says. 

The wearable button can be attached anywhere and is designed to be functional for everyday life, doubling as a grip and stand for your phone. The button synchs with the mobile app via Bluetooth to determine the user’s location. With just three quick taps, alerts for help are sent to the user’s customized safety circles, 911 monitoring or other members of the Rally community. 

The app will also include educational features to help people understand the experience of assault victims.  

“It’s good to have all of these reactive forces so that if something bad happens, use Rally, get help…[but] the end goal is to actually change the culture, so people don’t commit these acts in the first place,” Murphy says.

Murphy and Espe also want to change the culture surrounding reaching out for help. They hope Rally for Safety enables women to feel comfortable contacting friends or the police, regardless of why or how they’re in a dangerous situation; their priority is to make sure everyone is safe. If users feel uncomfortable calling the police on a date or at a party, they can set their safety circle to friends and family instead of calling 911. 

In addition to initial product testing, Rally for Safety will run a 30-day pilot program at the University of Texas at Dallas to determine any changes and updates that need to be made. The wearable button will be available on Amazon for $25 and the app is set to release on both the Apple store and Android store by the end of this week.

“Our ultimate goal is to make sure people are safe and start to change the culture and create a shift into personal safety,” Murphy says. “That’s our mission, that’s our goal and what we intend to do.” 

The post Rally for Safety Launches Emergency-alert Button and App appeared first on Austin Woman Magazine.

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I took a cooking class and didn’t burn down the kitchen. Here’s what I made during my Cozymeal class. 

By Poonam Patel  

For years, I’ve wanted to take a cooking class but never had the courage to book it. If there’s one thing I fear, it is cooking in front of people, let alone cooking in front of people I don’t know. I’m not the greatest cook, so when I cook for others, I like to do it in my own space. Let’s just say if I’m going to burn a soufflé, I’m going to burn it without anyone seeing—or smelling—it.

After hearing about Cozymeal, I was ready to finally give the whole cooking-class experience a try. Unlike many traditional cooking classes in Austin, Cozymeal lets you cook in the chef’s home or have a traveling chef come to you. 

When booking a class, you can filter options by city, date, number of guests and type of class. From teaching how to make homemade pasta to preparing a vegan soul dinner, the company offers a wide variety of classes. Once you pick a class, you can peruse chef details, reviews and photos. While you can opt for a date night for two, the company also works with large groups and companies. 

I loved the idea of a more intimate experience, so I went for it and booked a date night. My boyfriend and I arrived at Chef Danushka Lysek’s house to master the art of risotto through her Elegant and Seasonal Italian class. I chose to take a class at her home instead of my own, which made for easy setup and cleanup. Plus, I didn’t have to buy extra kitchen equipment!

With a wine bottle in hand—because it’s BYOB—we arrived a couple minutes earlier than the other couple in our class. This is when the nerves started to kick in. Lysek had just moved into a new home, which includes a big, gorgeous kitchen that she trusted us to cook in. What if something went wrong? I immediately had my boyfriend pour me a glass of wine.

If I’m going to burn a soufflé, I’m going to burn it without anyone seeing—or smelling—it.

Lysek started the evening by introducing herself and her many accolades (She competed on Chopped and won Food Network’s 24 Hour Restaurant Battle.) and then launched into the class. Because she was so personable and really took the time to get to know each of us, I felt more at ease as we got started.

Next up, we built a delicious, crisp antipasto salad, and when I say delicious, I mean it because I rarely eat salads. Lysek was very hands-on immediately by throwing out useful tips and showing us exactly what we needed to do with all the ingredients. She even took the time to individually show us how to properly hold a knife with the thumb and index finger on opposite sides of the blade with the rest of the fingers gripping the handle, a trick I continue to apply. 

We began with the dessert and this really hyped up my mood because you always have me at dessert. We were delegated our individual tasks, as Lysek would personally show us what we needed to do to make her Nutella brownies. I oversaw spreading a homemade chocolate mixture alongside Nutella over the batter and that was a piece of cake.

The main course that evening was a roasted chicken breast stuffed with garlic-and-parsley butter and served with butternut-squash risotto. My boyfriend oversaw cooking the chicken breasts on the stove, while someone else started the risotto. Though I would have enjoyed learning how to make risotto, I opted to make the garlic-and-parsley butter and stuff the breasts.

While I was disappointed to learn only elements of the meal and not cook the entire meal on my own, it didn’t put a damper on the experience. We even got leftovers to go!

In the span of two hours, Lysek taught us to make a three-course meal I would most definitely make again. I often dream of those brownies. I would definitely take another Cozymeal class—and this time, I might even try it in my own kitchen!

The post Take Cooking Classes at Home With Cozymeal appeared first on Austin Woman Magazine.

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Share the love—and wet noses—by volunteering with your pups through local therapy-dog programs.

By Lucy J. Phillips, Floof Crew photo by Niki Jones, Lucy headshot by Hannah J. Phillips

Dear Lucy,

My name is Mr. Belvedere, and I am the head of The Floof Crew, a family of three rescued Great Pyrenees and one goofy akbash. One of our favorite things to do as a pack is to visit nursing homes on the holidays in case some humans are lonely or missing their loved ones. While we love all the extra pets and hugs, it also feels great to see the big smiles on the faces of the people who meet us. We’ve heard of a few of the programs in Austin through which dogs like us can give back to the community, but would you be able to share any others you know of so we can bark out that info to our friends at the dog park?

Sincerely, Bel

The Floof Crew

Dear Mr. Belvedere,

Thank you for writing in with such a great question! We are lucky to live in a city that is not only dog-friendly, but that also provides so many opportunities to give back to our community. Studies have shown dogs are a calming influence in stressful environments because we create a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. Apart from providing licks and snuggles, our presence in schools can have a beneficial effect on the behavioral processes that lead to improved reading performance. One 2017 study by American Humane even showed that “regular visits from a therapy dog can provide significant psychosocial benefits to families of children undergoing treatment for cancer.” Who wouldn’t wag his or her tail for great causes like that?

If you’re itching to get out there, I dug up a few organizations that are doing great work in Austin and beyond. I’ll start with one that hits close to home since I am a rescue too. My human will tell you that I was not the easiest puppy, but once I grew out of some of my anxieties, thanks to special care and training, she knew she couldn’t keep my love all to herself. That’s when we started training with the team at Love-A-Bull, a nonprofit that promotes breed advocacy and education through programs like the Pit Crew. After some rigorous training, I earned my spot on the Pit Crew and started volunteering as a therapy dog in educational programs like the Andy Roddick Foundation Summer Learning Program. I get lots of pets and treats for keeping the kids calm while they practice reading. It’s fun for everyone!

In addition to hospitals, hospice-care facilities and crisis centers, Love-A-Bull also sends the Pit Crew to visit with students at University of Texas libraries during final-exam periods. Since Love-A-Bull specifically caters to pit bulls as an advocacy group for our often-misrepresented breed, I sniffed out three other nonprofits that aren’t breed-specific.

Lucy

I first heard about therapy-dog programs through my friend, Dolly the golden retriever, who volunteered with her human, Nora, at Divine Canines. (She is now happily retired.) Founded by Tori Ott Keith and trainer Lee Mannix, Divine Canines has more than 100 active dog-handler teams that visit more than 120 facilities throughout Austin. They provide free therapy-dog services to everyone from children struggling with dyslexia, abuse and disabilities to adults living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

If you are looking for training in Cedar Park, Texas, The Dog Alliance provides service dogs for veterans and therapy dogs at more than 300 spots in Central Texas. The dogs reduce stress in the workplace, at the airport and in courtrooms, schools, nursing homes and hospitals.

Let’s not leave out our feline friends! In addition to therapy dogs, Therapy Pet Pals of Texas trains and equips therapy cats. Founded in 1984, Therapy Pet Pals of Texas specifically focuses on enhancing the quality of life for the elderly, the mentally and physically challenged and the terminally ill. With locations in both Austin and Houston, the group currently serves about 90 different health-care facilities and institutions.

Each of these incredible organizations provides extensive information online about how your human can determine whether you are well-suited to the task based on your temperament, health and socialization level. They also outline the specific training you will need in order to join the team since each organization has different requirements. And if training sounds daunting, I can tell you it was actually the best part. Learning obedience alongside your human is a great bonding experience, and even though it’s a lot of hard work, nothing beats the reward of getting to volunteer with your best friend for a great cause.

Love and slobbery kisses,

Lucy

The Floof Crew and their humans are very active in dog rescue through Texas Great Pyrenees Rescue. Sadly, as this issue goes to press, Mr. Belvedere and Bibi passed away suddenly, Bel due to cancer and Bibi due to old age. Follow The Floof Crew on Instagram @thefloofcrew.

If you have a dog-related question for Lucy, reach out and follow her on Instagram @asklucydog.

READ MORE FROM THE JULY ISSUE

The post Where Austinites Can Volunteer with Therapy Dogs appeared first on Austin Woman Magazine.

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Doing good isn’t just for those who can afford to write big checks and it doesn’t have to mean adding extra unpaid hours to your already hectic schedule. 

By Jenny Hoff

While giving money and volunteering time to causes are great ways to be a part of your community and help others who are less fortunate, they’re not the only ways you can be a change-maker. Doing good isn’t just for those who can afford to write big checks and it doesn’t have to mean adding extra unpaid hours to your already hectic schedule. There are many people who have found ways to make a change and a profit at the same time. In fact, the extra incentive of income can make your impact bigger and keep you dedicated to the cause in times of financial strain. Here are some ways you can earn money while giving back. 

1. OFFER A SERVICE THE COMMUNITY NEEDS. 

Education and motivation are two things that can help people drastically change their lives and the lives of their families and friends. Rachel Campbell, owner of Fit4Mom Sunset Valley, dreamed of changing the trajectory of what postpartum issues look and feel like for moms through fitness and food coaching, and she wanted to create a space for women to share their honest journeys through motherhood. “Starting a business was a nonnegotiable,” she says. “I was going through a divorce and needed to support my son. To be able to do that while creating an amazing community of moms who support each other makes me feel very fortunate.” If you are passionate about nutrition, mental health or myriad other causes, consider selling coaching services, hosting a conference or creating online programs to reach the people who are looking for the change and support you can offer. 

2. CREATE A PRODUCT WITH A MESSAGE. 

When Shannon Wolfson decided to leave the anchor desk at KXAN-TV to spend more time with her husband, she knew her next career move would have to align with her belief in spreading more kindness in the world. With that mission in mind, she created Olive & Auger, a clothing and accessories business. Every Olive & Auger product is stamped with Wolfson’s message to be a good human. “It was born out of my feeling helpless to stop the meanness in our society today, the divisive nature of things,” she says. “Starting a business that puts a little good into the world and being able to control my time is really a dream come true.” Whether you care about animal rights, literacy or any cause you feel needs more attention, you can find ways to spread your message with products  people will love. 

3. SOLVE A PROBLEM. 

There are countless stories of people who invented things to help populations that weren’t being served, like the mom in Michigan who couldn’t find a coat for her daughter in a wheelchair, so she created one. Now other families with the same need have a great coat option. It  doesn’t have to be complicated to be impactful. There may be a problem you can solve too. 

4. GET PAID TO SPEAK OR WRITE ABOUT THE CAUSE. 

Companies often have budgets allotted for speakers to inspire and educate their organizations. Create an outline of topics you can talk about that need more attention and reach out to businesses, governmental institutions and other organizations to offer your services. If you’re more of a writer, create a pitch for magazines or websites to write about a topic you care about. Publications and websites are always looking for new content, and you just may have an angle that could benefit them, you and the people you want to help. 

Don’t make a lack of money or time a reason to not rally for a cause you care about. There are hundreds of ways you can help change your community—and change your life. 

READ MORE FROM THE JULY ISSUE

The post How to Give Back While Making Money appeared first on Austin Woman Magazine.

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