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A Pro Golfer, a Country Singer, a Football Coach and Their East Austin Dream

In the early 1990s boarded-up buildings and glass-littered sidewalks lined East Austin’s 11th and 12th Street business corridors. Plans would soon be approved to revitalize the district with commercial development, historic restoration and flourishes like the 11th Street Archway and 12th Street Art Wall. But at the time, the safety, health and education of children was of continuing concern for East Austin residents.

Creating opportunities for East Austin youth was also on the mind of legendary University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal. Having turned his winning attitude toward doing good, Royal organized a meeting with Austin Community Foundation executive director Richard Slaughter. He also invited Jane Hansen of Freeport-McMoRan, the multinational corporation locally famous for two things: developing environmentally-sensitive land and generous corporate giving.

Royal wanted to devise a plan and determine what the greatest needs were. So he arranged for the three to accompany an Austin police officer in his patrol car for an East Austin shift to learn about the challenges in the community. The group worked together to determine how to most effectively and efficiently assist, encourage and promote the education, health and well-being of kids and young adults. Creating a fund at the Foundation meant that funds raised could efficiently be granted to nonprofit organizations.

With a plan in place, Royal brought in two good friends with their own legendary clout: singer-songwriter Willie Nelson and golf pro Ben Crenshaw. Leveraging their celebrity into fundraising, the three sponsored a charity golf tournament and gala. The Ben-Willie-Darrell East Austin Youth Classic went on to raise more than $2.4 million for East Austin youth organizations through the decade. Later, the Ben-Willie-Darrell event evolved to raise funds for Alzheimer’s research and left the Foundation.



“Austin Community Foundation is able provide a resource for collaborative efforts that improve opportunities for others,” says Amy Allen, Senior Philanthropic Officer, who worked at the Foundation when the Ben-Willie-Darrell fund was active.

During its heyday, the event raised up to $500,000 per year for nonprofit organizations serving youth on the east side, including the Girl Scouts, elementary schools, libraries and recreation centers. Many of the organizations that received grants from the tournament’s proceeds would have ceased to exist without the funds.

The Austin chapter of the Salvation Army was one recipient, for their program providing day care for children of homeless adults searching for a job and home. “Because of this service, many homeless families were able to secure full-time employment and eventually move into a permanent home,” said John Welton, area financial director of the Salvation Army.

“Austin Community Foundation is a great partner for collaborations,” Amy says. “For this fund, we recruited an advisory committee that represented the East Austin community, collected grant applications and presented them to the advisory committee. The Foundation communicated with the grant applicants, received the donations, awarded grants per the advisory committee’s recommendations, and collected the final grant reports.”

Ben-Willie-Darrell is just one example of the support role the Foundation has played to enable productive collaborations in which various people can come together as a winning team to make a positive impact on Austin.

—Shelley Seale