Kid Blog: All About Austin Allies

Contributor: Kassie Kercher (8)

Kassie recently helped us run our booth at AISD’s Summer Reading Splash!

Kassie recently helped us run our booth at AISD’s Summer Reading Splash!

Who are Allies?

Hi, I’m Kassie, and my family and I volunteer with Austin Allies, a charity organization. I’m a Girl Scout Brownie that does fun activities such as helping the Humane Society (Austin) and improving the environment. Austin Allies also helps the community in similar ways. They put together projects to deliver supplies to schools and donate to charity. The kids can help in activities, too! I’ve helped the group with projects for Carrying Hope, BookSpring and others. I‘ve had fun volunteering with Allies.

Who are their Leaders?

The Board of Allies is a group of leaders who help guide the Allies. My mom is included. They set examples to follow. Basically, they are the superheroes.

How can I learn more?

Austin Allies is a great organization that supports the quote: Keep Austin Weird. And also, love Austin! If you have any questions, keep looking on, and hopefully your questions will be answered. You can also ask me about volunteering with the team!


Kassie and her family have volunteered with Austin Allies from the very beginning, and her mom (and SuperHero) Margaret, is an Allies Board Member.

Guest Blog: Mariela Rodriguez, Communications Director for BookSpring

Mariela Rodriguez

Mariela Rodriguez

We truly LOVE working with Austin Allies! Our partnership with this group has helped us engage more people in our mission - building early literacy in children and families through healthcare, education, and the community. Families from Austin Allies are passionate and truly dedicated to making an impact on the community. From running book drives and assisting with literacy events to helping gift books to children and families, Austin Allies are helping us build a community of readers. Through partnerships with healthcare providers, educators, and other community leaders like Erika and Austin Allies, BookSpring reaches families where they are.

Linking children and their families to diverse books, languages, and cultures is vital. Children’s books can serve as mirrors so that young people can see themselves and their experiences reflected in stories. Books are also windows through which kids can learn about worlds outside of their own lives. Parents can use books as tools to teach their children about diversity, inclusion and life. Diverse books help build communication and empathy between families.

Currently in Central Texas, 58% of families with children under the age of 12 have fewer than 20 books at home. Research shows that having 20 books in the home can make a difference in a child's future academic success. (People interested in monetary contributions can donate directly to our 20 Books by 2020 initiative, where $0.80 cents of every dollar goes directly to program costs.)

We encourage the community to recycle their children’s books by donating them to our programs. We welcome infant board books, children’s picture books, and elementary chapter books. Books can be dropped off at our office located at 2006 Greenbrook Parkway in Austin. Monday- Friday between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm. A drop box is also available for after-hours donations. Be sure to fill out an In-Kind form located to the right of the dropbox.

BookSpring programs not only distribute books, but we aim to provide engaging, informative activities, including read-alouds, discussions, and play activities to inspire and motivate young readers. Prospective volunteers are invited to register and signup for our monthly orientation the third Tuesday of every month at 11:00 am or 6:00 pm. You can register here: Signup is here:

Volunteers are needed to assist with the essential function of sorting and bundling donated books, reading aloud and facilitating programs, and assisting with transporting books and other materials to program partners. People can also like, follow, and share our story on social media to help raise awareness about our work in the community.

Mariela oversees the BookSpring brand along with their public awareness campaigns and managing their social media. She also coordinates with organizations, schools, and corporate groups in the community to establish book drives that directly benefit children and families served through our programs.

Spectrum News recently highlighted BookSprings Rx program which works with pediatricians to prescribe books to families! Check out the story HERE.

Volunteering: It’s Just What We Do

Daniel and his family enjoy cooking meals for the families at Ronald McDonald House.

Daniel and his family enjoy cooking meals for the families at Ronald McDonald House.

Contributor: Daniel Diffen

Like many of you out there who’ve found Austin Allies, my family and I were searching for opportunities where our children could volunteer with us. Growing up in Austin, I had an overwhelming amount of options for volunteer work, but I also found that I could always make an excuse to just not do it. Challenging academic burdens, swim team obligations, unfamiliarity with the organization… whenever the possibility arose I was able to pull out some reason or another not to attend.

The truth is that missing out on those experiences cost me, not just in terms of my college and future job applications, but also in my personal growth. Instead of taking a single step outside of my comfort zone, I chose to stay safely inside the bubble that I’d created and ignore the needs of my community. It was a selfish act, and not one I’m proud of. But I am proud to have recognized my mistake and made changes in my life to address it.

Once we’d found Austin Allies, my wife and I made a goal to join our children (ages 8 and almost 7) to volunteer at least once a month. So far, we’ve been out to the Ronald McDonald House, BookSpring, Blue Santa, the Diaper Bank, the VA Center, and have attended numerous craft/wrapping/bagging parties! My kids favorite place to work thus far has been the Ronald McDonald House because they both love to help out in the kitchen and really enjoy getting to volunteer at a place that serves kids their own ages. Our goal is to take away the stigma of volunteering for our children, and for them to come away with the understanding that volunteering with others isn’t something scary, special, unique, or strange...

Volunteering our time and energy is just what we do. We hope that our kids develop a lifelong appreciation for what it means to give back to our community, and begin to understand that our role in Austin starts with stepping outside of our neighborhood and appreciating all of the diversity and cultures that the city can offer.

If you’re interested in joining the Allies for an upcoming event, take a look at our Calendar page and find an organization that speaks to you! Our calendar of events for the month of April can be found HERE and sign-ups are available at the end of each event’s description. We hope to see your family out at an event soon!

Daniel Diffen is a local writer who serves as VP of Communications for Austin Allies. He organizes and edits blog posts for the group, and can be seen hosting Allies events around the city.

Kid Blog: We LOVE Book Club!

Contributors: Jack (11) & Nate (11) Lowe

The Austin Allies/Bookpeople Kids Book Club was started in September of 2017. The first book we read was Fish in A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. The book club is for kids who are 8-12 years old, but we welcome all ages to the book club as long as you are old enough to read the book! We meet once a month to discuss the books we read in the kids’ amphitheatre at Bookpeople, our favorite book store.

Jack and Nate visiting with Mayor Adler at an Austin Allies Book Club meeting!

Jack and Nate visiting with Mayor Adler at an Austin Allies Book Club meeting!

The books we read in book club are written by different authors about people living around the world. It is important to read these books because it changes the way we see the world. We learn about other people, what they are like, and the way they live. If we only read one type of book, by one type of author, then we won’t learn  about all of the different types of people that are in the world.

One of the fun things about book club is that you get to talk about something you love--reading--with other people who also love reading. It is also fun to have our meetings at Bookpeople. Bookpeople displays the books we read and lets us write book recommendations for the kids’ section. Finally, sometimes kids get to read the questions at book club. We are not just learning about the issues and the people in the book we are learning to lead discussions.

Jack: My favorite book club book  is Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli because it is very funny and is told in a way that makes everything more interesting

Nate: My favorite book club book is The Perfect Score by Rob Buyea because it is funny and the characters are relatable.

We hope you will join us at our next book club meeting!  We’ll meet on Saturday, April 20 at 12:30pm in the BookPeople Kids’ Amphitheatre to talk about The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.

Guest Blog: Rachel McInnes, BookPeople School Event Host and Allies Book Club Partner

Rachel McInnes

Rachel McInnes

In January 2018, Austin Allies partnered with our local bookstore, BookPeople, to host a monthly Book Club for kids ages 8-12. The books we choose to read focus on a diverse variety of authors, narrators, and themes, but all are geared toward gaining a new understanding and knowledge of people and cultures that we may not have had before reading the story. Rachel has been our BookPeople liaison from the very beginning and we are thrilled to work with her each month.

“I have really enjoyed getting to know Erika and Vanessa through my experiences with Austin Allies. The kids have been amazing as well and I really have learned from them and their insights! Having the kids write community recommendation cards has been a great addition to all of the staff cards you see around the store. When I can tell a young reader that someone their age has read and recommends a book it might carry a bit more weight in the decision making. 

When I started working at the store on Saturdays I realized that I needed to widen my range in order to make more qualified recommendations. The Austin Allies Book Club has introduced me to books I might not have otherwise read. And expanding our reading catalogue is so important, not just for kids but for everyone and it’s for the same reason! I only have my own life experience to draw on or reference. When I read a book written by someone that has a different life experience I am seeing the world through their eyes. Those books really are gifts to the world because my life is so much richer for having read them.”

- Rachel McInnes has worked at BookPeople for 3 years as a School Event Host (a BookPeople representative who supports schools that are hosting authors and illustrators who are touring for new books) and mans the kids’ section in the store on Saturdays.

Mayor Adler joined our August 2018 Book Club to talk about how Austin welcomes refugees and how we keep our water supply available to so many people!

Mayor Adler joined our August 2018 Book Club to talk about how Austin welcomes refugees and how we keep our water supply available to so many people!

Teaching Empathy is such an important aspect of what Allies strives to provide for our volunteers, and our Book Club and Rachel offer us another avenue to experience empathy.

If you haven’t had a chance to join us for a Book Club meeting, we hope to see you on Saturday, March 16 at 12:30pm when we’ll be discussing I Am Malala (Young Reader’s Edition) by Malala Yousafzai.

Meet Our Team!

Vanessa and I are thrilled today to announce the formation of our new Board of Directors! This group of leaders will join us in guiding the Austin Allies organization as we continue to grow and foster volunteer opportunities throughout our community! Daniel, Margaret, Monica, and Emily each bring unique experiences and expertise to our group, and with their aid and guidance, the Allies will be able to increase our outreach; offer more programming, activities, and drives; strengthen our connections to the diverse population of Austin; and most importantly improve our abilities to better serve those who need our support. 

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Erika Nowlin, Executive Director

Erika is a native Austinite and former preschool and elementary school teacher. She earned a BA in Psychology from UT Austin and received her teaching certification through Region XIII. Austin Allies is her brainchild - born from a need to counteract the increasing negativity she was seeing in the world, and to teach her kids empathy, understanding, and compassion for everyone in their community. She wanted to find a way to make volunteering easier for families by creating events and activities with local organizations who needed support. Erika lives in Southwest Austin with her husband and their two daughters.

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Vanessa Lowe, Associate Director

Vanessa Lowe has worked in urban education and literacy for almost 20 years. She started her career in education at the Department of Education in Washington, DC before moving into the classroom. She has taught high school English language arts in Austin and Houston, Texas and Brooklyn, New York. She currently works as a curriculum designer and teacher of teachers working specifically with educators who work in underserved communities. She has trained and taught teachers in New York City, New Orleans, and San Antonio. She is the mother to 11-year-old twin boys and lives with her family in southwest Austin.

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Daniel Diffen, VP of Communications

Daniel, another native Austinite, is a writer and stay-at-home father of two. A retired high school Spanish teacher with a BA from The University of Texas and an MA from Texas State, Daniel enjoys getting to work with his own kids and children of all ages and educating them on the value of giving back to our community. He especially loves cooking at the Ronald McDonald House and connecting new families to the opportunities that the Austin Allies can provide!

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Margaret Kercher, Board Member

Margaret is a criminal defense attorney who mainly works in Travis County and a mom of three active kids. As members of Austin Allies, she and her family had the opportunity to help others as a family.  Instead of just telling children what our values are, Austin Allies allows parents to "walk the walk" and bring their children along on the journey to help our neighbors .

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Monica de Leon, Board Member

Monica de Leon is a Senior Manager in of the office of Strategy and Operations for Cisco’s United States Public Sector business. In her role, Monica provides program management leadership, focusing on State Government, Local Government, and Education, as well as its US Federal business. A graduate of Texas A&M University, she has been a Seedling Mentor since 2016 and is a Girl Scout Troop leader for her two young daughters’ troops.

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Emily Evans, Board Member

Emily is a Special Education Teaching Assistant at Kiker Elementary in Southwest Austin. A lifelong Texan, she earned her BA and MBA from Texas A&M. Emily moved to Austin in 1999, where she lives with her husband and 3 daughters.

Keep an eye on Facebook and watch for our e-mail calendars for even more chances to give back, and please tell your friends and neighbors about the Allies! As Valentine's Day draws near, we hope that you will join us as we continue to Act, Learn, Lead, Inspire, Educate, and Serve in our fair city.



Kid Blog: Why volunteer?

Contributor: Ellie Nowlin, 11 (Allies junior co-founder)

Ellie wrapping pajamas for the families at Saint Louise House.

Ellie wrapping pajamas for the families at Saint Louise House.

My name is Ellie Nowlin, and I helped my mom put together a fantabulistical organization called Austin Allies. I really love volunteering with Allies. It makes me feel good to know what I’m doing is making people’s life better. I like thinking that I helped found a volunteer organization, and I volunteer almost every week!

My favorite place to volunteer is Saint Louise House. I’ve always been an interior designer at heart, so I love putting that dream to work to help somebody. We cleaned the house up, moved furniture in, and voila! We just made a house for someone!

That feeling you get is so good and it comes in so many different ways: when they announce the numbers at the Food Bank, when you admire your dinner display at Ronald McDonald House, and when you see all the smiling kids reading their brand-new books at Buford or the Housing Authority. It also comes when you see nicely sorted stacks of donated books at BookSpring, when you see your enormous diaper mountains at the Diaper Bank, and sending away bra island on trucks to Support the Girls.  I also love our Book Club, which meets every month as well! I really enjoyed making Placemats and Bookmarks at the Texas Book Fest and egg shakers at ACL.

I think the best part of Allies is realizing you can have a good time and be accommodating. Working with Austin Allies isn’t just like another carnival fundraiser. You can make a bookmark, or cook a lunch or dinner;  it’s fun… and you’re helping someone! You can help people in so many ways, and Allies is the best way to do it!!!

2018: Year in Review

Wow, 2018 was certainly a busy year for Austin Allies! I spent an entire afternoon going through photos, posts, and calendars from the past year and I am both amazed and humbled at how much we were able to accomplish together! With all of your help, Austin Allies:

• Prepared, cooked, and served 9 meals at Ronald McDonald House

• Hosted 12 Book Clubs at BookPeople and welcomed visits from Mayor Adler, author Kat Kronenberg, and Maya Smart

• Sorted and packed up almost 40,000 lbs of food for Central Texas Food Bank

• Attended ACL’s Austin Kiddie Limits where we talked with hundreds of families and put together more than 650 musical egg shakers which were then delivered to 7 local music programs

• Manned the Hand to Hold/Austin Marathon water station

• Donated school supplies, pajamas, stocking goodies, and apartment items to Saint Louise House in addition to putting together an apartment for a family that SLH serves

• Chaired the Children’s Activity Tent for the Texas Book Festival

• Collected, sorted, and packed up school supplies for Partnerships for Children

• Collected school supplies for Communities in Schools

• Distributed hundreds of books to children served by BookSpring

• Wrapped literally thousands of diapers for Austin Diaper Bank

• Participated in two different “It’s My Park Days” with Austin Parks Foundation

• Decorated bookmarks, collected books, packed backpacks, and staffed two Pack Drive booths for Carrying Hope

• Collected items for a mom and her two boys escaping domestic violence, as well as yoga and art supplies for Joyful Inspiration

• Delivered more than 10 bags full of birthday gifts and cards for the kids living at Helping Hand Home

• Put together 50 Valentine goodie bags for the children at SAFE

• Handed out 4,000 bottles of water to marchers and supplied snacks and drinks for the speakers at March For Our Lives

• Participated in Austin Public Library’s Dia de los Niños, AISD’s Summer Reading Splash and city-wide PTA event, Circle C’s Food Trailer Night, and Mills Elementary’s first Citizenship Day

• Hosted 4 Family Fun Nights where we collected school supplies, birthday gifts for foster children, socks for Triumphant Warrior, and items for Allison Elementary’s playground transformation

• Staffed Austin Diaper Bank’s booth at the Round Rock Express game

• Washed and ironed 100+ tiny graduation gowns for Avance

• Renovated Allison Elementary’s Kindergarten playground

• Held a book drive where we collected over 2000(!) books for BookSpring

• Put together and delivered bags of food and cleaning supplies to 66 families supported by Amaanah Refugee Services

• Handed out books to hundreds of kids with AISD Library Media Service’s Buford the Book Bus

• Delivered books and crafted with kids with BookSpring and the Housing Authority of Austin

• Worked in the garden with Urban Roots

• Prepped summer camp materials for GirlStart

• Collected, washed, and sorted bras for Support the Girls

• Cleaned Barton Springs Pool

• Hosted activities for our littlest Allies where we participated in activities to support Austin Creative Reuse, Support the Girls, Caritas, and Silver Santa

• Sent 2 SUVs FULL of items to families who were being detained at the Texas border

• Wrapped holiday gifts at BookPeople

• Decorated hundreds of meal bags and cards for Meals on Wheels

• Packed and handed out Care Kits for seniors and veterans served by Silver Santa

• Played BINGO with seniors at Autumn Leaves Memory Care

• Collected hundreds of hygiene kits for ECHO to hand out to those experiencing homelessness in Austin

That list just completely takes my breath away. We have been able to do so much good and support so many organizations and people in Austin and we couldn’t do it without y’all. We are forever thankful to all of you for your generous and loving hearts and look forward to an even better 2019.

Thank you, Allies!

Erika Nowlin

Director, Austin Allies


Two years ago, we formed Austin Allies in order to demonstrate to our children what it means to be kind, caring, and giving. It remains as important to us today as it was that very first day to be able to model these types of behaviors for our kids and to teach them that this world - that our world and our community - only works when people lend a hand and take care of one another.

Now, over 700 days and 300 volunteers later, we would like to take this season of Thanksgiving to once again tell each and every person who has offered up their time, goods, or money, from the bottom of our hearts THANK YOU. As we said when we set out to form Austin Allies, none of this can succeed if we don’t get help from all of you. And now, because of all of your generosity, love, and support, we can celebrate our second anniversary with our sights set on an even better and more productive future for our organization!

We’ll have some exciting announcements over the next few days and months about Allies, but know that our commitment to providing kids and their grown-ups fun opportunities to volunteer and donate will never waver! We have seen firsthand over the past two years that kids love helping and giving back to their community, so whether it’s our teens serving up a salad at the Ronald McDonald house, our littles sorting diapers at the Austin Diaper Bank, or any of the other incredible volunteer opportunities in-between, Austin Allies remains committed to our city and its people now and hopefully for a long time to come!


Erika, Vanessa, and the Austin Allies Team