By Elizabeth McGuire
For the past 15 years, Jim Alsup has been a champion of Austin Parks Foundation. What has kept this longest serving board member involved? “Something new and interesting just kept coming up!”
Alsup has seen plenty of new since he first volunteered with APF in 2001. At that time, the staff totaled 1.5 people, It’s My Park Day was in its infancy, and Austin City Limits was a popular TV show but not a massive festival and fairy godmother to the city’s park system.
“In the early years it was really all about trying to find funds,” said Alsup. “There was no shortage of things that needed to be done, which is always the case with any nonprofit.”
APF had solid relationships with neighborhood groups and community stakeholders, but resources were decidedly scarce. “There were times when we were primarily concerned with keeping the lights on and paying the payroll,” said Alsup.
As the organization was gaining traction, it tried several approaches to raising awareness and money, including at least one “green tie” gala. “It’s My Park Day evolved into our signature event,” said Alsup, “and I think that was instrumental in raising our profile within the volunteer community.”
As an attorney and partner with Jackson Walker LLP, Alsup served as legal counsel for the young nonprofit, and he remembers their biggest turning point in the organization’s history. It was 2006, the year C3 Presents approached APF about becoming a partner of the Austin City Limits Music Festival. The relationship has thrived, and over the last 10 years the festival has generated more than $20 million for the benefit of local parks.
“They have been fabulous partners,” said Alsup. “As the size of the festival has grown, the support that C3 has been able to provide has grown too. It allows us to do so much more now.”
“In the old days we did almost exclusively small community projects. Now we have joined with other fundraisers and can be significant contributors to major park-related projects like the Boardwalk over Lady Bird Lake and Republic Square. We are able to have an impact at a much larger level, plus we continue to maintain our neighborhood parks projects. We are grateful we are able to do both.”
Even with the resources to tackle large-scale initiatives, Alsup says the neighborhood projects will always be the cornerstone of their work because they see so many community-wide benefits. A common theme he hears from volunteers is how the process of working with APF builds neighborhood ties and creates more stakeholders.
“All over town in every neighborhood, you see park projects that start with 1 or 2 people and grow to 100. They meet their neighbors; they become invested. It takes on a life of its own. It builds community apart from a single improvement project. Of everything I’ve done, that’s what I’ve enjoyed most about this work.”
People Plus Parks is a new series featuring the people behind the work we’re doing in Austin’s parks. Check out the “People + Parks” category for more.