After Trauma of Combat, Soldiers Heal Through Songwriting

Austin-based singer-songwriter Darden Smith had never had a real conversation with a U.S. military service member until he met Lt. Col. Fred Cale. He quickly realized that they had much in common – both were music lovers. Through this meeting, Smith, the founder of SongwritingWith:Soldiers, realized that the divide between soldier and civilian was not what he thought it was. He saw the potential for music and songwriting to help soldiers transition back into civilian life.

“SongwritingWith:Soldiers to me is an incredibly beautiful kind of evolution, you might say, of what I’ve always wanted to do, which is tell stories and write songs,” Smith said.

The free program pairs professional songwriters with veterans to craft original songs based on their experiences. For many of the 120 military members who have participated, songwriting begins the healing process.

“I guarantee you they’ve saved lives with this program,” said Major Chuck Hawthorne, a retired Marine.

Equal parts cathartic release and creative endeavor, SongwritingWith:Soldiers offers a chance at healing to the people who need it most.

PBS Newshour Weekend: Taking Care of Trees

In addition to taking care of wounded soldiers, the San Antonio Military Medical Center tends to a healing garden – a garden which actually helps heal the soldiers. This program from Central Texas Gardener includes a story that features the Warrior and Family Support System gardens at Fort Sam Houston.

“The purpose of it is to encourage warriors and their families, help them integrate back into society to a – I overuse the expression – but a whole new normal, because their lives are changed forever,” Judith Markelz, director of the Warrior and Family Support Center said.

Emotional, powerful, encouraging stories about a beautiful garden designed for healing warriors, including burn patients and patients with prosthetics. Typically, the warriors stay at the medical center for a long time.

Volunteers dedicate time to pruning roses, and local nurseries and gardeners add plants and materials to the healing garden.

“Everybody I invite to come here and take a tour, they are just blown away with what has been done for our wounded warriors, so they’re just willing to help out,” one volunteer said.

7 Constitutional Amendments on the Ballot

Thanks to our partners at The Texas Tribune for this brief on the upcoming election.

From highway funding to protecting hunting and fishing, Texas voters will have a say in whether the state Constitution should be amended in seven very different ways. Alana Rocha, with our reporting partner The Texas Tribune, breaks down what you’ll see on the ballot. Early voting ends Friday. Election day is Tuesday, November 3rd.

Free College Course Lowers Barriers to Education for Adults

Free Minds, a program of Foundation Communities, is a free, 6 credit college humanities course, for mostly low-income adults. The program is unique because most adults who return to school take skill-based courses, rather than humanities courses. To lower common barriers to education, Free Minds also provides a warm dinner before every evening class, and free childcare.

After Memorial Day Flood, BMX Park Almost Totally Rebuilt

The 9th Street BMX Park has been a community project since it was first built over 20 years ago.  What started as a single dirt jump constructed by local riders has grown into a whole series of jumps maintained entirely by volunteers.

“This was all flat, and there was one jump in the middle, that’s what we started with,” recalls Steven Tyler, one of the BMX riders to help construct the first jumps.  ”You think, what happened, did these sprout out of the ground? No. That’s a lot of time spent digging out here, and a lot of credit needs to be given to a lot of people to have a place like this. People put a lot of work into a place like this.”

That group effort mentality is something Ty Bement instills in his students.  Bement teaches BMX lessons to those interested in taking up the sport.

“We talk about safety gear, how to push through jumps,” Bement says.  ”Before we start any of that, we talk about how to use a broom and a water hose.”

The dirt jumps are constantly being torn down and reconstructed, but on Memorial Day, every jump was destroyed in a wall of water.

BMX Park Flooding

After Memorial Day, the 9th Street BMX Park was completely underwater. Photo courtesy Darren Drewitz.

“Everything was underwater. You could swim down here,” Bement recalls.  ”That was a trail apocalypse for Austin.”

“It was racing through my mind, are they gonna rebuild it?” says Dakin Drewitz, a student of Bement’s. “Is it going to be the same as it used to be?”


After nearly four months and a lot of work by volunteers and community members, the answer is yes.  Most of the jumps have been reconstructed in the wake of May’s devastating flood, but this labor of love never quite wraps up.

“The dirt jumps are really never done,” Bement says. “They’re ongoing work.”





KLRU NewsBriefs: Two very different Austin museums mark milestones


This weekend during PBS NewsHour we have two different indoor activities you can check out: the Harry Ransom Center’s WWI exhibit and the South Austin Pop Culture Center.

On Saturday we peak inside SouthPop, a non-profit museum dedicated to preserving Austin’s music history and the art surrounding that industry. SouthPop’s director Leea Mechling told us this history is more important for residents to know than ever.

“This place is important to give context of Austin’s culture to people who have lived here for a long time and for people who have just moved here. The era of the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s was really a building time of Austin’s unique culture,” Mechling said.

SouthPop is celebrating 10 years this Summer. It is located on South Lamar and is open Thursday through Sunday 1 – 6pm.

Our Sunday story takes you inside the Harry Ransom Center on the University of Texas campus. To commemorate the centennial of the start of World War I, the museum is presenting The World at War: 1914-1918. Some might be surprised to hear about an historical exhibit at the Ransom Center, and curator Jean Cannon said that’s what makes their exhibit unique.

“We have great holdings for literature so a lot of the items that you’ll see in the gallery are diaries or letters and items that give a very personal moment of living between 1914 and 1918,” Cannon told us.

The exhibit runs through August 3. The Harry Ransom Center is free and open to the public.

KLRU NewsBriefs air locally during PBS NewsHour Weekend, Saturday and Sunday at 6:30pm. 

KLRU News Brief: ACL Hall of Fame Inducts Inaugural Class


On Sunday evening during PBS NewsHour Weekend, our News Brief is a glimpse inside last week’s Austin City Limits Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, Darrell Royal and Bill Arhos were inducted in a ceremony in KLRU’s Studio 6A, the original home of Austin City Limits.

All have a storied history with the program. Nelson appeared on the pilot in 1974 and Vaughan & Double Trouble performed in 1984 and 1990. Bill Arhos is credited with creating Austin City Limits. Coach Darrell Royal was known for hosting “pickin parties” at his home with Austin musicians, and was an early supporter and fan of the show. Seats were always reserved for Coach Royal and his wife Edith. She accepted the induction on his behalf.

The ceremony featured performances by the inductees as well as Doyle Bramhall II, Mike Farris, Buddy Guy, Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett, Lukas Nelson, Robert Randolph and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.

The Hall of Fame induction is part of KLRU’s recognition of Austin City Limit’s 40th Anniversary Season. Portions of the induction ceremony will air in a primetime PBS special in the fall.

KLRU News Briefs air every Saturday and Sunday during PBS NewsHour Weekend. 





News Briefs: Dell Medical School Launch & Wildflower Center’s Family Garden

Medical School Launch

This week during PBS NewsHour Weekend: two exciting unveilings, each with UT ties. On Saturday, we hear from State Senator Kirk Watson and Dean Clay Johnston at the “launch” of the UT Dell Medical School.

Dr. Johnston, who currently makes up a faculty of 1 at the school, stressed the importance of more doctors to meet the medical needs of Austin’s growing population.

“We can’t train enough doctors in the current system to meet the need. There’s just no way,” Johnston said in his speech Monday. “They’re already about 20 percent behind the doctors who we should have here in Austin.”

On Sunday, we take a sneak peek at the new Luci and Ian Family Garden at the Lady Bird Johnston Wildflower Center. An extended version of the story by Central Texas Gardener’s Linda Lehmusvirta will air during CTG on Saturday. You can see it online here.

The garden was 15 years in conception and extends upon the mission Lady Bird had for the future generations.

“We believe that this is a family commitment,” her daughter Luci Baines Johnson said. “If we don’t join in that commitment from our very youngest to our very eldest than we are missing out on the joy that we can bring to multiple generations.”

You can watch the stories this Saturday and Sunday at 6:30pm during PBS NewsHour Weekend.