The Austin Chronicle

Alphabet City

A 'Chronicle of Philanthropy'

By Margaret Moser, December 10, 2010, Music

If you're a musician playing on Sixth Street and are stopped on MLK by APD for a DWI on your way home, you may seek help from AA. But if you're a musician with hep C, MS, or even TMJ, do you go to HAAM? What if you're U-18 and a best friend who just out of rehab is hanging with her old dealer – can you call SIMS or PDAP? And why is the late Clifford Antone's name associated with AYW?

It's not just music-centric health and social services that are known by acronyms and initials. If you aspire to play SXSW, ACL, or FFF, maybe a seminar from AMF or a course at ACC will help. Even then, the letter game in Austin's community conscience is unique even among other rare, self-sustaining music scenes. And don't worry if it feels like we live in Alphabet City; navigating ATX can be easy as one-two-three.

Safety Nets and Peace of Mind

Few nonindustry organizations are more synonymous with Austin music than the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians and the Services Invested in Musician Support Foundation; they're the conjoined twins of Austin music outreach. They tackle the double whammy of keeping the local community in shape physically and mentally.

HAAM, founded in 2005, offers low-cost primary health care services, basic dental coverage, and mental health counseling to eligible uninsured musicians in the area. The SIMS Foundation, established a decade earlier, provides access to and financial support for mental health care and addiction recovery services for musicians and their families in and around Austin. Neither organization provides direct assistance, but both work with such service providers as the Seton Family of Hospitals and Alcoholics Anonymous.

Austin boasts a particularly large demographic of musicians – around 8,000 working, according to HAAM figures. Those numbers span many generations, each with health issues specific to its age group. SIMS serves more than 600 clients annually, while HAAM has already aided more than 25% of Austin's musician population.

SIMS Foundation Executive Director Tricia Forbes believes the presence of both organizations makes a difference. "Financial insecurity, proximity to drugs and alcohol, hectic travel schedules" and other well-known dynamics contribute to the chaotic demands of a musician's lifestyle and unintentionally create clients.

"There's a national trend toward holistic, integrated health care services, and HAAM and SIMS are working together in that vein," explains Forbes. "We know that our clients' mental health outcomes are going to be better if they also have primary health care, as well as the other important health services they can receive through HAAM. Having these safety nets seems to give musicians some peace of mind."

HAAM Executive Director Carolyn Schwarz would be happier if SIMS had been inspired by any other reason than the suicide of Sims Ellison (see "Swaggering, Strutting Texas Hunks") but is grateful it was already in place when the alliance started up.

"The mental health and addiction-recovery services offered through the SIMS Foundation are vital to the continuum," she stresses. "Healthy musicians mean a healthier Austin economy and culture. Since the inception of Health Alliance for Austin Musicians five years ago, musicians have access to a full range of healthcare services."

Not only are both organizations successful, Austin remains a health care model for other cities to emulate, much as HAAM's guiding light, late philanthropist Robin Shivers (see "Steel Bluebonnet Determination," Nov. 27, 2009), used New Orleans' musicians' medical program as one of her inspirations.

The downside is that demand is high and need grows, and both require filthy lucre.

Fund Fund Fund Fest

Before his death in May 2006, Clifford Antone chose American YouthWorks as his cause. American YouthWorks is a public charter school with a GED program and on-the-job training, particularly encouraging its at-risk students – some of whom are teen parents – toward green jobs. That's a lot of fancy talk for a hardscrabble program Susan Antone calls "the last house on the last street for some of these kids."

On paper, AYW boasts an impressive roll call of partners, including the U.S. Department of Education, Whole Foods, and PepsiCo, and yet its East Ben White Boulevard headquarters is in need of basics such as copier paper and hand sanitizer. To assist them, Clifford Antone created Austin's annual big-dollar music fundraiser, Help Clifford Help Kids, a Champagne and dinner-with-auction affair of the type more often associated with the Austin Film Society's Texas Film Hall of Fame or AIDS Services of Austin's OctoTea Dance. Since her brother's death, Susan Antone has continued the Help Clifford fundraisers, upping the ante by bringing in prestigious acts such as Booker T. & the MGs.

Help Clifford Help Kids held its 2010 AYW fundraiser last month to the beat of Los Lonely Boys at the AT&T Executive Education & Conference Center. The fifth annual HAAM Benefit Day exploded in September with 120 acts performing at dozens of sites around town. SIMS rolls out its red carpet of all-stars Saturday, Dec. 11 (see "Swaggering, Strutting Texas Hunks") at the Austin Music Hall. All of them need your generosity, especially since charity functions have felt the bite in these tough economic times. Fund Fund Fund Fest begins at home.

And make no mistake, the collection of funds to support charitable organizations is big business in itself, big enough to warrant the Chronicle of Philanthropy, a national publication that tracks the nonprofit world. A recent CP survey indicated that in 2009, contributions were down by 11%, the worst drop in two decades. That figure was culled from organizations that raise the most from private sources, meaning that local and regional groups such as SIMS and HAAM will have to reach even further.

The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear HAAM Prescription Shades

"This year's HAAM Benefit Day was record-breaking in the number of businesses participating, the number of music performances, and the funds raised ($195,000). This has allowed HAAM to expand the number of affiliate service providers to five."

Carolyn Schwarz's assessment of HAAM's current good health is a reminder that the organization doesn't operate health care services; rather, it conducts eligibility, enrollment, and care management at its office and then contracts for services.

"For example, in 2011, HAAM is contracting with SIMS and will provide funding specifically for addiction recovery services," continues Schwarz. "HAAM also has contracts with Seton Family of Hospitals for primary medical care, Estes Audiology for hearing, and Prevent Blindness Texas for vision care. In addition, HAAM has an agreement with St. David's Foundation Dental Program to provide basic dental care to musicians enrolled in HAAM."

The SIMS Foundation's glowing numbers translate just as dramatically, and not just in the much-needed areas of funding and staffing. Tricia Forbes points out that every step forward opens more doors to more clients. "We know there are still underserved communities, particularly African-American, Latino, and women musicians. We started an intensive outreach effort this year, but we hope to have more resources to build on it and really see some results next year.

"Instead of just counting the 600-plus people we serve each year, we are now tracking our clients' outcomes and we know that their lives and mental health are improved significantly because of our services," Forbes enthuses. "A stronger partnership with HAAM, the contract with Central Health, increased funding from St. David's, and an expanding circle of individuals and corporations have made it all possible."

While SIMS has long operated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, HAAM was a special project fund of the Austin Community Foundation. Until recently, that is, notes Schwarz.

"We are now our own 501(c)(3) and as of January 1, 2011, we will roll out from under ACF and will be doing all our own bookkeeping. HAAM is growing up!"

On behalf of the musicians of ATX, that's A-OK.

The ABCs of ATX Musical Health

AA: Alcoholics Anonymous (unofficial site)

ACF: Austin Community Foundation

AMF: Austin Music Foundation

AYW: American YouthWorks

HAAM: Health Alliance for Austin Musicians

PDAP: Palmer Drug Abuse Program

SIMS: Services Invested in Musician Support Foundation


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