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Joy

Texas family takes a $40 million hit to turn their massive ranch into a public park

They chose conservation and the public good over a lucrative private development deal.

RGK Ranch will become a 1500-acre public park outside of Austin, Texas.

Most people will never see a million dollars in their lifetime, much less tens of millions of dollars. Even fewer would pass up an easy opportunity to become $40 million richer, regardless of how wealthy they already are.

That's what a family in Central Texas did when private real estate developers from around the world offered upwards of $130 for their sprawling 1507-acre ranch. Instead of taking one of those huge real estate deals, they chose to sell RGK Ranch to Travis County, Texas, for a reduced purchase price of $90 million—$30 million below its appraised value—so the land could be preserved as a public park.

Nadya Scott and her brother Gregory Kozmetsky inherited the ranch from their parents, George and Ronya Kozmetsky, who purchased the land in 1970. The elder Kozmetsky was a technology innovator and co-founder of Teledyne Inc. who passed away in 2003. He was also an educator and philanthropist who gave away millions of dollars through the RGK Foundation. Now his descendants are donating tens of millions of dollars worth of their family's land rights for the public good.


The ranch sits outside of Austin, which has seen record growth over the past decade as America's fastest-growing metro area. The family credits Nadya Scott, Kozmetsky's daughter, with the vision to make the ranch into a public park.

“I want to preserve the land for future generations because I have seen what happens when the land around a city becomes so valuable that it is sold, and little wild area is preserved,” said Nadya Scott in a press release. “I believe in protecting unique land for the future and I am glad that people before me also wanted to protect land so that I can explore beautiful areas in my travels. The RGK Ranch is a beautiful and unique part of Texas.”

Scott's son, Jordan, told Texas Monthly that she had been inspired by picnicking and hiking at Will Rogers State Historic Park in Los Angeles, on land that had once belonged to the film star’s ranch, when they lived in California. “Those experiences truly planted a seed for [my mother] to see she could create a similar experience for people in Austin,” he said.

Jordan Scott also said in a press release, “Austin and Central Texas are beloved by the Scott and Kozmetsky families. The cherished memories our family created on this land will now be shared with our community. I am honored by my mother’s decision to preserve and protect this land.”

In the U.S. around 40% of land is publicly owned, while 60% is private. But state by state, the percentages vary widely. In Alaska, for instance, nearly 90% of land is public and the rest privately owned. In Texas, less than 5% of land is public while over 95% is privately owned. Public land is a big part of conservation efforts as it can be protected by law. Natural areas that are preserved for the public, such as our National and State Parks, serve to absorb harmful carbon in our atmosphere as well as keep ecosystems healthy. In states like Texas where very little land is protected, public lands are even more important.

The park will play a vital role in protecting the environment, acting as a natural filter, absorbing rainwater to contribute to the aquifer, and contributing excess run-off water directly to Lake Travis—a huge benefit since Travis County faces water scarcity concerns. The park will also serve the wildlife of the area, creating corridors for animals to wander from habitat to habitat.

“Due to the families’ generosity and the foresight of Travis County, a large and very valuable property with significant conservation value will become parkland, benefiting wildlife, water quality, and future park goers in our community,” said Jeff Francell, associate director of land protection for The Nature Conservancy in Texas, an environmental nonprofit organization that helped facilitate the transaction.

County Judge Andy Brown, who helped lead the efforts to acquire the land for the county, added, “The Scott family's generosity also ensures that future generations will have the chance to experience the beauty and ecological value of this land. We look forward to collaborating with the community to develop a park that reflects the diverse needs and interests of our residents.”

The county will create a master plan for the land, but according to Texas Monthly, a home on the ranch is already slated to be turned an events center. The Scott family will retain ownership of 90 acres of land adjacent to what, but Travis County will have right of first refusal to buy that land if the family decides to sell in the future.

The park is expected to open to the public in late 2025.

Joy

Two women at a Texas Denny's realized it was short-staffed so they jumped in and started cooking

'We just looked at each other and it wasn't even a question. We both knew what we had to do.'

Courtesy of Sylvia Arrendondo

Strangers help restaurant serve customers.

We've all been there. Standing in line to be seated at a fairly busy restaurant while your stomach growls in protest. But when two women left a concert August 22 in search of food, they had no idea they'd find themselves taking orders and cooking food. Sylvia Arrendondo and her mother Idalia Merkel went to a local Denny's in Texas and were seated by another customer before realizing the restaurant was extremely short-staffed. Instead of taking their business elsewhere, they decided to roll up their sleeves and get to work.



Arrendondo wrote about the unique experience on her Facebook page where she explained that only two people were working. One was serving tables and the other was the cook. As for the man that was acting as host, seating new guests, he had no idea what he was doing because he didn't work there. He told Arrendondo and Merkel that his wife used to work at Denny's so she started helping to serve tables and he decided to help get people seated.

Idalia Merkel helping cook.

Courtesy of Sylvia Arrendondo

The service industry has been hit hard by the pandemic and the subsequent "great resignation." Complaints about low wages, poor management and rude customers that abuse staff members are just a few of the reasons cited by people who have left the industry. It may be surprising for some to learn that the federal minimum wage for tipped employees like servers and bussers is just $2.13 an hour. The rest of the wage is supposed to be made up of tips, which, depending on where you work, may be split at the end of the night between other workers. This act of splitting tips is called "tip pooling" and is calculated by number of hours worked.

Splitting tips after a long day of work dealing with customers who may not have been so kind would understandably make some people upset. But it didn't take a deep dive on the treatment of restaurant employees for Arrendondo and the other customers who helped out. They saw two seemingly college-aged kids doing their best to keep the place running and they didn't hesitate to jump in to help, completely unpaid.

When asked why she didn't just leave, Arrendondo said, "We just looked at each other and it wasn't even a question. We both knew what we had to do."

"This was probably the most beautiful act of American unity that I have personally encountered," Arrendondo told Upworthy. She added that the sole paid server would occasionally start to cry before being comforted by the cook, only to return the favor when he would get overwhelmed.

Talk about community.

These two kids had exhausted all of their resources, including calling their manager multiple times. And instead of customers getting angry, demanding better service or walking away, Arredondo and Merkel stepped up. The kindness of this group of strangers will surely stick with these employees and the people who were involved.

"The strength, courage and integrity by these two workers was beyond admirable. My mom and I have never been so proud and happy to help," Arrendondo told Upworthy. "After all, we have all been there."

Eventually after some convincing, the two employees shut the restaurant down and Arrendondo and Merkel went home much more tired than anticipated. Still hungry, but full of gratitude and pride.


This article originally appeared on 08.26.22

Jeronimo Noriega loves Spain.

The rising cost of living in the United States, combined with new technologies that make it easier to work wherever you like, has made it much more attractive for some to live and work in another country. Over 50 countries have made it easier by easing visa restrictions to encourage digital nomads to work within their borders.

Further, many people simply don’t like the rise-and-grind corporate mentality pervasive in the U.S. and prefer places that offer shorter workweeks, more vacation time and robust support systems.

They're tired of the hustle and bustle of the American work culture and are looking for a life that values personal happiness, family and relaxation.

Jeronimo Noriega is an American expat showing zero interest in returning to his hometown of San Antonio, Texas. The 27-year-old student has been living in Oviedo, Asturias, in Northwest Spain for the past 14 months after his family decided to pack up its bags and explore a new lifestyle.


In a viral TikTok video that has been seen over 5.4 million times, Noriega makes the case for why he has no interest in returning to Texas after falling in love with the Spanish way of life and cost of living.

@jeronimoooo0000

Who needs to be rich anyways give me some culture boiii

The first thing that Noriega admits is that salaries are better in Texas. However, everything balances out when you consider the cost of living. He says that people who make around €30,000 ($33,000) a year in Spain are “middle class” and that if you make €90,000 ($98,000) you can live like a king.

“Listen, if you're making 90 grand in the north of Spain, where I live right now, you're going to work in a limo. You're getting drinks at the Tennis Club after work,” Noriega said in the video. He also enjoys having 3-course meals with wine and coffee for “like 20 bucks.” In an interview with Business Insider, he said he routinely eats “delicious” dinner for just $11.

But what he really doesn’t miss about life back in Texas is the rise-and-grind lifestyle.

“What am I supposed to be in Dallas 2 hours a day and the car to get to work it back and never have time to do anything? No way,” he said in the video.” I love the work culture in Spain,” he told Business Insider. “In America, I felt like my only options were to rise and grind and get beat down by the machine, but everything is different here. In Spain, they seem to value their lives over their work — it's not even a work-life balance.”

He also says that in America, there is a deep dread within the culture that he doesn’t feel in Spain. “I love the US, but even the mood is different here,” Noriega admits. “In the US, there's turmoil going on underneath. No thank you.”

So, Noriega has no plans of returning to the U.S. anytime soon.

“Now that I've had a taste of what life is like outside the rat race, I'm not eager to get back on the wheel,” he told Business Insider. “Life is long, and you never know what will happen, but I'm staying here for the foreseeable future. All I have to do is take a walk to the coffee shop, have a delicious dinner for $11, or take a break in the middle of a weekday to remind myself why I'm staying.”


Joy

Texas community tackles homelessness in unique faith-based way, and it seems to be working

Proselytizing is banned, "preaching the gospel" is done through deeds, not words, and a caring community is continually being built.

Community First! Village

"Housing alone will never solve homelessness, but community will."

That's the philosophy of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, a faith-based organization in Travis County, Texas, that provides not only housing, but a caring, supportive community for people who have experienced chronic homelessness.

Homelessness is a challenging issue that affects communities across the United States, from small rural towns to large urban centers. It looks different in different places and for different people, but according to the 2022 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report, more than 580,000 people experienced homelessness in the United States on any given day in 2022.

Figuring out how to solve the multi-faceted problem is an ongoing struggle. Some advocate for simply providing housing, but that doesn't address the issues that might cause someone to be unable to maintain a home. Some suggest tackling the addiction and mental health disorders at the root of many homeless experiences, but that alone won't solve the problem, either.

Mobile Loaves & Fishes doesn't claim to have solved the homeless crisis, but the Community First! Village they've built sure looks like a solid step toward addressing it effectively.


Sitting at the outskirts of northeast Austin, Community First! Village is a 51-acre master-planned housing development that "provides affordable, permanent housing and a supportive community for men and women coming out of chronic homelessness." The village, which has been built up slowly and is slated to have 500 homes by the end of this year, has an outdoor movie theater and indoor spaces where residents can gather, an art house where they can create and express themselves, gardens where they can cultivate their own food and more.

Mobile Loves & Fishes founder Alan Graham taps into the heart of homelessness and explains why the community approach works with just a handful of words: "It's about being lonely, man."

The idea that community is the key to ending homelessness has been gleaned from the 35 years Mobile Loaves & Fishes has been serving meals and building relationships with their neighbors experiencing homelessness, learning about what they truly want and need. Their model is both simple and not—it's simple in its premise of focusing on personal connections, but multi-pronged in its approach to creating community. It truly takes a village to build this kind of community, but they're doing it.

As is clear in the name Mobile Loaves & Fishes, the organization doesn't hide its Christian foundation, but you'll rarely hear anyone involved talking about it overtly. Proselytizing in the community is not allowed—anyone who wants to share their faith shares it through deeds.

"What we want people to do is preach the gospel often, and only when necessary, use words," Graham told the Today show. They are all about showing love and faith through service rather than preaching to people about Christianity. "It's why most of our neighbors love Christ, but can't stand Christians," he added. There are no religious requirements in the community or for volunteers.

The community is not a utopia, of course. Residents bring struggles with them, but here they have a community to support them through those struggles.

"It's life. It's real life, with all the beauty in the marinade of dysfunction, all put into that one little tasty gumbo," said Graham. Residents aren't even required to be free from alcohol or drug use to find a home there.

"The two essential human needs are to be fully and wholly loved and fully and wholly known," said Graham. "And when you bring all that to the table, it creates an environment of welcoming."

Watch the Today show's segment on Community First! Village:

You can learn more about Mobile Loaves & Fishes and the other work they do in the Austin area to assist people experiencing homelessness at mlf.org.