Austin Youth River Watch (AYRW) provides multi-year

after school and summer programs for high school students.

We combine peer mentoring with intensive environmental education, and engage youth through nature-based and experiential service-learning programs in environmental science.

River Watchers collect, analyze, and publish water quality data from Austin-area streams and rivers. They report their data to local and statewide agencies.

River Watchers engage with community partners and local volunteers on environmental restoration and green infrastructure projects. Through these projects, they are actively working with community members to improve environmental conditions, and they learn about potential career paths.

River Watchers have opportunities for adventures regularly in our program. We help instill a love of nature in this next generation of environmental stewards by providing experiences in camping, paddling, and a wide variety of other types of outdoor activities. For most River Watchers, these are first-time ever outdoor adventure experiences.

 

Our Mission

Austin Youth River Watch transforms and inspires youth through environmental education, community engagement, and adventure.

As a result of our work, youth are better prepared create positive outcomes for themselves and the environment, ensuring a better future for all.

Our History

In the early 1990’s, Jack Goodman and Wes Halverson led an effort to create Austin Youth River Watch.

Our Staff & Board

Learn about our dedicated staff and board members

Frequently Asked Questions

Asked and answered. Some of the most important questions about AYRW and what exactly we do.

In the early 1990’s, sparked by a belief that Austin could benefit enormously from a program that mentored high school students in both personal accountability and environmental stewardship, Jack Goodman and Wes Halverson led an effort to create Austin Youth River Watch.

With initial funding and long-term support from the City of Austin and LCRA, we began teaching students to collect and track water-quality data. Students also learned leadership skills and were encouraged to stay in school.

In the early days, Austin Youth River Watch’s first Program Director was Dani Apodaca, and Dani’s creativity and energy were essential in creating and building our core program. Back then, this combination of drop-out prevention and long-term environmental stewardship had never been tried before! In 1999, after establishing a sustainable and well-respected program at Austin Youth River Watch, Dani joined the staff at LCRA. Today, he is our primary liaison with LCRA, through their Colorado River Watch Network. (Learn more about CRWN here.)

After Dani left, the next Program Director at Austin Youth River Watch was a young woman who had been one of Dani’s earliest students, Elisabeth Welsh. Elisabeth was Program Director from 1999 through 2016. River Watch added a Program Coordinator in 2008, hired the organization’s first paid Executive Director in 2010, and began to expand its reach.

In the last few years, Austin Youth River Watch has engaged more community partners, grown in staff, expanded its program offerings, and has progressively served many more Austin-area students to become the organization it is today.

Indigenous Land Acknowledgment

Austin Youth River Watch (AYRW) would like to acknowledge that our office is situated on the Indigenous lands of Turtle Island, the ancestral name for what now is called North America.

Moreover, we would like to specifically acknowledge the Alabama-Coushatta, Caddo, Carrizo/Comecrudo, Coahuiltecan, Comanche, Kickapoo, Lipan Apache, Tonkawa, and Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo, and all the American Indian and Indigenous Peoples and communities who have been or have become a part of these lands and territories in Texas.

AYRW further recognizes that the Lipan Apache, Tonkawa, Caddo, and Coahuiltecan were forcibly removed from this land in order for colonizers to settle on what is now known as the city of Austin. Despite this oppressive legacy of colonialism, we stand in solidarity with those that have historically suffered from racial injustices and those that continue to combat systemic racism in society. We seek to understand and celebrate both ancestral and contemporary contributions of Native peoples’ past, present, and future.

AYRW Board and Staff members understand that this land acknowledgement is
only one part of its mission to continuously educate, advocate for, and support
indigenous communities everywhere. With this in mind, AYRW is committed to the
following:
   

  • Actively practicing anti-racist pedagogy specifically through the formation of an AYRW Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Committee that focuses on learning, action, and JEDI-informed systems change at all levels of our organization.
  • Incorporating educational components in our program curricula centered on the rich cultural customs, practices, and beliefs of native populations that have inhabited Hornsby Bend and Central Texas.
  • Participating in collaborative efforts with the Indigenous Cultues Institute and with UT’s Native American and Indigenous Studies Program that aim to inform and educate students, staff, board, and the broader AYRW community on indigenous cultures.
  • Attend the Austin Powwow annually along with students to learn and celebrate the traditions, heritage, and culture of American Indians, while supporting health and education initiatives for Native youth and families.

Resources: 

Our Staff

Melinda Chow

Executive Director

Melinda became the executive director of Austin Youth River Watch in February 2016. She was drawn to River Watch because of her love of science, and her passion for community engagement and empowering young people. Previously, she served as manager of the science outreach series "Hot Science - Cool Talks" at The University of Texas Environmental Science Institute. Her professional experience spans over two decades and includes Austin public radio stations KUT & KUTX, Girls Rock Austin, the South Memphis Alliance in Memphis, Tennessee, and the National Multicultural Institute in Washington, D.C. She also served as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer in Memphis. Melinda has served on the boards of the international Girls Rock Camp Alliance, Girls Rock Austin, and The Dumpster Project, and she currently serves on the boards of Austin Outside and EarthShare of Texas. She holds bachelor’s degrees in Biology and Anthropology, and a master’s degree in Applied Anthropology.

Chanel Davis

Program Manager

Prior to Austin Youth River Watch, Chanel served as an AmeriCorps member with 4-H CAPITAL as an Animal Science Team Leader. While at 4-H she developed inquiry-based STEM curriculums, cared for program animals, and supported team members with lesson planning and behavior management. She gained outdoor education experience through working as a camp counselor with the New York Department of Conservation, community outreach intern with Buffalo-Niagara Waterkeeper, and study abroad trips to Hawaii, South Africa, and Costa Rica. She graduated from Canisius College in Buffalo, NY in 2018 with a BS in Animal Behavior, Ecology, & Conservation & Environmental Studies and a MS in Education.

Beth Bennett

Program Manager

Beth began her program coordinator role at Austin Youth River Watch in August 2017, and transitioned into the senior program coordinator role in August 2019. What drew her to this position was providing youth a new way of experiencing nature based activities with hands on science. Previously, Beth has been an environmental educator and outreach leader at the Camacho Activity Center, the Austin Nature and Science Center, and the Colorado River Alliance. While at Camacho, she created and implemented Dirt Divas, a program in girls empowerment and sustainability. Additionally, Beth gained experience through various professional and community engagements while earning her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and Policy at St. Edward’s University. These include internships in International Water Policy, Global Understanding, and serving as a leader on campus sustainability initiatives. Beth graduated in December 2016 among the top of her class with multiple honors.

Emma Walsh

Special Projects Manager

Emma's role allows her to work directly with the River Watchers while helping to facilitate programming needs at an intimate level. Her efforts extend to social media management, grant procurement and coordination of fundraising events. She has gained outdoor educational experience as a nature-based Activity Specialist at Camacho Activity Center and has lead guided snorkel tours of the San Marcos River. Emma graduated in May 2019 with her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from UT Austin with a focus on geography and GIS applications.

Austin Myatt

Program Specialist

I am currently a senior at St. Edward's University where I am pursuing a degree in Environmental Science and Policy with a concentration in Biology. From a young age, I’ve always had an immense interest in the natural environment. That led me on a path of becoming involved in protecting it. I am deeply interested in environmental law, marine restoration, and environmental policy. I hope to utilize all of the knowledge and experience from my environmental science degree to contribute toward protecting our world’s natural ecosystems, and ensuring a future where all individuals have equal access to a pristine environment.

Andrea Bailey-Ortiz

Program Specialist

After being an AEL intern and graduating from The University of Texas at Austin, where I pursued a major in Urban Studies and a minor in Architectural History, I am currently a Program Specialist at AYRW. As I continue my education to become a Latina architect, my personal goal is to approach the field with a holistic perspective and a conscientious philosophy that allows me to consider social, economic, and environmental impacts. That will, as a result, produce equitable outcomes for communities, cities, and the environment. To achieve this, I am deeply interested in continuing to learn more about other fields, such as sustainability, preservation, economics, social justice, government, among others, and their relationship to architecture.

David Morris

Operations Manager

David made his transition to staff after being on the Board of Directors and serving as Board Secretary for 3-years, where he actively engaged students via programming, extracurricular activities, STEM clubs and design competitions. His nonprofit involvement includes driving a 40-foot mobile science museum for Texas Alliance for Minorities in Engineering (TAME); and fighting food insecurities as Board Secretary of Sunday Lunchbox. As a consultant, David owns a design firm specializing in the construction and operation of building infrastructure systems; and another firm with an emphasis on product development and prototyping. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Michigan State University.

Our Board of Directors

Fidel Campuzano

Fidel Campuzano

Board President

Firm Administrator, Lincoln-Goldfinch Law, PLLC

Meg Krueger

Meg Krueger

Board Secretary

Program Operations and Compliance Director, American Youthworks

Jonathan Barona

Jonathan Barona

Board Vice President

Special Projects Manager, Austin Community Foundation

James Tinley

James Tinley

Board Treasurer

Assistant General Counsel, Texas Ethics Commission

Andreina Alexatos

Andreina Alexatos

Board Member

Director of Reforestation, TreeFolks

Apryl Rosas

Apryl Rosas

Board Member

Residential Treatment Center Project Coordinator, Texas Health and Human Services

Bryan Nya

Bryan Nya

Board Member

Consultant

Scott Del Rossi

Scott Del Rossi

Board Member

Managing Director of Programs, College Forward

Velissa Chapa

Velissa Chapa

Board Member

Legal Counsel to Commissioner Representing Employers, Texas Workforce Commission

Michelle Bright

Michelle Bright

Board Member

Senior Designer at Asakura Robinson

Advisory Board

Alisa Miller

Alisa Miller

Development Committee

Freelance Writer and Copy Editor

Katy Avenson

Katy Avenson

Finance Committee

Partner at Avenson Hamann CPAs, LLP

Philosophy and Policy of Non-Discrimination

Austin Youth River Watch (AYRW) is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for all persons and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, ethnic identity, age, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, religion, or veteran status in employment, educational programs, volunteer activities, events, or any other activities.

Furthermore, Austin Youth River Watch is committed to building a workplace and a community that is just and equitable, and that values diversity, inclusion, and belonging. In October 2020, AYRW created a committee through which this commitment was formally activated. A copy of the charter of the AYRW Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee can be found here. As part of this commitment, AYRW became a member of the first cohort of the national Working Towards Racial Equity initiative in May 2021, and our journey continues to this day.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do River Watchers do?

Our student participants, River Watchers, start out by learning the basics of water quality monitoring. As trainees, they learn skills and knowledge from their fellow students, visiting scientists, and our staff of professional educators. Many River Watchers stay in the program throughout high school, eventually becoming peer mentors. Our programs take a holistic approach, focusing on environmental education, while also incorporating social and emotional learning.

Austin Youth River Watch combines environmental education with youth development. Our programs are safe places for teenagers to grow and gain confidence while learning to be active stewards of our planet. We strive for every one of our River Watchers to finish high school and to be prepared for a successful, fulfilling life.

How do students get in to River Watch?

Many of our new River Watchers are referred by current River Watchers, friends, and family members. We also have liaisons, typically teachers or counselors, at local schools. In our after school program, we serve students that attend 10 different high schools, nine in Austin ISD and Manor High School. In our summer program, and through fields trips and presentations, we serve students who attend over a dozen other additional schools in the Austin area.

We are especially interested in students who are early in their high school career, and who would benefit from additional support along the path to high school graduation and college admission. If you know someone who might be a good fit for our programs, please fill out this form or contact Program Director, Amelia DeVivo at (512) 708-9115 or amelia@riverwatchers.org.

How’s the water quality in Austin?

We get this question all the time! Like all cities, Austin has its share of pollution. However, our water quality is surprisingly good for such a large urban area. Our students find that the pollution levels in our streams are somewhat variable, and that pollution tends to peak after a large rainfall, when rain washes motor oil, fertilizers, and other dangerous substances into local storm drains. It all ends up in the river!

For recent data on water quality, visit our data page here.

What is your federal tax identification number?

The federal tax identification number for Austin Youth River Watch is 74-2607076, and the organization is exempt under section 501(c)c(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Download a copy of our W-9 here.

Where can I find your most recent 990 and audit reports?

Here’s a link to our most recent 990. Here’s a link to our most recent audit report.