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 empower 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.

Our Staff

Melinda Chow

Executive Director

Melinda began her executive director position with River Watch in February of 2016. She was drawn to the role because of her love of science, and her passion for community engagement and empowering young people. Previously, she served as outreach coordinator and manager of Hot Science Cool Talks at The University of Texas Environmental Science Institute. Her nonprofit experience spans two decades and includes Girls Rock Austin and KUT/KUTX, as well as the South Memphis Alliance in Tennessee, and the National Multicultural Institute in Washington D.C. She also served as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer in Memphis. Melinda has lived in Austin since 2006, and she has served on the boards of Girls Rock Austin and The Dumpster Project. She holds bachelor’s degrees in Biology and Anthropology, and a master’s degree in Applied Anthropology.

Amelia DeVivo

Program Director

Amelia has worked as a bilingual educator for AISD for the past eight years, with a passion and specialty for connecting youth with nature. Her outdoor educational experience includes coordinating and leading the Gulf Coast Expedition, a nature immersion camp for young adults along the Texas Gulf Coast studying conservation and coastal ecology. For her master’s thesis, Amelia designed, implemented, and evaluated an urban school agricultural program in Austin, developing STEM skills, SEL, and health and nutritional outcomes in underprivileged youth. Amelia graduated from Texas State University in May 2018 with her MS in Geography.

Beth Bennett

Senior Program Coordinator

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.

Chanel Davis

Program Coordinator

Chanel has been serving as an AmeriCorps member with 4-H CAPITAL as an Animal Science Team Leader. While at 4-H she developed inquiry-based STEM curriculum, 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.

Emma Walsh

Program & Administrative Coordinator

Emma has worked with AYRW for the past year as a Program Assistant, working directly with the River Watchers and helping to facilitate programming. She also gained outdoor educational experience as a nature-based Activity Specialist at Camacho Activity Center and while leading 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 urban sustainability and environmental education.

Our Board

Fidel Campuzano

Fidel Campuzano

Board President

Firm Administrator, Lincoln-Goldfinch Law, PLLC

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

Stephanie Kover

Stephanie Kover

Board Member

Attorney, Scott, Douglass, & McConnico, LLP

Alisa Miller

Alisa Miller

Board Member

Freelance Writer and Copy Editor

Andreina Alexatos

Andreina Alexatos

Board Member

Director of Reforestation, TreeFolks

Meg Krueger

Meg Krueger

Board Member

Program Operations and Compliance Director, American Youthworks

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.