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External photo of LifeWorks Austin East Austin offices in the evening, showing entrance and sidewalk.
Insights: Greater Austin

LifeWorks: Celebrating 25 Years of Fearless Advocacy for Youth

Guest Author: Susan McDowell, LifeWorks CEO

Austin’s youth and families deserve a stable life they love. As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of LifeWorks Austin, we are reminded of the organization’s unwavering commitment to empowering Austin’s youth through every step of their journey.

Over the years, LifeWorks Austin has been grateful to play a role as a fearless advocate, serving thousands of individuals with innovative solutions and collaborative initiatives. As we look back, I can’t help but be inspired by the profound impact I’ve seen LifeWorks make over the past 25 years in our community. I am personally grateful for the staff and community support we have received and deeply moved by the impact I’ve seen on the lives of young people in Austin over these years.

The Beginnings: A Commitment to Serve

LifeWorks began in July 1998, when four non-profits merged: Child and Family Service, Pathways Community Counseling, Teenage Parent Council of Austin, and Youth Options. LifeWorks started with a clear mission: to serve as fearless advocates for youth and young families experiencing homelessness and related challenges. This aim was embodied through fulfilling needs for housing, education, workforce, and counseling services. Over the last two and a half decades, LifeWorks has stayed true to this mission, serving over 4,000 youth and families each year in Austin and Central Texas. This initiative was a pioneering step towards a brighter future for many young individuals and their families.

LifeWorks East Austin Campus: A Beacon of Hope

In 2010, we broke ground on our East Austin Campus, establishing a state-of-the-art building that serves as a safe, welcoming space for youth experiencing homelessness. Inside the Youth Resource Center, youth receive counseling services and workforce support tailored to our needs. Additionally, LifeWorks constructed The Works in 2014, an apartment building with 45 units housing for other clients. Later, a second apartment building, The Works II, added 29 units of safe, affordable housing to the East Campus.

Both The Works I and II are within the same space, just a few feet away, with all supportive services available to clients.

Milestones in Advocacy: The 100-Day Challenge

In 2016, LifeWorks was selected to participate in A Way Home America’s 100-Day Challenge, an initiative aimed at housing 50 or more youth in 100 days. LifeWorks not only met this challenge but exceeded it. This accomplishment laid the groundwork for an ambitious mission: to end youth homelessness in Austin by 2020.

Developing and Implementing System-Wide Changes

The 100-Day Challenge inspired us to embark on a three-year multi-agency initiative, taking the lead role in developing and implementing city-wide systems and protocols to ensure youth homelessness becomes a rare, brief, and non-recurring event. We collaborated with partners at local, state, and federal levels, including Austin ISD, Caritas of Austin, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, and the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, among local, state, and federal partners. This endeavor furthered LifeWorks’ impact and amplified our advocacy efforts. More than 1,300 youth have found permanent housing as a result.

25 Years On: A Legacy of Fearless Advocacy

Today, after 25 years of relentless service, over 100,000 people have walked through the doors of LifeWorks for services and support. The organization stands tall as a beacon of hope, with over 200 staff members empowering Austin area youth and young adults with a pathway to a stable life they will love. Every day, we continue to provide support, believing that everyone deserves a home, a chance to work, and a chance to heal. LifeWorks Austin’s 25-year journey tells a tale of dedication, service, and unyielding commitment to ending youth homelessness and making a difference in the lives of youth and young adults in Austin and beyond.

Headshot Susan McDowell smiling red shirt blue blazer outside LifeWorks

About the Author

Susan McDowell serves as the chief executive officer of LifeWorks, a youth and family services organization in Austin, Texas. McDowell’s tenure at LifeWorks, which has spanned over 25 years, reflects her compassion-driven leadership and commitment to fearless advocacy for youth.

Born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, McDowell obtained a B.A. in Philosophy from Vanderbilt University before moving to Austin to earn her M.A. in Philosophy from The University of Texas.