Founder's Story

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Richard Halpin grew up in Montclair, New Jersey and came to Austin to attend St. Edward’s University. Richard’s first job in college was driving the theater professor to the state school to work with groups of children who had Down’s Syndrome. Through this experience Richard witnessed the first of many “people miracles” that have filled his life.

Richard graduated from St. Edward’s, but not without a traumatic intervention — a motorcycle accident that left him unable to walk. Richard determined that he would not only walk again, he would also spend the rest of his life serving God by helping people. Five grueling years later Richard was walking. With one year left to go to complete his degree, he finished and graduated with the first B.A. in Theatre that St. Edward’s awarded.

Right out of college Richard worked with Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, Free the Slow, Inc. and the Texas Legislature to stop patient abuse and create the least restrictive and most educational environment for students at the state school. Richard then approached then-Travis County Judge Mike Renfro with a suggested plan for training and teaching skills to county inmates. Richard started the program with a small grant and a group of prisoners, 80% of whom were illiterate, school drop outs.

That experience led Richard to begin a quest to reach at-risk youth before their first brush with trouble. Richard set out on a quest to establish a community charter school for what some people call “at-risk youth,” but Richard calls “at-promise youth.” Regardless of tough times, Richard pushed forward, believing that if you give kids a pathway to success they’ll use it.

Richard’s enthusiasm quickly swept others into supporting what has become American YouthWorks. Austin’s music community was especially enthusiastic. The late Clifford Antone talked blues musician Freddy King into playing a concert for American YouthWorks’ students. That connection with Clifford Antone continues today. Help Clifford Help Kids, named for the event’s founder the late Clifford Antone, is held every year to celebrate his memory and support his favorite cause, American YouthWorks.  American YouthWorks has helped close to 20,000 high school dropouts in Travis County alone. They have pioneered a comprehensive one stop service-learning based program.

Richard is married and has four grown children.

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