Hilltop Views

Graduate develops nonprofit, provides low-cost housing for Austin musicians

Robert Wells

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It was just a couple of years ago that I was a senior rocketing toward the end of my time as a Hilltopper and the start of my life in grad school and beyond. I had a pretty clear idea of how the future was going to look and what my place would be in it. However, it turns out I was dead wrong.

When I was a sophomore, my parish put me on track to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. I graduated and submitted the big final application to the Diocese. My friends and my congregation all were so positive and encouraging. I had a real certainty around that time that things were in the right place.

However, a couple of months later, I was informed that the Bishop had no interest in hiring someone with disabilities. Though I don’t like to be defined by such terms, my brain works a little differently than most. Such a difference was unwelcome. To put it bluntly, I was done.

Like it or not, those great plans you have may not work out the way you hope. Believe me, I really hate to rain on your parade.

However, this is not a bitter account of failure and misery. Stories just sometimes look that way in the middle. In hindsight, it seems rather providential that things would come together like they did.

With no plan, I began to look around for what I could do with where I was. Through a series of odd coincidences, I stumbled into ownership of a piece of land in South Austin. At the same time, I was watching my friends and fellow musicians being driven out of town by rising costs of living in Austin.

With some friends and fellow St. Edward’s graduates, I ended up founding a nonprofit corporation called Odd Meter Collective. Though we’re just in the early stages, we’re developing a communal housing unit in the heart of South Austin that will provide space at little or no cost to over half a dozen local musicians. Construction is slated to start in the next few months with the first residents joining the Collective just over a year from now. We also have plans to expand over the next decade.

Formerly busy with seminary and training to be a cleric, I’m now busy meeting with city officials and potential donors. I don’t know if I would have been a good priest. I may never know, or the world may turn and put me back where I began.

However, I’m pretty good at what I’m doing, and this new task stands a good chance of making my little corner of the world a better place. Nonetheless, I am still sticking with ministry—just finding a new path to it.

So, what’s the advice I think I’m qualified to give? I’m not sure. I don’t have any magic words to make life easy for you, but the difficult stuff is what makes it all interesting. Don’t put too much trust in your own plans. Have faith and do not be afraid (but it’s okay if you are). Be good to your friends, and everyone else, too. Enjoy the time you’ve got and do what good you can with it.

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Graduate develops nonprofit, provides low-cost housing for Austin musicians