This year’s Moontower Ball recognized women making intentional strides for change in Austin.
By Cy White, Photos courtesy of Notley
On Feb. 4, the second annual Notley Moontower Ball recognized some of Austin’s most innovative and intentional changemakers. Part awards show, part gala, it was a celebration of the city’s dedication to fostering tangible, substantial change to the status quo. The evening’s keynote speaker, Amanda Nguyen, a 2019 Nobel Peace Prize nominee and 2022 TIME Woman of the Year, shared her experience and ignited the room with her powerful story. She’s more than a sexual assault survivor; she’s a fighter, an undeniable example of how believing in one’s strength can push them to be a voice for the voiceless.
“Gathering in space at the Moontower Ball was beautiful,” says Denise Hernández, judge of County Court at Law #6 in Travis County. “These moments of celebration are so important because we tell each other, ‘I see you!’ That’s what left a deep impression on me at the Moontower Ball, the way we held space for each other to honor, see and uplift the good work of local changemakers.”
With the intoxicating melodies of a saxophonist, a set curated by “Obama’s DJ,” DJ Mel, and live paintings from artist Beth Consetta Rubel keeping attendees riveted, one would be forgiven for believing this was only a night for folks to make merry. But at the heart of it, the event is really an earnest means to honestly address the issues facing the city and those who have made it their mission to provide actionable solutions for those issues.
Three women were recognized: Sarah Jones Simmer, CEO of Found, “a digital health platform on a mission to make evidence-based, sustainable weight care accessible for all”; Nora Linares-Moeller, executive director of HousingWorks Austin, a nonprofit that “conducts research, educational initiatives and advocacy around housing affordability in Austin and the Central Texas region”; and Hernández. The three won Innovative For Profit, Affordability Champion and Racial Justice Champion, respectively.
For Jones Simmer, a mother of two daughters and a two-year breast cancer survivor, the Moontower Ball offers a unique opportunity for those doing hands-on work in the community to get the acknowledgment they deserve. “The most special moment was being able to celebrate the recognition together with a few of our teammates who live in and around Austin,” she says. “We all gathered on stage to accept the award together, which was really meaningful, especially since some of the early employees have been with the company longer than I have! I was thrilled to see their great work recognized.”
As she accepted her award, Hernández understood the gravity of the moment, the reality that this recognition is a catalyst for honest conversations around racial justice. “The courtroom is often a traumatizing space,” she says. “My lived experience has shaped my personal mission to increase fair and equitable access to the courtroom. This recognition has further propelled that mission by offering a platform of awareness around racial justice, safe space, trauma-informed practices and collective care. Racial justice and fair access to the legal system are deeply intertwined. When we acknowledge that, we can begin to transform our legal system for the better.”
Linares-Moeller was awed at the undeniable radiant power in the room. Receiving the Affordability Champion distinction only further propelled her dedication for providing affordable housing for everyone in Austin. “Our passion for housing affordability in our community is led by my board of directors, staff, housing advocates (some of them my fellow nominees) who all believe like I do that nothing is more important than having a healthy and stable home for every individual or family who needs one,” she says. “This award just fuels our mission even further.”