The Atheist Community of Austin
In April of 1996, Kellen Von Houser contacted a few local atheists by email. She proposed getting together at some centrally located eatery for the purpose of discussing atheism. Some time later, she placed an advertisement in the back of The Chronicle. That small ad attracted the attention of a number of atheists, many of whom became very active in the group. The ACA exists because of one woman's desire to end her atheist isolation and meet other atheists—and because of her willingness to work for it with her own time and money. Spike Tyson, director of American Atheists, also contacted local members and let them know about the new local group.
The group met at the Hot Jumbo Bagelry on the corner of West Fifth and Lavaca in downtown Austin. Things remained very informal for a number of months. In April and May there were about 12-14 people present, mostly members of American Atheists.
Early on, an atheist email discussion group was set up. This allowed atheists who couldn't make it to the bagel shop meetings a chance to engage in intelligent, reality-based conversation. By September, however, meetings were down to only 8-10 people. Although 25-30 people had been attending meetings that summer, the disorganization and difficulty in hearing others talk in the bagelry must have frustrated many who showed up. Howard Thompson and Kellen discussed giving the meetings more structure so people knew what to expect. The group needed a "greeter", (Keith Berka started it right from the first), identification of who showed up, a newsletter, business time, and social/discussion time. It was decided that at least a semi-formal group structure was needed, and planning for more formally establishing the group commenced.
After several informal monthly gatherings, the Atheist Community of Austin was formally founded on December 15, 1996, by which time it had attracted around 60 members. By June 1997, the ACA had its own website (a relatively new medium at the time) to reach out to fellow atheists on the internet. The first episode of The Atheist Experience, a pre-recorded pilot, aired on October 19, 1997.
One of the first tasks was the naming of the group. The choices were narrowed down to: Atheist Community of Austin, Atheist Society of Austin, and Capital City Atheists. The name Atheist Community of Austin won by a landslide.
During the Sunday, February 1st meeting, the group approved the preamble (Statement of Purpose) of the ACA charter. Diane Mankedick, Jeff Dee, Howard Thompson, Cyndi Miller, Keith Berka, and others worked on the preamble.
As of February 10th 1997, our small group was recognized by the Secretary of the State of Texas as the Atheist Community of Austin, Inc. A Steering Committee, headed by Howard Thompson, began to meet to hammer out the organizational details. A separate Charter Committee was approved by the steering committee to write our charter. Our charter, constitution, and bylaws took some time to complete as many people had strong feelings as to how these important documents should be worded. Eventually consensus was reached and our charter and constitution were voted on and adopted in May of 1997. Don Rhodes and Kellen Von Houser served as the groups first Co-Coordinators and initial board members under the new charter.