Community Outreach

Outreach activities at the Austin Zen Center have included providing pen pals and meditation instruction to prison and jail inmates; providing nonperishable foods to the Hope Food Pantry, environmental stewardship and services, and offering meditation classes and general information about Zen Buddhism to local schools. We welcome volunteers for the following outreach activities:

Food Pantry

The Austin Zen Center partners with the Trinity United Methodist Church to collect non-perishable food to be distributed to those in need. All are welcome to bring food items to AZC and leave them in the basket in the foyer. When the basket is full we deliver its contents to the Hope Food Pantry.

Hospice Volunteers

Hospice volunteers serve in a variety of roles, including visiting patients, walking pets of patients, bereavement support, and office duties. Participation in a hospice volunteer training program (like Hospice Austin) is a prerequisite for becoming a volunteer. For more information contact Barbara Noblin at

Prison Outreach

In accordance with the Austin Zen Center’s endeavor to relieve suffering through social action based on practices that develop mental resilience and altruism, we help inmates cultivate wholesome changes of mind and behavior that facilitate a more positive experience during incarceration and a successful re-entry into society.

AZC has had members who functioned as volunteer meditation/Buddhism teaches in area prisons and the center has an ongoing interest in supporting this sort of work. We also support inmates through prison pen-pal correspondence. For the right practitioner, teaching in prison can be a wonderful form of practice and service. That said, although many people feel called to serve this community, it is not for everyone. We ask that everyone who considers volunteering to serve in this way has the resources and resiliency required for this work, including having a daily meditation practice, a basic understanding of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, and the availability to check in regularly with AZC Leadership or with designated members who have experience in this sort of work.

If you feel that you may be interested in participating as a volunteer or a pen-pal please contact

Prison BuddhaPals

One of the easiest ways to participate in prison outreach is to become a BuddhaPal. This involves corresponding with an inmate who has requested a Buddhist pen-pal. Letters are sent to the Austin Zen Center and picked up at the Center so as to ensure everyone’s safety. There are guidelines for this relationship.

This relationship has often proven to be beneficial both for the inmate and for the BuddhaPal Pen-pal.

Many interested inmates have been practicing for several years, and some have taken the precepts in prison. They are wonderful people who have some problems, much like the rest of us. As prisoners they are very connected to their suffering, which can be a fruitful place of practice.

For those interested in writing to prisoners who are interested in learning more about Zen Buddhist practice, contact Daniel at Donations of Dharma books for prisoners are also welcome.

Texas Interfaith Power and Light

Texas Interfaith Power and Light (TXIPL) is a nonprofit religious education project that helps congregations of all faiths in Texas take action to reduce global warming and air pollution through energy conservation and renewable energy strategies. TXIPL provides education and training needed to incorporate emissions reduction and renewable energy into day-to-day activities and operations.

Austin Interfaith Environmental Network

The Austin Zen Center has been a member of the Austin Interfaith Environmental Network, whose work is to inspire and assist Austin’s religious communities to lead the effort to care for the earth and to transform ways of life that cause climate change; to provide experiences to allow the community to enjoy, understand, and appreciate creation (e.g. nature hikes, canoeing); and to satisfy environmental needs of the community, especially the underserved. (e.g. creek clean up, gardening).