Vocalize your Waco Pride!

by Ashley Bean Thornton

(In an earlier post we introduced three big goals for Waco (1) Make Waco a city of opportunity. (2) Make sure pathways to opportunity are clear and well marked. (3) Provide effective support to help more of us keep our footing on the path. In this blog Ashley Thornton explores some ideas regarding goal #1.)  

I’m a Baylor grad, and this weekend, in case you didn’t notice, was Baylor Homecoming. One of my college roommates, Linda, was in town from Dallas. I will confess we had chocolate shakes at Wataburger instead of going to the bonfire and slept too late on Saturday to make it to the parade. When we finally did get up and going Saturday morning, we made our way to the Waco Downtown Farmer’s Market where Linda picked up an eco-friendly necklace for her daughter and a jar of gourmet peach jam for herself. She was slightly bitter towards me because we had already eaten breakfast, so she couldn’t comfortably avail herself of a pumpkin-pecan crepe.

parade pic

We missed the parade (Shhh!), but here’s a random pic from the internet — probably not even this year! Ha!

From the Farmer’s Market we headed to Austin Avenue where we whiled away the rest of the morning laughing and trying on vintage and not so vintage clothes with Brenda Atchison at B Joy Bijoux. After our fashion fun, we were ready for lunch – back to the house for our traditional homecoming feast of Poppa Rollo’s pizza after the parade. (Don’t tell anyone we didn’t actually GO to the parade!) We spent the rest of the afternoon browsing the “Craftapalooza” at the Waco Convention Center where I picked up a few early Christmas presents. We did eventually watch the Baylor game on TV, so I didn’t score a total zero as a proud alum (Sic’em Bears!), even so, the weekend turned out to be more about Waco than about Baylor. 

My point is this: I don’t know when I have spent a more pleasant day in any city in Texas. To be sure, part of the pleasure was the good company of a good friend. But a big part of the pleasure was Waco itself. I am proud of Waco, proud to show it off to my friends, proud to invite people to visit, proud to brag about how much fun I have living here.

“Well, I’m glad you had a nice homecoming, Ashley,” you may be thinking, “but what does that have to do with the price of tea in … well…anywhere?”

As was discussed in an earlier post, one of the things we must do if we want to reduce our rate of poverty in Waco is to make Waco a city of opportunity – a city with good jobs that pay well. In other words we must energize the whole Waco economy. Understatement alert: There are a lot of pieces to that puzzle.

Some of the pieces have to do with recruiting employers, growing our cluster industries, increasing wages and strengthening our workforce pipeline — things which, frankly, I often feel are outside of my sphere of influence as a plain old Waco citizen.

Some of the pieces, however, have to do with making sure that people recognize Waco as the kind of city where they want to live, the kind of community where they might want to start businesses, the kind of city a young person might want to stay in (or return to) after she finishes her education. That is exactly the kind of city my college roommate and I experienced on this lovely homecoming Saturday, and I don’t mind telling people about it.  Making sure that people (at least the people I know)  recognize that Waco is a great place to live is well within my sphere of influence — yours too. It is a part we can all play in building up Waco.

We can all make sure our friends, visitors, relatives, acquaintances, and students know what a terrific place Waco already is — and we can express our confidence that the future is even brighter. Every now and then I am in the company of someone who has fallen into the unfortunate habit of complaining about Waco or talking wistfully about other cities where they would like to live. I am trying to get in the habit of (mostly) gently challenging those complaints instead of letting them pass. Yes, we still have some work to do – but my gosh! Look around you! If you can’t find enough good things about Waco to make you proud of what is happening here, you are not paying attention!

Just the other day while enjoying my first Hot Chocolate of the season at Dichotomy Coffee and Spirits downtown (another terrific new place to show off), I had a great conversation with a new friend. He mentioned that his brother-in-law was a Baylor student who stayed in Waco and started a business. Now the business is thriving and not only are he and his family still here in town, but his parents have moved to town to help run it — more’s the better for the Waco economy!  That’s just one example, but it is indicative of the kind of upward movement that can take place when people recognize the potential of Waco and decide they want to be a part of that potential.

I wonder how that Baylor student came to know that Waco was a great place to live, a place where he might want to settle and start a business? Maybe someone just told him. Maybe some proud Wacoan introduced him to the best breakfast tacos in town and bragged a little about all the things to love in Waco. Be that person! Vocalize your Waco pride!

Favorable Conditions for People to Advance

by Jodi Stacey, Community Activist and organizer of the Low Income Families in Transition (L.I.F.T) workshop at First Baptist Church Waco.

In last week’s blog we introduced three big goals for Waco (1) Make Waco a city of opportunity. (2) Make sure pathways to opportunity are clear and well marked. (3) Provide effective support to help more of us keep our footing on the path. In this blog Ms. Stacey explores some ideas regarding goal #2.

Many of the people we serve are uneducated, undereducated, and/or lacking in technical skills. This has led to a shortage of career opportunities for them. They are most often unemployed or underemployed. The issue of a lack of education is often omitted during client consultations; yet, our clients’ problems for which they are seeking help are inextricably tied to their income and income earning potential. A simple example in the poverty law setting is a client who is a single mom facing an eviction from her apartment for failure to pay rent. Her hours were reduced to less than 30 hours per week at her $7.25/hour job, leaving her unable to pay her rent this month or in the future. We discuss her eviction rights and housing options, but do not discuss why her hours were reduced; whether she would like a referral to a nonprofit for job search, resume, and interviewing assistance; and whether she has thought about a certification or two-year degree at a local community college to start a career and how that goal might be accomplished.

We often provide services and guidance without a full picture of the human potential sitting in front of us and without an assessment of options available to them to improve their economic outcome in the future. The same clients return time and time again, and we wonder why. Why aren’t they doing anything differently to change their future? My question is whether we, as a community of people striving to help others, are doing anything differently to create the conditions that are favorable for people to advance themselves? Are we in agreement that a high school diploma or GED is insufficient to obtain employment with a sustainable wage and that higher education (at any level) provides the best chance to open the doors to careers with sustainable wages? If so, are we open and honest with our clients about this issue?

We, as social service providers, churches, school districts, community colleges, universities, and the business community, must be closely networked to develop clear paths to prosperity – “Career Pathways.” These paths must be so well developed and articulated in the community that people want to come back to education because they are convinced that careers and better jobs are within their reach. We can work together to align social services and funding to remove the most difficult barriers to education for working poor, first generation, and at-risk students so that they can enter college and graduate with a certificate, 2-year degree, or 4-year degree.

ACPfinalcover2I encourage you to read The Career Pathways Effect: Linking Education and Economic Prosperity, a joint publication of CORD and NASDCTEc, as well as Adult Career Pathways: Providing a Second Chance in Public Education (second edition 2011), by Richard Hinckley, Debra Mills, and Hope Cotner. These books provide a great place to begin a community conversation. CORD stands for the Center for Occupational Research and Development and is located at 4901 Bosque Blvd. in Waco. The President and CEO of CORD is Richard Hinckley. I read these books after moving to Colorado, and they have greatly influenced how I view community strategic planning and the importance of creating clear “Career Pathways” for high school students preparing for their future and for adults coming back to education so that they can achieve their goal of greater economic stability.

This week’s blog post was by Jodi Stacey.  If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco blog, please email [email protected].

A long way to go…but we may be making progress

by Ashley Bean Thornton

A few weeks ago Jimmy Dorrell graciously invited me to give a short, 5-minute, talk as a part of the annual Walk for the Homeless in downtown Waco. What looked to me like a few hundred people came out that beautiful Sunday morning to learn and to show their compassion and support for our homeless neighbors. My part was tiny – to give a little information about the “big picture” regarding poverty in Waco. I didn’t write down my talk word for word, but the following is basically the message I tried to get across. I hope to use this blog in the next few weeks to explore the ideas presented below in more detail…won’t you join the conversation?

Waco is a community with tremendous assets: our location on I-35 half way between Dallas and Austin, the river, Cameron Park, numerous higher education opportunities…the list of good things about Waco goes on and on. We are already a really good place to live, and we have the potential to be one of the best places to live in Texas if not the country.

If we are going to capitalize on that potential, however, we must build a wider base of financial stability among our residents. More of us need to be making enough money to support ourselves and our families and to have a little extra to make investments in our community. Financial stability among our individual residents and families is what leads to building up our tax base and our overall spending, which in turn builds up the livability of our community, and will put us on an upward spiral toward becoming an ever better place to live for every person of every level of income.

With that end in mind, the message today is … yes, we have a long way to go, but it looks like we are making progress. The new American Community Survey results regarding poverty in 2012 were released by the U.S. Census Bureau in mid-September. I don’t want to make too big of a deal about these figures because they are based on only a one-year sample of survey respondents instead of the 5-year samples Act Locally Waco usually uses when reporting poverty rates, but bearing that caveat in mind, I see some reason to feel encouraged.

Waco’s poverty rate for 2012 was estimated at 27%. Yes, this is still much higher than the Texas rate of 18% and the U.S.A. rate of 16%. On the positive side, however, this same survey in 2011 estimated our rate of poverty at 32%. In comparison, a rate of 27% is headed in the right direction. Another positive indicator is that the gap between Waco and Texas may be narrowing. In 2011 Waco’s poverty was estimated at 32% while the estimate for the state was around 18%, putting our poverty rate at 14 percentage points higher than the state. In 2012 the gap was only 9 or 10 percentage points depending on how you round it. (Our gap with the U.S. was 17 or 18 points in 2011 and is estimated at 11 or 12 for 2012.)

If this improvement becomes a trend in the course of the next few years, that will be great news for Waco: what do we need to do to keep the wheel turning the right way?

The following are three broad goals that may help to frame that conversation:

Make Waco a city of opportunity! – Attract, entice, lure, nurture, incubate, develop…whatever the right verb is…businesses and other enterprises that generate good paying jobs.

Make sure the pathways to opportunity are clear and well-marked, particularly for those of us who are living in low-income situations right now. – This has to do with education in the broadest sense from birth through adulthood. It also includes the often overlooked component of educating schools, employers and other institutions about how best to work with residents who are coming to them from low-income or extremely low-income situations.

Provide effective support to help more of us keep our footing on the path. – The path from poverty to financial stability can be a treacherous, discouraging obstacle course for some. Well aligned, supportive, health services, social services and ministries help people to stay on the path making progress.

These are admittedly broad goals, but perhaps they can help give a little shape to our work together. In the next few weeks I hope to use this blog to explore various elements of each of them and to think a little bit about how each of us might play a part in accomplishing them. What ideas do you have? I’d love to hear from you and even publish some of your ideas in this blog.

Meanwhile, this is an exciting time in Waco. If you haven’t found your niche yet as far as how to get involved, this is a great time to do it. Check out the rest of the Act Locally Waco website – you’ll find lots of ideas about how you can be a part of making Waco a great place to live for every person of every level of income.

Three Healthy Meals, Seven Days a Week

By Matt Hess, Executive Director of World Hunger Relief, Inc. This post is reprinted from the Farm Notes newsletter, September 2013.

“But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.” (Proverbs 14:22)

With a vision of three healthy meals seven days a week, for all people in McLennan County, the Food Planning Task Force was born. I was asked to be a co-organizer for a group of individuals representing many organizations. We set out to assess our local food system and to draft suggestions for our community in the form of a strategic plan. This spring we wrapped up the process by publishing a 60-page report outlining where our community is in regards to hunger as well as our vision for the future.

Although some of what we learned is surprising, much was confirmation that Waco faces many of the same struggles that the rest of our country and even the world face on a daily basis. Even though food has become cheaper, many do not have the resources to get enough food and many are only able to access inexpensive, unhealthy foods. So in Waco and increasingly around the world those that struggle with hunger also suffer from diet-related conditions like obesity and diabetes.

food planningThe good news is that even as we were drafting the plan, some of the goals identified were being accomplished. Waco now has a thriving Downtown Farmers Market, our food pantries are working together to collect and share data, and we are closing the gap in the percentage of people who are eligible for food stamps and the number of people that actually receive them.

But we still have a long way to go, and it is imperative that we continue to work together to address the areas where need is greatest and where we can make the most impact. The main source of nutrition for people at risk of food insecurity is food they purchase themselves. The second is SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps). But as we listened, we heard many people report that they regularly face a decision between spending money for gas to drive across town to a grocery store or purchasing less healthy and more expensive foods at convenience stores.

Understanding this challenge presents opportunities to act. We have also learned of some creative solutions from around the country and World Hunger Relief, Inc. will be collaborating on evaluating which ideas may work here.

We also became even more aware that across all demographics food culture has been lost. People do not know how to cook the healthy foods their grandparents grew up eating. Despite these findings, our experience with school gardening has proven to us that given the opportunity, kids and adults learn to cook and enjoy healthy foods when they are invited into the kitchen. Incorporating the sharing and rebuilding of these skills and passions has been a growing part of our gardening program, and we are encouraging other organizations to make food preparation skills a priority as well.

School meals remain a significant area of opportunity as well. The school meals programs provided by the USDA have the ability to provide breakfast, afterschool meals, and summer meals, in addition to 20,000 lunches during the school year. Unfortunately, these programs are not reaching all of the kids in need, and students report that the meals can be lacking in quality. Improvements are being made locally to some schools with the addition of salad bars, the practice of growing vegetables on campus, farm-to-school programs, and by introducing fruits and vegetables as snacks. We are grateful for those in our districts trying to provide maximum nutrition in a program that needs improvements at the federal level. Education and advocacy efforts in which we are engaged with the Texas Hunger Initiative are beginning to see fruit in expanding the number of meals available, and we are hopeful that some of the improvements in quality will spread to more schools.

I am encouraged by the dedication of the hundreds of people who spend time assessing and planning. It is exciting to hear of the success of others in our community who are working on other areas of the plan as well. There is much that needs to be done for seniors and disabled people in our community. Pantries are working to provide more holistic care, there are efforts to rescue food that would otherwise end up in landfills, and the McLennan County Hunger Coalition is working hard to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and ideas. While we are not directly involved in all of these efforts, we are grateful that others in our community are filling these needs.

Through this planning process, I gained friends and co-laborers. I have confidence that these people, filled with love, grace, and knowledge, will lead Waco on a path that more fully embodies our call to feed the hungry. To find out more about this effort, visit the Food Planning Taskforce website. I plan to speak about it on Farm Day on October 26, and at churches for National Hunger and Homelessness Week November 18th to the 23rd. Follow our progress by reading the WHRI blog as well

This week’s Act Locally Waco blog post is by Matt Hess, Executive Director of World Hunger Relief, Inc. Would you like to write for the blog? If so, please email [email protected]. We would love to hear your thoughts on making Waco a great place to live for every person of every level of income.


“Speak no Evil” – Let’s use our Language to Create

by Rev. Dr. Leslie Ann King of First Presbyterian Church, Waco

I own a pair of “wise monkey” bookends. As you remember, the wise monkeys are depicted as hearing no evil (hands over ears); seeing no evil (hands over eyes); speaking no evil (hands cupped over mouth). The bookends are constant reminders to me about the need to manage my perception and speech. Particularly, the bookends remind me of the need to manage my perception when I perceive evil. I need to manage the way I speak about evil.

monkeysThe word evil needs a specific definition. For the sake of Act Locally Waco conversation, I define evil as those things that injure life, given by God, and those things that injure an individual’s standing within society. Evil may describe the actions of people or the complexity of a circumstance. Evil is not something that God uses to tempt us, rather evil is something that God seeks to lead us away from.

When Ashley asked me to write this article it was in response to my participation in planning meeting for the Greater Waco Community Education Alliance Summit. In that meeting, I suggested that it matters how we talk about our Waco school district and those surrounding districts that we care so much about. Those gathered for the meeting seemed to agree that it was exhausting to continually lament the injurious circumstances and the lack of social standing among our students and their families. I imagined the three wise monkeys taking their place in the middle of our meeting.

Of course, I am not arguing that we should ignore – not see and hear – what is injurious and vulnerable. I am not suggesting that if we do not perceive evil, there will simply be no evil about which to speak. In fact, I do not believe the three wise monkeys are wise because of what they refrain from doing. Rather, I imagine the three wise monkeys as being in a state of preparation. They are in a holding position. Considering all they have perceived, they are readying themselves through meditation and prayer to consider what they will say. They invite us to a similar posture: holding on to what we have seen and heard to think about what we will say.

Will we fill this Reality TV world with more mindless chatter and idle gossip about evil? Or will we consider it all and speak the things that need to come into being? We can speak provocatively in the image of our Creator who, as you remember from Genesis, spoke in order to create. Enlightened by all we have perceived, we can use our speech as a strategy for creation.

Perhaps if we, like the monkeys, take the time to consider what we will say, our speech will be infused with Prescriptive Language rather than Lamenting Language. Here are some examples of how that might sound:

  • Lamenting Language of our teachers – “Don’t you kids want to go to college and have a better life? You have to study and do this work to get that done!”
  • Prescriptive Language of our teachers – “Look at what amazing and irreplaceable people you are. I know school is hard but you will learn and discover here in ways that no one else can. What will you do?”
  • Lamenting Language of our citizens – “Our district does not have good and ready children within it.”
  • Prescriptive Language of our citizens– “Some of the most important challenges of life, I was not ready for. These children need my support to rise to their challenges.”
  • Lamenting Language of our children – “I can’t do this. There is no point in trying.”
  • Prescriptive Language of our children – “If I try, I can do part of what I need to do to succeed.”

The three wise monkeys are not wise because of what they do NOT do. They are wise because of the holding position they invite us to assume while we distill the good word to form in our mind and be released by our tongue. It is the beginning of wisdom.

This week’s Act Locally Waco blog post is by Rev. Dr. Leslie Ann King of First Presbyterian Church, Waco.  Would you like to write for the blog?  If so, please email [email protected]. We would love to hear your thoughts on making Waco a great place to live for every person of every level of income.


Chef Boy

by Shamethia Webb

I’m not the best cook.

But the spreads I prepare for my niece and nephews–age eight, nine, and 11—are palatable enough I suppose.

I’ve been told I’m the best cook in the world (This from a nephew who likes to put mustard on his black beans).

And that I season “fantabulously,” a portmanteau of the words fantastic and fabulous. (High praise from a budding pre-teen).

I’ve even managed to make spinach—the superfood that most resembles tree leaves and that’s appearance on dinner plates have prompted my nephews to accuse me of trying to feed them yard waste—a welcome addition to entrees.

I’m not the best cook, but I know how to prepare flavorsome and filling meals that will satisfy persnickety adolescent palates.

grill for blogAnd every now and then—buoyed by an energetic, “You’re an awesome cook Auntie!”, I’ll wheel out my miniature barbecue pit (“Napoleon”), stack charcoal in the adult version of Lego-building, and prepare to show the entire neighborhood that I am, at the very least, a mediocre chef.

The barbecue must smell appetizing enough since, without fail, at least half a dozen of my niece and nephew’s friends from the neighborhood turn up hoping to be offered a plate.

And the reader could assume that this is where the account of food insecurity would begin. That I would begin detailing how I had to feed ten or so children with two loaves of bread and barbecued chicken.

But s/he would be wrong.

These were kids I knew from my neighborhood. Most of them weren’t food insecure. Just wanted a chargrilled substitute for the meal that was being offered at home. Nope, no multitude of hungry kids to describe.

But there was one little boy, maybe six, whom I didn’t know. He was visiting the neighborhood. A distant relative. Someone’s cousin.

And he stood and watched as I prepared the grill and gathered materials. Even when the other kids grew bored and ran off to play, he stayed and observed as I began adding meat to the pit.

He was fairly quiet until I added hamburger patties to the pit. He perked up, piped out:

I’ve cooked that before!

I was confused.


I’ve cooked that before. That meat.

This hamburger meat?

Yes. I’ve cooked it.

You saw someone cook it?

He gave me one of those exasperated looks young children often levy at clueless adults.

I cooked it.

When I could only stare at him blankly, he explained.

He shared that he’d taken a pound of ground beef and cooked it in the microwave one day when he was hungry.

He seemed proud that he was able to accomplish such a complicated task but admitted that he was disappointed that the microwaved meat didn’t taste as good he he’d hoped.

I’ll have to season more better next time, he concluded.

He encouraged me to season my barbecue before being distracted by a developing game of football and wandering off.

I was stunned.

I’m not the best cook.

But six year olds?

They’re not the best cooks either.

Today’s blog post is by Shamethia Webb, Regional Director of the Texas Hunger Initiative.  If you would like to get in touch with Shamethia to learn more about the Texas Hunger Initiative, email her at [email protected].  If you would be interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco blog, please email [email protected].


Hunger Action Month: Thoughts about SNAP

By Ashley Bean Thornton

When I was a child, my parents worked and made money. They went to a store and spent some of the money on food. They brought that food home and made meals for me or sometimes we went out to eat. Now that I am an adult, I work and make money. Then I go to the store and use some of that money to buy what I want to eat, or (more often than my parents did) I go out to eat. I have to say, I love this system! It has worked well for me my whole life so far, and Lord willing, it will continue to work for me for the rest of my life. In fact, it works pretty well for most of us most of the time. I agree with the people who say, “The best nutrition program is a good job!” No kidding! Who doesn’t agree with that?

Like most things though, it doesn’t work for all of us all of the time, and therein lies the rub.  What do we do when people (for whatever reasons good or bad) don’t have a good job that allows them to make enough money to buy food? Or even more confounding, what do we do when people are working, but still not making enough to feed their families?

Do we say “Tough luck. So sorry. No money, no food. Them’s the breaks!” A few of us might feel that way, but I think it’s very few. Most of us realize that nothing really good happens when people – especially children — go without food. There are countries with a higher percentage of people begging in the streets than we have, but I don’t think we want to model ourselves after them.

What about food pantries, food banks and food rescue? I love the idea of “people helping people” – of families and friends and faith-based groups and other organizations coming together to feed each other through grassroots efforts. If my house burns down or I lose my job and I need enough food to tide me over for a few weeks — then God bless the local food pantry! Food pantries are perfect for emergency, short-term situations.

But what if I am disabled (mentally or physically) and I can’t work ever and I need help with food for years?  What if I am a 70-year old woman on a (very!) fixed income and I unexpectedly end up with custody of my three young grandchildren for the foreseeable future? What if I lose my job, and it ends up taking me months instead of weeks to find a new one? What if I am a divorced mom with a high school education, young kids, and a part-time low-paying job with no benefits? These are the realities for many, many people in Waco, and they are too much for our system of food pantries to handle on their own. That’s why government programs such as SNAP (formerly known as food stamps)  and the National School Lunch Program are vital to our food safety net.

First, food pantries and food banks do not have the capacity to meet all the need. According to Bread for the World, food pantries and food banks provide about 6% of the food assistance provided by our nation’s nutrition programs. In other words, if Waco follows that trend, for our local food pantries to meet the whole need, we would need 16 Caritas’s, 16 Shepherd’s Hearts, and 16 of all the other food pantries on the list…do we really see ourselves funding all of that through private donations? That’s a lot of golf tournaments and soup suppers! Right now, we’re not even doing a terrific job of keeping the shelves stocked at the one Caritas we already have.

Second, much as I love the spirit of a food pantry, they are really a terrible way to get your food when you think about it. If, like me, you have never had to make use of food pantries as a source of food you may not realize that, with the exception of Caritas, most food pantries in Waco are open for only a few hours, one or two days a week. Only a handful are open after 5:00, and those for only an hour or two, and only on one or two days a week. The only Saturday food pantry I know of is the Wheels of Life Mobile Pantry that is open for two hours, once a month. The only Sunday food pantry that I know of is Victorious Life Church which is only open one hour from 12:00 – 1:00. To make things even more complicated, most food pantries request that you only take advantage of their services once or twice a month. Imagine trying to juggle the time spent securing food in this manner with looking for a job, or going back to school, or taking care of children. In an emergency, I could probably make this system work for a few weeks, and would be grateful for it! But as weeks stretch into months, this process of “hunting and gathering” food can itself become time-consuming and de-stabilizing for families (not to mention discouraging!) The SNAP program allows families to take advantage of regular store hours and helps lend a little “normalcy” to lives that are already over-stressed.

Third, many families have found they need BOTH government assistance AND food pantry/food bank assistance to make ends meet!

helpings-with-borderI would love for every adult in Waco to have a good paying job and to be able to stroll into the grocery store and buy good food for her family.  I have high hopes that will be the reality for more of us in coming years as we build up our city, but that is simply not the current situation for many of us right now.  And even in the best of times, there will always be some of us who need help. It’s easy to be leery of government programs like SNAP, but in this particular case it is worth it to learn more about the system before condemning it. It may not be perfect, but it does an awful lot of good, for an awful lot of people. I hope I never have to find out what it’s like to apply for SNAP benefits – but if I ever do, I hope they are there when I need them.

If you or someone you know could benefit from the SNAP program,  contact the Helpings SNAP Outreach Program by phone at 254-753-3545 or check out the Website.   You can support the Helpings Outreach program by donating to the McLennan County Hunger Coalition.

Learn more about how SNAP works at these websites:

This week’s Act Locally Waco blog is by Ashley Bean Thornton.  If you would be interested in writing for the blog, please contact [email protected].

True Confession: I don’t want to be a mentor.

By Ashley Bean Thornton

I have a confession to make: I don’t want to be a mentor.

I know what the research says about the potential benefits of mentoring: better academic performance, better school attendance, positive attitudes, decreased likelihood of getting involved with drugs and alcohol, decreased violent behavior and on and on. Even more important than that, I know from my own experience that one relationship with someone who will hold a hand, or listen, or impart a little confidence and a hug every now and then can be a life-changer. A person who can open up your eyes to some possibilities you might not have seen on your own can make a huge difference for the good. I know that was true for me, and I believe it is true for all kids.

I believe in the power of mentoring – but – I still don’t want to do it.

My mental image of mentoring involves spending significant amounts of time bonding emotionally with a child or young person. To be perfectly honest, neither the time nor the bonding sounds like me right now. I am already so busy I am at risk of (1) forgetting what my husband looks like and (2) dying an early death from fast-food induced coronary disease. Also, I’m just not that great with kids. I don’t mind them in limited numbers and for short amounts of time, but I’m not a “kid person.” I’m even worse with youth. They make me nervous; I wasn’t even really that comfortable around them when I was one of them.

All of this was in the back of my mind this week when I met with Josh Lawson to talk about the “Adult Champions” learning track that he is helping to plan for the upcoming Greater Waco Community Education Alliance Summit. Clever girl that I am, I quickly figured out that “Adult Champions” could very easily be code for “mentoring” – so I was on my guard. Josh was way ahead of me though.

josh pic

Education Summit planning meeting. Josh is the one with the beard.

Josh, if you don’t know him, is the Director of Community Engagement at Antioch Community Church. He also has a big vision for kids in Waco. He wants to deploy (at least) 1000 mentors in Waco. He wants Waco to be a city with a culture of mentoring. He believes in mentoring. You can see why I was wary!

But the great thing about Josh is he knows how to look around the edges of a problem for new insights. Also, he believes in the idea that different people have different gifts – all of which can be put to good use for Waco and for Waco’s kids. We had a terrific conversation about how, for example, he’s working with a group of computer programmers at Baylor who are not interested in being mentors, but who might be able to develop a database for matching up mentors and mentees. He talked about people who might not be willing to use their limited time to serve as a mentor – but who might be able to use that same amount of time to recruit many mentors. He talked about how some people are put off by a long time commitment, but how there are opportunities to spend as little as 30 minutes a week reading with kids during lunch.

There are those of you who have the gift for the “traditional” mentoring scenario – please step forward! We need you! (Some places you can contact: Communities In Schools, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Talitha Koum) And — there is also a part to play for those of us who don’t have that particular gift, but who have other gifts that could be brought to bear.

All of this reminded me of a quote that my church often uses in the worship bulletin on the Sunday when we ordain our deacons. The words come from my own faith tradition, Christianity, but I trust the spirit of the idea will resonate with people of many faiths. I’ll leave you with it as my way of saying, Thanks Josh!

“You have an unrepeatable purpose as a priest of Christ. It is not to learn someone else’s skills, or to project a personality you do not have, to say words that are not your words, or to do anything at all that is alien to who you are and the gifts that are already in your hands. Be who you are, do what you do, tell what you know: your style, your stuff, your way, your gift . . . . There is a way of saying the name of Christ that only your life can say.” —Paul Duke

This week’s Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton. If you would be interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco blog, please email [email protected] and let us know. Thanks!

Neighbors Working Together for Impact

by Alexis Christensen, Community Organizer, Waco Community Development Corporation

Saturday morning a group of Sanger Heights’ and Brook Oaks’ residents went round robin to share what drew them to the meeting. Smiles and nods of understanding could be seen around the circle. Concern for their beloved communities brought unfamiliar people together to work for change.

The Vacant Property Task Force meeting had begun. For Kent McKeever, Director of Mission Waco Legal Services, finding solutions is what drew him in: “I wanted to start finding ways to serve the broader community with the legal tools that I have and our program provides, thinking outside the box in a way that is collaborative, innovative, community-driven, and with the goal of solving larger-scale community-wide problems. The task force seemed like a great place to try and cut my teeth in this way.” 

Logo - 11-30-2012Finding community-driven tools for impacting our neighborhood is just what we were doing. Seven months ago, my Waco Community Development colleague, Gabriela Gatlin, and I heard murmurings from community members wanting to address vacant structures in our area. Simultaneously, the number of fires in vacant homes in our neighborhood was increasing. The task force knew this was something they could address. In the early months, we educated ourselves on the processes of the City of Waco, meeting with representatives from Code Enforcement, Zoning & Planning, Housing and Community Development, Fire Department and the City Attorney’s office. In these meetings we realized everyday residents really could impact their neighborhoods. 

We wanted to share all that we had learned with our neighbors. Utilizing a community organizing tool called house meetings, task force members invited people from their circle of family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors to discover common interests and concerns. The task force has hosted two house meetings thus far, educating people about the processes of the City of Waco to address issues like the timeline for burned home demolition and learning about shared interests. All of this knowledge helps neighbors understand their role in addressing vacant structures. Many task force members shared they felt empowered to go out and participate in the process of addressing vacant structures. Currently the task force is operating in two subcommittees to accomplish our goals: Data Collection and Engaging Neighbors. We are working for long-term, sustainable change in our neighborhood. 

If you’re interested in joining the good work of the Vacant Property Task Force, please contact the Waco Community Development office at 254-235-7358!


This week’s Act Locally Waco blog post was written by Alexis Christenson.  if first appeared as an article in the Waco Community Development Corporation (Waco CDC) newsletter If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco blog, please email [email protected]




Open Letter to Our New Student Neighbors

By Sgt. Patrick Swanton, Spokesman for the Waco Police Department

Let me be one of the first to welcome y’all to our city…Waco. There will be others that do that as well, such as the Waving Man, the Prophet, even the Statue of Liberty and the Wise Guy on Valley Mills Drive. The Waving Man won’t talk much,  but take the time to stop and talk to the Prophet (he’ll be on the walk-over on IH-35 at some point). Not only will you find him quite the conversationalist, but you’ll get a blessing if you request one!! (Who doesn’t need that now-a-days?)

waco bridge picWHAT TO DO: Those of you that are the fresh fish out-of towners here are in for a wonderful experience in our city. I wholeheartedly encourage you to get out a bit and experience Waco as a whole. Take a break from all the school stuff and see for yourself what we have to offer such as the Cameron Park Zoo, Dr. Pepper Museum, Waco Mammoth Site, and of course…the Suspension Bridge. Oh…and YES…it is okay to throw tortillas to feed the ducks!

Grab a kayak and hit the Brazos, wet a line in Lake Waco (pretty awesome when the White Bass are running), do the dam run (dam…as in big thing that holds water back) or explore Cameron Park’s 416 acres and hunt for the legendary Goat-Man. Word has it the Spirit of the Cameron Park Witch still haunts the area as well. Visit the Farmers Market on the weekend…Mom will feel better knowing at least you are looking at the vegetables.

Wanna try something really different??? I double-dog dare you to do a ride along with us (Waco’s Finest). It’s a real eye-opener to the world and who knows…we may spark an interest in your new desire to become the Po-Po…NO!!! The yearning to eat doughnuts is not obligatory…it’s an acquired trait.

I’M HUNGRY: Now for food…if you go hungry here it is your own fault, as we have a fantastic variety of restaurants in all flavors and values. You will grasp pretty quickly we Wacoans really enjoy our Mexican food. It will take tries at several places to discover which one of those fit your palette.

Word of caution…the Margaritas are tempting but not worth the trouble if you are under 21 or driving!! We welcome you to get to know your local police officers but strongly encourage you not to experience our jails, and guess what…it really doesn’t matter to us who your parents are; if we catch you drinking and driving, that experience is really gonna suck!

EXPERIMENT!! For goodness sake…munch on some ribs from Momma and Pappa B’s, eat (TRY anyway) a 4×4 at Dubl-R’s, enjoy the best catfish around at Jim’s Chicken in Bellmead, and most definitely eat as many cupcakes and cakeballs from the Olive Branch as humanly possible.

SAFETY FIRST: Remember…your safety is paramount to us at Waco P.D. and as much as we like bustin bad guys, we don’t need “volunteer victims.” Statistically speaking you’re much safer in groups than you are alone. Your purse is not safe in your car, even if you were only going to be inside for a few minutes. The I-pad, I-phone, G.P.S. or any other electronic device Mom and Dad gave you so they can track ya (sorry Moms and Dads but like they didn’t already know!!) make great items for some crackhead to sell for a few rocks. They (dopers) really don’t care that you’re having a melt-down because you can’t “Instagram,” Update Status or “Tweet” about the cop fingerprinting your broken into car. That’s life and it does occasionally happen. Do what you can to make it inconvenient for them. Hopefully they will move…to like, Idaho. (Sorry Idaho)

Yes, we do have crime in Waco…we aren’t bad as some others, but we aren’t Mayberry either. The important thing here is to realize that you can make a difference in your own safety. Be aware of your surroundings, pay close attention to that “sixth sense”, try not to walk or jog alone (*remember*…you have heard this twice now!), lock up and hide your valuables and drive safe; this means no texting or distracted driving.

THINGS TO REMEMBER: You still have a Mom and Dad or others that care about you…CALL THEM!! You will run out of money at some point and it’ll be really nice to have made a few new friends to help you enjoy the “gourmet ketchup packet soup” you’re dining on. Hopefully new friends will have the Ramen Noodles to share. Gas really is expensive, cable is not a necessity, and college life can be a blast, and No…not everyone is doing it (insert whatever you need to here).

We really are here to help and were young once too (some of us a lot longer ago than others). We can share with you some great memories or some that you would rather forget that can dramatically alter your planned path…that choice is yours.

Waco P.D’s goal is to keep you safe in your new surroundings. Help us do that by using common sense, being a responsible neighbor in your new city, and working with Waco to make us the kind of city in which you want to stay. Step up here, do something to help those less fortunate and importantly…be kind.

We welcome you to Waco and hope that you will consider this your home. The future is just beginning for many of you and you really are our future. Grasp that!!

Oh and now the shameless plug…Follow us on Facebook at Waco Police Department and Twitter @WacoPolice for happenings in and around our city and at Waco P.D. We keep ya updated on breaking crime alerts, funny happenings and general stuff we need to tell ya bout.

Stay safe, new neighbors, and take us up on the dare,

By Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton, Waco Police Department spokesman, August 21, 2013 (See this letter as a PDF)