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)

Promise and Hope and Back-2-School Jam

The flyer said: “Back-2-School Jam! – School uniforms, backpacks, and supplies for kids who need them! Entertainment and free food provided! Pre-registration costs $3.” When I arrived at 8:00 a.m. — an hour early — to set up the Act Locally Waco tent, there were already plenty of families waiting. At 9:00 a.m. Pastor Gaylon Foreman from Carver Park Baptist Church blessed us with a word of prayer, and a long line of parents and kids began to wind its way past tables stacked with donated pencils, and glue sticks, and backpacks, and all the other supplies a kid needs to start the school year. b2b 1

I’m not good at estimating crowds, but it seemed like we saw about a thousand kids by lunch time. I am talking about every possible variety of kid – girl, boy, Black, White, Brown, tall, short, fat, thin, shy, sassy, happy, grouchy, dirty, clean…each one beautiful. (We took lots of pictures so you can see for yourself if you visit the album on our Facebook page!)

These are not the richest kids. If they were, I imagine they would have been at Target or watching cartoons instead of standing in line in a parking lot on a blessedly “not-as-hot-as-it-could-have-been-in-August” Saturday morning receiving school supplies from nice ladies in bright orange t-shirts. They are not rich financially…but watching them in all their fidget-y, wiggly, sometimes giggly, sometimes whiney, sometimes sleepy, altogether normal “kid-ness”… it nearly made me cry to think how rich they are in potential.

It seemed so simple this morning in the parking lot: We all win if these kids win. We all lose if these kids lose.

Yet somehow it gets much more complicated when we actually have to decide how much of our  state’s money we want to spend on education, and which districts are going to get more of that money, and which are going to get less. I’m not so naïve as to think that every problem in our current school system can be solved with more money.  Still, the schools with more tend to do better than the schools with less.  I think our schools — especially our Waco schools — are “doing a lot with what they’ve got,” and I think more money would help them.    b2b-2

This morning, as I watched a steady stream of kids walk, or skip, or slouch, or run by …I couldn’t help but think we will all be better off  in the long run if these kids live up to their potential. Really good schools make that more likely. I wish that we, as a state, would focus less on the cost of education and more on the return on the investment.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the recently completed session of the 83rd Texas Legislature restored $4 billion of the $5.4 billion it cut from K-12 education in 2011. That’s a start. I hope next time we will replace all the money that has been cut and add  more. That’s my hope — and this is, after all, the season of hope — I mean, is there anything in this world more hopeful and full of promise than the beginning of a new school year?


Many thanks and blessings to Mia Thomas and the folks at Road to Damascus Resource Center and Transition Home for organizing today’s terrific “Back-2-School Bash.”


b2b3This week’s Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton.  If you are interested in writing a post for the Act Locally Waco blog, please email [email protected].

Blah, Blah, Blah…Waco Police Starting to do More of That!!

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

What!!?? The police want people to LIKE and FOLLOW us??? Absolutely!

Recently the Waco Police Department has opened up several new lines of communication with our citizens. We have jumped feet first into the hi-tech world of Social Media and so far have been greeted with an abundance of likes and followers. Social media geeksters are even sharing and re-tweeting our stuff!!

In our computer savvy, fast paced world we felt a need to be able to provide an instant information source for our citizens to keep them abreast of our day to day activities in and around our area. What better way than to use the already invented wheel of Social Media such as Twitter and Facebook?

Our detective division was the first to guinea pig (easy on the side comments!!) a Facebook page and we realized almost immediately how popular this would be. Detectives posted videos and photos of suspects committing crimes and were immediately able to receive tips leading to the arrest of those individuals. It is really quite amazing how much our community wants to help in making our neighborhoods safer.

The main Waco Police Department page at is also entwined with our Twitter account @wacopolice so we can serve two totally different sets of our community. This page is designed to give our followers an up to date line of communication for news worthy events, and emergency communications such as weather, breaking criminal activities, traffic hazards and events that could immediately impact their lives. We also give you snapshots of common day to day on goings inside your police department.

swanton pic

Sgt. Swanton speaking at recent Social Media Day event.

The detective page  is designed to allow our followers to see individuals that commit crimes and to help make identification so we can obtain warrants of arrest. The administrator for this page also injects appropriate humor and fun! Fans and followers of our Social Media accounts can expect to be not only enlightened but at times appropriately entertained as well.

The sites may not be for the faint of heart.  At times we will provide a peek into a world that, quite honestly, some folks would prefer to not know about. Examples of this can be radio traffic quotes from officers or a bit more detail on crimes committed in our community that some may find disgusting. We do, however, keep it on the level of making our citizens aware of the real life that unfortunately does rear its ugly head in our fair city. We always try to have a learning point as well. For example: Stay away from crack as it tends to make you forget things…like your name!! Or, in the case of a wife-beater’s mug shot whose family does not like the fact that it is public information and posted for all to see, we kind of look at it like this… do the crime your mug makes primetime!!

On the light side, our pages really can be a bit amusing from time to time. Some of the things we see in our cop world will not only make you laugh but will simply amaze you with what some folks are capable of, good and bad.

We invite all to be our friends, followers, fans, and, yes, even groupies as you, our citizens, are truly what we are about. Making you, your family, your neighbors and neighborhoods safer is a responsibility we will all need to take on to be successful. We can do this, Waco! A big part of making our city safe is opening lines of communication never before tried. We welcome feedback and responses and look forward to chatting with you on the World Wide Web!!

This week’s Blog was written by Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton, Spokesman for Waco Police Department. (Facebook: WacoPoliceDepartment; Twitter: WacoPolice)

If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco blog, please email [email protected].

Austin, Schmaustin…

By Ashley Bean Thornton

We had a terrific day in the Act Locally Waco tent at the Waco Downtown Farmer’s Market yesterday. The music was especially good. My friend MG was volunteering in the tent with me, and she and I couldn’t help dancing around a little bit in between visiting with friends, eating breakfast burritos, laughing at dogs and babies – and of course spreading the word about ALW.

nick and eloisa at farmers marketIt was an altogether pleasant way to get the weekend started. In the midst of all the fun, however, there was just one thing that kept bugging me – I got tired of hearing people talk about Austin. Here are the kinds of things I got tired of hearing: “I love this place. I feel like I can come down here and get my two hours of Austin.” Or, “Can you believe this is Waco? I feel like I’m in Austin!” These were enthusiastic comments, meant as compliments, but by the time I heard “Austin, Austin, Austin” about a dozen times, I confess I began to think grumpy thoughts, “Austin, Schmaustin — I am sick of hearing about Austin.”

It’s not that I don’t like Austin. I like Austin. My husband and I spent a weekend in Austin for our anniversary this year. Austin is a fine place. There are lots of things about Austin that I would love to see come to Waco in some form or fashion.

So why did these comments annoy me so? It took me awhile to figure it out, and it turns out it doesn’t have that much to do with Austin.  When I hear those kinds of comments I feel like we – the people who live in Waco – are the very ones who have the most limiting image of Waco. The story we tell ourselves about Waco does not include things like a bustling farmer’s market. We believe that other places, like Austin, are “that kind of place;” we don’t quite believe we are “that kind of place.” But we are. We are exactly “that kind of place.”

I am impatient for the story we are telling each other to catch up with our potential. I am impatient for us to believe more of ourselves.

We are the kind of place that attracts and grows new businesses. We are the kind of place that builds a great school system. We are the kind of place that college students want to stay in after they have graduated. We are the kind of place people want to move to with their families. We are the kind of place that great people come from.  We are the kind of place where new things are invented. We are the kind of place where people decide what kind of city they want to live in and then make it happen. It’s time we believed these things about ourselves. We are exactly “that kind of place.”

Not another Pro-Life/Pro-choice Debate! – Taking responsibility for Respect…

By Ashley Bean Thornton

When I opened up Facebook this afternoon my friend CS had posted a link to a video with the note: “For my friends on BOTH sides of the “pro-choice” “pro-life” debate. This amazing dialogue is one of respect, intelligence and progressive thoughts on the reality of the debate. I highly encourage you to take the time to listen, if you are passionate about this issue.”

Now, I do have passionate opinions about the Pro-choice/Pro-life debate, and to tell you the truth those opinions are pretty well set. They haven’t changed significantly in the last 30 years, and I doubt very seriously they are going to change significantly in the next 30, so why on earth would I want to spend even a moment of my precious Sunday afternoon watching a video about the Pro-life/Pro-choice debate?

The word that grabbed me in my friend’s Facebook note was “respect.” That notion of respect is important to me, because as passionate as I am about “my side” of this argument, I have friends and family on “the other side” who are just as passionate. I would like to find a way that we can have a conversation about this topic – and a range of other controversial topics – that is respectful. Also, to generalize beyond my own circle of loved ones, I believe if communities of people are going to be able to work together productively, solve problems together effectively, and live together peaceably we have got to learn to talk with each other about controversial topics in a respectful way. Even when we disagree passionately; even when we are never, ever, ever going to agree; even when we are not even willing to compromise; even in the face of intractability — we have still got to be respectful with each other. Even when the “other side” is not respectful – I have got to be respectful. I have got to take responsibility for respect. I am not always perfect at that! But, I’ve got to try.

So I watched the video.

I’m glad I did.  I am left with a renewed faith in the idea that “respect” is based on understanding the other person as a whole human with doubts and fears and complexity of thought. The way we ask questions of each other, and the way we listen to the answers, can either contribute to that understanding or diminish it. So how do we start? Even one respectful question is a good beginning. Here are some of the questions from the video (paraphrased somewhat) that I want to remember for future respectful conversations:

Questions for the other person:

  • In your earliest life, and in the path your life has taken since then, where do you trace the seeds of your ideas around this issue?
  • What is at stake in this issue for you?
  • What questions do you have for me?

Questions for myself:

  • What is it in your own position that gives you trouble?
  • What is it in the other position that you are attracted to?


Interested in the topic of respectful conversations in general? Here are some websites:

Waco Research and Technology

By Jodi Terwilliger-Stacey

Waco is the research and technology corridor between Dallas and Austin. It boasts top quality education in science, technology, and engineering at its local colleges and universities – Texas State Technical College (TSTC) (offering students approximately 100 certificate and degree areas), McLennan Community College (MCC) (offering students cutting-edge technology and opportunities for field research), and Baylor University. It’s the home of the Central Texas Research and Technology Park with its most recent project – the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative (BRIC)! It’s the birthplace of the Greater Waco Advanced Manufacturing Academy, offering academic programs and workforce readiness in a variety of fields to high school students from local ISDs. Waco’s Drop Back In to School Initiative connects those seeking higher education and better jobs to representatives of these local colleges and universities, as well as representatives of local job readiness programs!

Check out MCC’s LEAP classes (Learning Environment Adaptability Project), serving to develop full-time, first year students’ skills that enable them to adapt to college life and to be successful in their courses of study. LEAP classes teach learning strategies, as well as emotional intelligence skills, such as self-management skills (being motivated and managing one’s time), intrapersonal skills (self-esteem and stress management), leadership skills (problem solving and conflict resolution), and interpersonal skills (managing anxiety and anger and being assertive). LEAP is innovative and broad-spectrum, making MCC a leader in the development of strategies to increase student retention and success in higher education.

Watch for more information about the BRIC’s 45,000 square feet workforce development and training center to be used by TSTC – a BRIC partner. BRIC scientists, engineers, and technicians will be developing technology for BRIC business clients. TSTC Waco faculty will be on site working with those developing the technology and consulting with BRIC clients to design workforce training as products are being developed. Now that’s innovative!

Would you like to join the workforce with a career upon graduating from high school? The Greater Waco Advanced Manufacturing Academy will be offering academic programs to high school students from local ISDs in the fields of welding (fall 2013), precision metal manufacturing (fall 2013), brick laying and construction (fall 2014), HVAC (fall 2014), and pipe-fitting (fall 2015)!

Waco is paving the way for its citizens to come back to education, to achieve their higher education goals (certifications, 2-year degrees, and 4-year degrees), and to begin careers in a variety of science and technology fields where workforce needs are greater. Waco is connecting the dots among industry leaders, the STEM community (science, technology, engineering, and math), college and university faculty, and other leaders in workforce training. By doing so, there’s only one direction for Waco – FORWARD.

This week’s post was written by Jodi Terwilliger-Stacey. Jodi founded the Low Income Families In Transition (L.I.F.T) workshops at First Baptist Church in Waco and worked at the Greater Waco Community Education Alliance as a community resources specialist.  She and her family now live in Colorado, but she still has a warm spot in her heart for Waco.  If you are interested in writing occasionally for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ashley Thornton at [email protected] .