Top 10 “Most Opened” Blog Posts of 2019

by Ashley Bean Thornton

One of my favorite things to do in the world is edit the Act Locally Waco blog.

December is a wonderful, but hectic, month for most of us. Because of that, it has become our tradition to give our beautiful bloggers a month to focus on family, friends and the joys of the holidays rather than on meeting our blog deadlines.  So, for the month of December we will have one or two new posts, but mainly we will be reprising “2019’s greatest hits.”

I couldn’t possibly pick my favorites – so I used the simple (cop out?)  approach of pulling up the 10 blog posts that got the most “opens” according to our Google Analytics.  It is an intriguing collection that gives at least a little insight into the interests and concerns of Act Locally Waco readers.

I hope this list inspires you to go back and re-read your personal favorites.  There have been so many terrific ones… but of course they couldn’t all be in the list of the 10 most opened. I would love for you to reply in the comments or on the Facebook page with a note about some of your favorites.

We will be reposting these in the next few weeks between now and the new year — but I know some of you are “list” people who would like to see them all at once.  So, I offer the list below, with thanks to everyone who has written for the blog this year, with pride in what we have created together, and with no small amount of wonder at the beautiful complexity that makes up our beloved community!  Enjoy!

Think of it as a Christmas present from your community to you, and invitation for you to write in 2020! – ABT

10. I Make Kids Cry by Michael Jeter

9. Runaway Rock Star by Kamayah Miles

8. The MCC Cosmetology Salon is Getting a Makeover by Mandie Meier

7. The Tool Shed thrift shop: a new Waco store to benefit Friends for Life by Easton Preston, MSW

6. Reflections on Leadership Waco by Austin Meek

5. Eating Gluten Free in Waco  by Ellie Triplett

4. On Rivers and Rye: a Farmers Market Update by Bethel Erickson-Bruce

3. A letter from a First Generation Mexican Immigrant, Naturalized Citizen, US Patriot by Reyna Reyes

2. MCC Alum Sweetening up the Neighborhood!  by Phillip Ericksen

1. Thinking about how Waco would respond to an influx of immigrants by Grecia Chavira

Top 10: Eating Gluten Free in Waco

Top 10  “Most Opened” Blog Posts of 2019: # 5

By Ellie Triplett

If you avoid gluten for any reason, eating out can be a challenge. If you’ve been doing it for any amount of time, you’re probably an old pro at the basics of avoidance when it comes to regular menus. But what about when you want something as classic as a cheeseburger? Where do you go for your macaroni and cheese cravings? Where can you find gluten-free pancakes? Or, the golden chalice of gluten-free eating, where can you go for pastries? Never fear, my friends, you are in luck. I am here to tell you that you are living in a town with a growing culinary culture, with restaurants that provide an impressive array of allergen friendly dining options. What follows is a very basic, non-comprehensive list of where to find your fill of sans-gluten treats in good ol’ Wacotown.

It seems logical to start with breakfast. If you are looking for pancakes, Café Cappuccino (with three locations at 100 N. 6th St., 1101 Richland Dr., and 903 N. Hewitt Dr.) is known for its amazing, plate sized pancakes, and now they come in gluten-free! I have personally ordered and enjoyed them.

Uptown features wonderful vegan and gluten- free waffles at Luna Juice Bar (1516 Austin Ave.). In carrot, matcha, and strawberry, the waffles are made with oat flour, gluten-free flour, or coconut flour and topped with coconut whipped cream, and are DELICIOUS. Pair them with a smoothie, or a cold pressed juice and you’ve got a perfect breakfast. Luna Juice also has a full menu of delicious salads, soups, and wraps, if you need a quick lunch later in the day.

Down the street at Harvest on 25th (112 N. 25th St.) you can continue your breakfasting or slide right into brunch with gluten free muffins, pancakes, or avocado toast. They offer ways to make their entire menu gluten-free and also offer gluten- free pizzas.

Since we’ve moved on to lunch, and specifically pizza, it is worth mentioning that Poppa Rollos (a long time local favorite at 703 N. Valley Mills) offers a good gluten-free version, and both Slow Rise Slice House (7608 Woodway Dr.), and 900 Degrees Pizzeria (315 S. University Parks) have cauliflower crusts which are keto friendly as well as being gluten-free.

If you’re craving a hamburger, look no further than Tom’s Burgers (6818 Sanger Ave.) It is a mom and pop burger joint that has just recently been brought to my attention for their gluten-free buns.

A newer option with gluten-free buns and bread is Revival East Side Eatery (704 Elm Ave.). They have a full menu, including soups and salads, so you’re sure to find something for everyone.

If you’re looking for the kings of comfort food (in my opinion), macaroni and cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches, look no further than The Mac House (3428 Franklin Ave.). Their artisan sandwiches and macaroni creations are amazing, and worth every penny and every minute you’ll spend waiting (it’s a bit, y’all, but worth it!).

Which leads me to my favorite way to splurge on gluten-free food; the pastries. Fabled Bookshop downtown (215 S. 4th St.) has gluten free lemon poppy seed cake as a part of their newly opened café, alongside literary themed drinks and other snacks. However, Baked Bliss (1114 N. 15th St.) is truly the sweet spot for sweets (see what I did there?) with cinnamon rolls, cranberry orange scones, brownies, chocolate chip cookies, blueberry muffins, and bacon cheddar scones (if you’re feeling the savory side of things) all offered gluten-free daily. You can pre order their gluten-free bread, which they bake on Wednesdays in a completely gluten-free kitchen, on Tuesday mornings.  They also have gluten-free cakes, cupcakes, lemon shortbread, and pecan shortbread cookies, all of which can be made ahead of time for special events.

Phew! It’s a lot! A couple of things to note as we wrap up. Firstly, I am not a food blogger, or really any type of blogger. In many of these cases, I have eaten and enjoyed the food, but this is not true across the board. As a result, I did not attempt to describe in too much detail the experience of eating the food, so as to be fair. Secondly, this is by no means a comprehensive list. If your restaurant, or your favorite restaurant was left off the list, it is in no way meant as a slight. I polled my friends, asked for help, and sent out a few cursory messages asking for clarification on menu items. The result is this post. If I made a grievous error, leave us a comment! Share your knowledge! Thirdly, it is important to keep in mind that there are no certified gluten-free kitchens on this list. Most things will experience some level of cross contamination, and you are, as always, advised to check with your servers and express your level of allergy, and make an informed decision for yourself.

Happy (and safe!) eating, friends!

A couple of other resources…

Ellie Triplett is a book lover, weaver, former bee keeper, and enneagram four.  She lives and works (and eats) in Waco alongside her spouse and their three children. 

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

Top 10: The Tool Shed thrift shop: a new Waco store to benefit Friends for Life

Top 10  “Most Opened” Blog Posts of 2019: # 7

By Easton Preston, MSW

Friends For Life (FFL) has opened a thrift shop to help fund our programs serving the elderly and people with disabilities. Instead of a normal resale shop with clothing and furniture, the Tool Shed refurbishes and sells used tools of all kinds. FFL got the idea of the Tool Shed Thrift Shop from one of our most helpful volunteers, Kevin Lane. Kevin and his wife recently moved to Hewitt and came to FFL’s January open house.

After hearing Inez Russell’s stories about FFL, Kevin approached Inez and her husband, Bill, about a Tool Thrift Shop in Fairport, New York that raises money for a charity that serves the elderly. That volunteer-staffed store collected tool donations and sold them for 50-90% off retail price. (Learn more about them here: It was such a great and unique idea that we decided to bring it to Waco. With a lot of help from Kevin and the Thrift Shop in New York, we moved forward on this idea this past March. Between March and August, we started advertising and collecting donations and volunteers. The soft opening was on August 14th and it has been going great ever since. In the past four weeks, we have customers that come in weekly to check out the new tools we have at great prices. 

Over 100 people attended our grand opening celebration including Jimmy Don, who has done work for Joanna Gaines on Fixer Upper. Jimmy Don made and donated a metal sign of our logo that is displayed at the shop. Some of the festivities included raffle prizes including tickets to Baylor football, basketball, soccer, volleyball tickets, a Common Grounds gift card, a $50 gift card from Waco Custom Meats, a Magnolia gift bag and tour, a necklace from Waco Jewelers, gift cards to The Tool Shed, and a $50 Academy gift card. There were coffee and donuts donated by Dunkin Donuts and hot dogs donated by Super United IGA in Hewitt. Paul Catalina from ESPN came out for remote broadcasting and interviews.  We even had an online silent auction of vintage, unique, and antique tools. Thank you to all who came out, donated, and helped us celebrate our official opening! 

The Tool Shed depends on the community to help keep us running. Donations of old, new, used, or broken tools and hardware, volunteers to help, and shoppers are always needed. We need volunteers for a wide variety of things. Volunteers can help run the cash register, collect donations, paint, clean tools, fix tools, stock shelves, price tools, sort hardware and even help educate customers. Knowledge of tools is not needed. Volunteer hours are flexible. Come for two hours once a month or come every week, whatever fits in your schedule. Donating is easy! Stop by the Tool Shed to drop off a donation between 2 and 6 PM Wednesday through Friday or Saturday 10 to 3. Because of the help from Texas Junk Removal, we can also pick up your donated tools if that is easier for you. Contact Easton at the Tool Shed to arrange pick-ups or another drop off time.

The Tool Shed is located at 430 Lake Air Dr.  It is currently open for customers Thursday and Friday, from 2:00-6:00 pm and Saturday from 10:00-3:00. We hope to see you all there!

 Easton Preston is the Communications Coordinator & Tool Shed Manager at Friends for Life. In 2017, Easton moved to Waco from Dowagiac, Michigan, to attend Baylor’s Diane R. Garland School of Social Work with a community focus and in 2018 graduated with a Master of Social Work. In her spare time, she loves all types of crafting including quilting, making custom cups, home decor and more.  Contact Easton at [email protected] or 254.772.8100 ext. 501 

Top 10: MCC Alum Sweetening up the Neighborhood!

Top 10  “Most Opened” Blog Posts of 2019: # 2

By Phillip Ericksen

Eddy Garcia is bringing some sweets back to the neighborhood.

The 23-year-old McLennan Community College graduate is opening Helados La Azteca No. 2 – a Mexican dessert shop – at the intersection of Colcord Avenue and North 15th Street.

The shop opened Saturday in the growing North Waco area primed to celebrate local business and the Hispanic culture of the neighborhood.

Garcia was born in Los Angeles and moved to Waco with his family when he was 8 years old. He earned his associate of arts degree from MCC this Spring, on top of a certificate of completion from the MCC Fire Academy in the Fall of 2017.

“A lot of doors open up with school,” he said. “You’ve got to find the right opportunity and take it, and that’s what I did. As soon as I got my associate’s degree, this is what I’ve been doing since.”

Garcia thanked Bradley Turner, an associate professor of environmental science, who especially motivated him.

“I was taking his class while I was opening this up,” Garcia said. “He motivated me so much.”

Garcia’s family operates the original location of Helados La Azteca at 3302 Franklin Ave. This new shop will sell Mexican ice cream, paletas, fruit and other Mexican desserts. It will also carry Blue Bell ice cream, a Texas favorite.

World Cup Café and Fair Trade Market, Jubilee Food Market and D’s Mediterranean Grill surround the area that also includes Baked Bliss Baking Company, West Avenue Elementary School, Grassroots Community Development and Family Health Center.

Mission Waco, a local nonprofit, owns Garcia’s space known as The Colcord Center. Garcia credited the strength of the neighborhood and the support of all involved in the project.

He also plans to partner with the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and participate in events with other local businesses.

The location of Helados La Azteca No. 2 is just a short drive from MCC, where thousands of students are on their pathways to either a new profession or a promotion in their current field.

Potential students may explore courses and register at

Phillip Ericksen is the marketing and communications specialist at McLennan Community College. For about four years, he was a journalist at the Waco Tribune-Herald covering higher education and local government. He enjoys following the news, reading books and drinking coffee. As a San Antonio native, he is an avid fan of Mexican food and the Spurs basketball team. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Baylor University.  He can be reached at [email protected].

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

Top 10: The MCC Cosmetology Salon is Getting a Makeover

Top 10  “Most Opened” Blog Posts of 2019: # 8

by Mandie Meier

As the students at McLennan Community College’s Cosmetology program are making over their clients, their salon is getting a makeover as well.

In 1988, the cosmetology building at MCC moved from the main campus in the Applied Science building to the Community Services Center. Since then, only the reception area has been remodeled. Now, the salon is finally getting a renovation.

During phase two of construction, which began in May, the salon is being completely gutted. The walls have been knocked down, leaving one big floor plan. Construction will also be cutting in windows.

“Every countertop, every styling chair, every station,” said Laura Hays, Program Director and Esthetician Professor. “Everything is brand new.”

Hays, who has worked at MCC for 29 years, is proud to say the program has come a long way in the past several years.

“Enrollment right now is at an all-time high,” Hays said. “We are at capacity. That’s probably one of the biggest changes, I think.”

Not only is enrollment high, but so is the success rate for students taking board exams. Both programs have a 100 percent pass rate on state examinations.

Hays said she is most excited for the students to have a nicer salon to work.

“Really and truly, I know that the community is extremely important,” Hays said. “But, just for our students to be able to be in a cosmetically up-to-date modern salon environment, it just gives them a nice, updated place to come and learn. That’s just so important. They’re so excited. They can’t wait.”

Sidney Smith, a third semester MCC cosmetology student, was well into her cosmetology education at another institution before deciding to start over with MCC.

“Before coming to MCC, I had the opportunity to see that a beautiful school doesn’t mean there’s a good education,” Smith said. “However, here, your teacher is there with you from start to finish with whatever help you need.”

Although she believes a beautiful salon doesn’t necessarily equal a good education, she thinks the renovations will improve the overall atmosphere and give everyone something to look forward to. She also said that cosmetology and aesthetics go hand and hand.

“I just feel like with hair, you have to stay up to date with things, so I feel like the aesthetic environment also needs to be up-to-date,” Smith said.

Kayla Hardin, another third semester cosmetology student, said people will take the school more seriously with the new salon.

“I think people will feel more comfortable getting their hair done there because they’ll think it’s a more professional environment,” Hardin said.

Hardin also said the new salon will provide clients with quicker visits.

“I think we’ll get more clients in and out quicker because we’re going to have 10 shampoo bowls versus the two we have right now,” Hardin said. “There won’t be any lines.”

The targeted completion date for the renovation is before August 26th — the day fall semester begins. Be on the lookout for these changes and more to the cosmetology department coming in the future.

Interested in studying cosmetology at MCC? Visit // Students may earn certificates in Cosmetology, Cosmetology Instructor or Esthetician Specialist.

The general public is invited to take advantage of the services offered by the MCC School of Cosmetology including manicure/pedicure, and haircuts. To schedule an appointment, call 254-299-8701. A full list of services and prices is available here:

Mandie Meier is a student journalist at the University of Texas at Austin. She has worked at ORANGE Magazine and Afterglow ATX in the past. She mainly covers music, but also has reported on the food and drink section of ORANGE Magazine. She served as a marketing and communications intern at McLennan Community College this summer.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

Top 10: On Rivers and Rye: a Farmers Market Update

Top 10  “Most Opened” Blog Posts of 2019: # 4

By Bethel Erickson-Bruce

Right now the perennial question for the Waco Downtown Farmers Market is:  WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO MOVE BACK TO THE RIVER? I answer by deflecting, like a good politician.  (If you really want the answer to the question of the river, please continue reading about all of the projects related to local food we are actually excited about – the river is addressed at the end).

First off – if you haven’t been to Market since we relocated to the Courthouse, you’re missing out.  Yes, it’s hot in summer. But we have more space for more vendors than we did down by the riverside. And much higher visibility than down by the good old riverside.

Second, we started a new thing.  Can’t make it on Saturdays to buy groceries?  We’ve got you covered. Now you can pre-order through our online store called Market in a Box.  We have all the local things – from honey to heavy whipping cream, mini loaves to mushrooms, peaches to purple hull peas.  We even have conveniently packaged $15 produce bundles – featuring 1 seasonal fruit and 4-5 seasonal veggies. Think of it as a multi-farm CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box without a subscription. Through this new online system we are able to work with local producers who are unable to participate at Saturday market – while reducing time expenditure of the producers and increasing everyone’s access to local produce and carefully crafted artisan food goods.  We hope to expand to more convenient bundles (like a Breakfast bundle with coffee and breakfast sausage) – and add more items like gristmill grains and bread subscriptions. Take a gander at our current offerings at:

Third, we now distribute WIC vouchers to be used for locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables for families currently receiving benefits.  Without getting too high up on my political soapbox, let it be known that the amount of fresh produce (or canned) that a family on WIC receives is ridiculous.  Like $11 for the month for a family of 2 eligible WIC recipients. (I speak from my personal experience.) Through our partnership with Grow North Texas in Dallas, the Texas Department of Agriculture sponsors $30 in WIC vouchers for each eligible family member.  We can only distribute the vouchers once person Market season (defined by TDA as April-October) but as most families know, every dollar counts. As a recovering social worker, I’m delighted by any and all opportunities to increase access to – and affordability of  – locally grown fruits and veggies while at the same time supporting livelihoods of the farmers and their families growing our food.

Fourth, the rye bit.  If you love the market but: A) can’t wake up early on Saturday or B) can’t remember to place your online order by Monday at noon – we’ve got just the opportunity for you.  Join us at Balcones Distilling on Thursday, August 8th from 6-8pm for “Grains & Growers, a farmers market friend-raiser.” It costs $40 but you’ll receive a free cocktail a la Balcones or a mocktail a la Luna Juice.  And we have all the tastiest of finger foods from our friends at Milo All Day, Brazos Valley Cheese, Falk Bakery, Heritage Creamery. You’ll also be supporting the work of the Waco Downtown Farmers Market to strengthen our local food system – from the farmers to the folks on a food budget and the friendly faces opening fancy food establishments.  Tickets can be purchased through our Square page here:

And now for the answer, you’ve all been waiting for – MAYBE IN TWO YEARS. MAYBE NEVER.  And you know what, that’s okay. We’ll happily keep running the farmers market each Saturday between the corners of 5th and 6th street in the shadows of the iconic Courthouse and ALICO buildings until some magical, farm-friendly, family-friendly opportunity presents itself.

Bethel Erickson-Bruce likes to eat and grow vegetables, run around with her wild little humans – Jasper Jack and Angus Augustus, and star-gaze with her husband (and Rapoport teacher) Jonathan.  She also runs the Waco Downtown Farmers Market.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

Top 10: A letter from a First Generation Mexican Immigrant, Naturalized Citizen, US Patriot

Top 10  “Most Opened” Blog Posts of 2019: # 3

By Reyna Reyes

I was always that kid.  The one who was in everything, or at least tried to be.  I guess it’s always been that way with me.  I’ve always been very passionate and 100 percent all in.

My parents brought me here to the US in 1979, I was a 3- year old toddler.  Early on into my pre-teens, we visited Mexico often.

I always knew to prepare because the walls at my grandparents were see-through, dirt blew everywhere, with dirt floors, a random concrete slab, no electricity, no running water, and no bathroom.  Still is the same today.

It was always amazing to me how a family of 8 could cramp into one room with a couple of mattresses on the dirt floor and manage to cook and eat outside in the elements.

We stopped going as frequently as crime with the cartels increased and it was no longer safe for us to go to “la frontera.”

I would hear my uncles talk about the dangers the family faced and how us visiting there could make it a greater risk for them.

Ten years ago, my husband and I were quickly ushered back by family across the US border when we attempted to go to my cousin’s funeral in Mexico.  We were warned by family that tensions were high, and we would be at risk for danger.

My grandfather passed away and we were advised to stay away.

My uncle passed away and more of the same.

Over the years, my family, like many others, has suffered loss due to the crime that has gone on unchecked at la frontera.  Daily living is sometimes near impossible without becoming a casualty of the war on the streets.

Bloodied bodies across the front page of the local paper serve as notice to families, including mine.

I am so grateful my parents immigrated to the US.  And while there is definitely a desperation in Mexico and further South, and a very real humanitarian crisis at the border; most Mexicans can appreciate the efforts of the US administration to keep this country safe.

My cousin, a professor at a school in Mexico expressed to me how they wish their leaders would do the same on their behalf.

Personally, growing up in the US as a Mexican immigrant, I was often stereotyped and racially attacked.

I was called a wetback and was often bullied in school because of it. 

It could have been because I was that girl who wore the folclórico dresses and sang the Tejano songs with a conjunto band and the Mariachi Band at school.

It didn’t help that most of my friends were teachers and administrators, and I often sold tamales to them to help mom with money.

As a result, I was often pushed around and ridiculed.

But it wasn’t by who you may suspect.

It wasn’t those “racist white people” who hated Mexicans as I often hear about today…I didn’t meet any of those people and didn’t really hear about them back then that I can remember.

No.  My attackers were the very same Latino kids who are now adults who continue to do the very same thing to folks, including me; except using today’s platform that is now social media.

I was very recently publicly stereotyped and attacked.  I was called an ignorant whitewashed entitled chicana by an immigrant advocate.

A community member mocks me with memes and uses bullying tactics online to try and intimidate me, as recently as today.

I think it to be completely ironic.

It takes me back to those days in middle school and high school when we often had little to eat, no electricity or running water, and were often on the verge of being evicted; dealing with an alcoholic for a father, protecting my younger brother from seeing his state, dealing with my epilepsy (We didn’t always have the money for the meds or specialist visits, not to mention money for a translator and transportation), and still working to keep my grades up in school to ensure my mother’s sacrifice did not go in vain.

As a conservative Latina, I am often accused of being a traitor.

If leaving my home country to make a better life here is being a traitor, then maybe I am. Although I didn’t choose my path as a child, I guess I could have returned to Mexico to make it work.

If I’m a traitor because I didn’t go back to fight so that the Mexican government would do for its citizens as it should, then maybe I am.  I guess it depends on how you define it.

But if that is why I am a traitor, then would it make hundreds of thousands of Mexican immigrants traitors because they didn’t stay to fight the corruption in their homelands?

No.  Of course we are not traitors.  No matter where we stand politically.  We have all fled and continue to flee countries who have cared little for their own citizens.

We are here because the US government’s structure allows for freedom and opportunities.

I was naturalized very recently as a US Citizen and I am scheduled to attend a swearing in ceremony in a couple of months.  I couldn’t be more excited.

Let us stop attacking the leaders of this great nation.  Let us stop playing into the media for ratings and politicians for the vote.

Instead, let us join forces to focus on immigration reform and raise money to help manage the efforts at the border and help organizations that are on the front lines working to help families reunite.

Let’s join forces to raise money to cover attorney fees and legal processes for those seeking asylum and a path to citizenship.

Let us raise money to send US ambassadors to Mexico to work on a solution to address the root cause of the crisis.

Let’s work together to address this very real crisis affecting very real families.  Some who may be our very own.

Reyna Reyes is a 40-year Wacoan. She is a first generation Mexican immigrant and a first generation high school graduate. She is a Licensed Vocational Nurse with an Associate’s degree from McLennan Community College and a Bachelor Degree from Tarleton State University in Business Management. She co-chaired Care Net Waco’s very first Style Show fundraiser last year featuring Care Net moms and their children, an organization very near and dear to her heart.

She is a not-so-anonymous shopaholic who loves to shop the locals and encourage her social media followers to do the same. She is 22 years married to her amazing husband, Joshua and they have a 10-year old son, Jordan.  They enjoy watching Baylor Football and Lady Bears Basketball together.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

Top 10: Runaway Rock Star

Top 10  “Most Opened” Blog Posts of 2019: # 9

Is your child looking for something to do this summer? Why not encourage him/her to write and illustrate a novel? That’s What Kamayah Miles did!

Kamayah Miles is 9 years old and will be a 5th grader at Connally Elementary. She developed a love for writing at the age of 5.  Kamayah’s other hobbies are drawing, arts/crafts, reading and baking cookies with her mom. She dreams of being an author and a chef.

We have some pretty amazing young people in our community! Here is Kamayah’s novel: Runaway Rockstar! Read it now so you can say…”I knew her when…” Thanks for sharing your work with us, Kamayah! We are proud of you!

Top 10: Thinking about how Waco would respond to an influx of immigrants

Top 10  “Most Opened” Blog Posts of 2019: # 1

By Grecia Chavira

I am a DACA-mented teacher in Waco.

By that I mean I’m a beneficiary of “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals”, or DACA. This executive action was implemented by the Obama administration in June of 2012. DACA provides protection from deportation and work authorization for young immigrants, often referred to as DREAMers, who have completed high school and arrived in the United States before their sixteenth birthday. This benefit gives me protection, but it often feels like an undeserved privilege.

Lately I’ve felt that my “privilege” didn’t start with DACA, it started when I began my journey as an immigrant into the United States almost 20 years ago. I realize now that the start of my story as an immigrant is starkly different than most.

When I was 8 years old, I arrived in Waco on a charter bus with my family by my side. I didn’t need to cross the desert with a coyote (a human smuggler who leads immigrants across the border illegally). I was never in danger of being raped, trafficked or lost. I wasn’t separated from my parents at the border. I was safe.

I vividly remember arriving to Waco after midnight at a yellow and green gas station. I remember running off the bus and hugging my aunt, who was anxiously awaiting our arrival. During my first year in the States, various family members graciously shared their home with my family. I didn’t live in an overcrowded detention center- I didn’t endure sexual abuse from prison guards. I was safe. I was home.

These memories arise with a sense of guilt as I read recent news of immigrants traveling thousands of miles in search of a safer and better future for themselves and their children. My parents had the same goals, but we were lucky. We were fortunate enough to have family connections, resources and a church community. We were welcomed.  We were not considered a burden or a punishment.

Things couldn’t be more different for the 50,000 immigrants who have been released into San Antonio from December to March after being processed and detained at the border. The influx that occurred at the end of March included about 500 hundred asylum-seeking immigrants arriving in San Antonio. Many of these had traveled from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador fleeing violence, in search of safety.

Thankfully, local non-profit organizations such as American Gateways and Catholic Charities came together to rally around the immigrant families. These groups coordinated hundreds of volunteers who helped the families book tickets to travel to their final destinations or to contact family members.

Recognizing the magnitude of the situation, the city of San Antonio set up a resource center in an empty store to help the local non-profits provide enough food, clothing, and medical services to the immigrant families. City staff provided children books to read while the adults sought out legal services. As an immigrant, my heart hurt for the hardships that my immigrant brothers and sisters suffered in their search for a better life, but my Texan heart beamed with pride as San Antonio stepped up to meet their needs with love and dignity.

As I discussed these events with my good friend and local immigration attorney, Anali Looper, we wondered how Waco would handle high numbers of immigrant arrivals. Would the City step in and help our local non-profits meet their needs? Would churches show love and compassion by opening up their facilities to be used as temporary housing? Would volunteers rally as they did in San Antonio? I would hope so. But hoping isn’t enough.

Living in Waco, Texas, has never felt scary to me. I remember a childhood filled with security and love. I attended Waco public schools, where teachers loved me, motivated me and led me toward success. My teachers advocated for me and broke ground with me as an undocumented Valedictorian at University High School. As a child, I attended a small Hispanic church where I was shown to appreciate my community and to love my neighbor as myself. Now I attend a large multi-cultural church that focuses on missions around the world.

As a Wacoan, I would like to see the City of Waco and the community prepare a contingency plan for treating immigrant families with the same dignity and respect that would be awarded to US Citizen families who have been displaced by floods, hurricanes or fires. I would like for my students, many immigrants or children of immigrants themselves, to learn the value of human life and the power of community. I would like my students and their families to feel safe and loved, just like I did growing up, just like I do now.

I want to have faith that my adoptive hometown would be as welcoming and generous should we have to respond to a situation like San Antonio. I would hope and pray for a similar response, but would it be done?

For more information about American Gateways please refer to the website:

Grecia Chavira is a 2nd grade teacher in Waco ISD. She grew up in Waco and graduated from Baylor University. She always dreamed of being a teacher for English Language Learners. She is a part of the community advisory committee for American Gateway, a local non-profit that provides low-cost immigration legal services. She enjoys working out, practicing yoga and visiting local restaurants with her husband, Enoc.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

Top 10: Reflections on Leadership Waco

Top 10  “Most Opened” Blog Posts of 2019: # 6

By Austin Meek

As someone who thought he knew a lot about this city before starting Leadership Waco, I finished the Greater Waco Chamber’s year-long training course with a more robust and nuanced view of the issues and opportunities facing Waco than I’d ever dreamed possible.

I’ve hosted “Downtown Depot,” my radio show and podcast that airs on 103.3 KWBU-FM, for almost three years. On the program, I interview the small business owners, civic leaders, and engaged citizens leading Waco’s revitalization. I’ve spent literally hundreds of hours thinking about this community, both by myself and with other engaged parties, and did not expect to find much that I didn’t already know through Leadership Waco.

But, of course, as it has time and time again, Waco surprised me.

Before Leadership Waco, I never knew that Mars Wrigley, which operates a confectionery on Texas Central Parkway, is the single largest consumer of granulated sugar in the world, and 85-90 percent of Skittles, Starburst, and Snickers bars in North America are made right here in the heart of Texas.

Before Leadership Waco, I was unaware that historic Oakwood Cemetery, nationally known for its collection of angels adorning headstones, bears the remains of three Texas governors – Sul Ross, Richard Coke, and Pat Neff.

I’d never heard the incredible story of perseverance from Melissa Pardun of Maker’s Edge, a now-popular makerspace on 18th and Austin Avenue. After opening in January 2015, Melissa spent four months wondering why she’d followed this hair-brained dream before finally registering her first paying member in May. Despite the slow start, Maker’s Edge now serves between 100-120 members and employs six people.

Through Leadership Waco, I discovered a community that punches above its weight class in nearly every category. Whether it was the breadth and depth of the city’s non-profit network, or the quality of cultural offerings from the Waco Symphony Orchestra and Cultivate 712, or the millions of dollars poured into researching renewable technologies at the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative (BRIC), it’s clear that Waco is no longer just a sleepy town on the Brazos. It’s a rapidly developing metropolis with the resources, strategy, and ambition to become the next great Texas city.

Through its monthly gatherings focused on specific industries, Leadership Waco helped me to see a complete picture of our community. It also introduced me to contemporaries who have a similar vision for what Waco can become. I hope you’ll consider applying for Leadership Waco and watch as your understanding and admiration for this city grows.

The Waco Chamber is accepting applications for Leadership Waco Class XXXVI is until Friday, May 24. Please click here for more information.

Austin Meek is an entrepreneur based in Waco, Texas. For his media company, Waco Business News, he hosts the bi-monthly radio show and podcast, “Downtown Depot,” which first aired in September 2016 on 103.3 KWBU-FM. On “Downtown Depot,” he dialogues with the small business owners, civic leaders, and engaged citizens spearheading Waco’s revitalization. He also owns and operates Pokey O’s Cookies and Ice Cream in Waco and is developing real estate on Elm Avenue. Vox, Waco Business News

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.