Share our Strength Youth Ambassadors Pour Energy into Waco
By Craig Nash
Through the No Kid Hungry Campaign of Share Our Strength, the Waco Regional office of Texas Hunger Initiative has had the benefit of two Baylor Students serving as Youth Ambassadors (YAs), charged with the task of providing support for and increasing participation in the Summer Food Service Program. This summer’s YAs are Keyanna Taylor from San Antonio and Steven Kuipers from Reading, Pennsylvania. Both Keyanna and Steven have hit the ground running and are providing tons of creative energy to summer meal sites. I wanted them to have an opportunity to share with the Act Locally Waco community about themselves and what they are learning this summer.
My name is Keyanna Taylor. I am from San Antonio, Texas, and a sophomore at Baylor University studying Public Health on the Pre-Medical track. I am passionate about learning how hunger and overall poverty impacts the health of communities and the individuals that make up these communities. I love being a part of the Texas Hunger Initiative and Share our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign, because it allows me to make a difference towards improving the health of children, adults, and whole communities from a unique angle.
Since being a Youth Ambassador, I have been exposed to a lot of different parts of Waco, and I have learned about many different organizations and efforts that work for the community. It has been so eye opening to truly see how big and diverse Waco actually is. Before this experience, I thought it was a tiny town with not much going on. But I have learned that it is very large and active. This intrigued me and made me even more excited about my role this summer, because now I feel a calling to give back to this community.
More specifically, we recently visited the YMCA of Central Texas to see what its meal sites look like and to propose implementing some of the programs Steven and I are creating to increase meal site attendance. While visiting the YMCA, I got to see how many kids participate in the different camps and programs over the summer, and I was amazed. I was surprised to see how many kids they have in different summer camp programs, and it got me thinking. Would these children make it to meal sites if it weren’t for these programs here? Would they still be involved in physically and mentally engaging activities without the YMCA? This stood out to me as interesting and formed a connection in my thinking of how summer meal sites work alongside other organizations to impact the overall health of children. The children in these programs have access to healthy breakfast and lunch. They have access to games and activities that keep their minds stimulated, and they are being physically active to also keep their bodies healthy. I now see hunger being directly related to the holistic health of individuals.
After this experience at the YMCA, I realized how excited I was to be doing this work with the Texas Hunger Initiative. It is a way for me to explore the connections between hunger and mental and physical health of individuals and their communities. I would like to encourage others in the community to actively seek out ways they can learn more about different organizations in Waco. I believe that efforts from all different avenues must work alongside each other to improve the health of all citizens. So whether it be volunteering at the YMCA, Caritas of Waco or visiting a summer meal site, there are many ways to improve the health and quality of life for all here in Waco.
Hello! My name is Steven Kuipers, and I am from Reading, Pennsylvania. Currently my studies revolve around Economics, Chinese, and Religion during my time as a student at Baylor University. I am also a community leader at Arbors apartments and a proud member of the Baylor Men’s Choir!
This summer I had the opportunity to travel with the Men’s Choir to sing and minister in Kenya. While there, I was taught a valuable lesson that I hope to bring to my work here in Waco. I learned it after we finished serving in the Pokot Village: a remote area about seven hours from Nairobi. Immediately after we arrived, we worked tirelessly to improve the living condition for the people there; we built water irrigation systems, painted classrooms, planted gardens, and even opened a medical clinic to treat the ill and infected. For nine hours, we served until the sun set and it was time to go home.
During our dinner at the hotel, we shared some of our feelings about the day. Surprisingly, there was a common feeling among the group: a sense of helplessness. We felt that even after all the time we spent working, we didn’t even scratch the surface of the problems there: hunger, illness, and poverty were still going to be present in the village after we left. After hearing this, our choir director stood up and gave us some encouragement. He explained to us that attacking something as big as third-world poverty could not be done in a single move. He explained that this kind of thing takes time and consistency, and that we did our part faithfully. He concluded by saying, “You cannot do everything, but you can do something.”
Those words resonated with me as I thought about my work here this summer addressing hunger. A lot of hunger in our community stems from the multi-rooted tree of poverty, and trying to chop down the tree by myself is an impossible goal. That is why it is not my responsibility to obliterate poverty in its entirety because, “I cannot do everything. But I can do something.” For me, my “something” is addressing hunger. I find great contentment in doing my part here at the Texas Hunger Initiative, because I realize that my work is part of a bigger picture of our community effort. Our organization focusing on hunger allows other groups and organizations in Waco to specialize in their own areas. And everyone chipping in to do their part will be the effort that makes a serious impact on our city.
That is why I want to encourage you, the reader, that when you want help your community, you alone don’t have to take down poverty. All you have to do is something. It can be anything, big or small, to address the cause. And when we have a community that collectively chips in to do its part: serious change happens in our lives and in our communities.
Craig Nash has lived in Waco since 2000. Since then he has worked at Baylor, been a seminary student, managed a hotel restaurant, been the “Barnes and Noble guy,” pastored a church and once again works for Baylor through the Texas Hunger Initiative. He lives with his dog Jane, religiously re-watches the same 4 series on Netflix over and over again, and considers himself an amateur country music historian.
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